Chapter 27 | The New Friend | !Tention

Chapter Twenty Seven.

Punch woke up with a start to find that it was broad daylight, for the sun was up, the goats on the valley-side were bleating, and a loud musical bell was giving forth its constantly iterated sounds.

Punch looked down the knot-hole through which the bright morning rays were streaming up as well as between the ill-fitting boards; but as far as he could make out there was no one below, and he remained peering down for some minutes, recalling all that had taken place overnight, till, turning slightly, he caught sight of the basket of provisions.

“It makes one feel hungry again,” muttered the boy, and his hand was stretched out to draw the basket to his side. “No, no,” he continued, pulling back his hand; “let’s have fair-play.—Awake, comrade?—Fast asleep. That looks well. My word, how I slept after that supper! Wish he would wake up, though. Be no harm in filling up with water,” And, creeping softly to where the jar had been placed for safety, he took a long, deep draught. “Ah!” he ejaculated, “that will keep the hungries quiet for a bit;” and then he chuckled to himself as his eye wandered about the loft, and he noted how the priest used it for a storeroom, one of his chief stores being onions. “And so the French are holding the country everywhere, are they? And we are to lie snug here for a bit, and then that Spanish chap is going to show us the way to get to our regiment again. Well, we have tumbled among friends at last; but I hope we sha’n’t have to lie here till all the fighting’s done, for my comrade and me owe the Frenchies something, and we should both like to get a chance to pay it.—Here, I say, Private Gray, you might wake up now. Water’s only water, after all, and I want my breakfast. I shouldn’t mind if there was none, but it’s aggravating to your inside to see it lying there.—Hallo! There’s somebody coming,” for he heard voices from somewhere outside. “That’s the old father,” muttered the boy. “Yes, and that’s that big Spanish chap. Didn’t he look fine with his silk handkercher round his head and his pistols in his scarf? I suppose he’s captain of the band. What did Gray say they were—smugglers? Why, they couldn’t be. Smugglers have vessels by the seaside. I do know that. There’s no seaside here up in the mountains. What have they got to smuggle?”

“Punch, you there?” came in a sharp whisper.

“Yes,” whispered back the boy. “All right. Wake up. Here’s your doctor coming to see to your wound.”

The next minute the voices sounded from the room below, and the smuggler’s voice was raised and he called up in French:

“Are you awake there, my friends?” And upon receiving an answer in the affirmative he began to ascend the step-ladder cautiously, and apparently quite at home. As soon as he stood stooping in the loft he drew back a rough shutter and admitted a little of the sunshine.

“Good-morning!” he said. “How’s the wound? Kept you awake all night?”

Pen explained that he had only just woke up.

“Well, that means you are getting better,” said the smuggler; and the boys scanned the speaker’s handsome, manly-looking face.

Just then fresh steps were heard upon the ladder, and the pleasant-countenanced priest appeared, carefully bearing a large bowl of water, and with a long strip of coarse linen hanging over his arm.

He smilingly nodded at the two lads, and then knelt by the side of the bowl and watched attentively while Pen’s wound was dressed and carefully bandaged with the coarse strip of linen, after which a few words passed in Spanish between the priest and the smuggler, who directly after addressed Pen.

“He was asking me about getting you down to breakfast, but I tell him that you will be better if you lie quite still for a bit, perhaps for a few days, I don’t think the French will come here again. They are more likely to forget all about you, for they are always on the move; but you could do no good if you came down, and I shall not stir for some days yet, unless my friends come, and I don’t expect they will. It would be too risky. So you lie here patiently and give your wound a chance to get well before I try to take you through the pass. Besides, your friends are a long way off, and they will be sure to come nearer before long. You can make yourself very comfortable here, can’t you, and eat and drink and sleep?”

“But it is not fair to the father,” said Pen, “and we have no money to pay him for our lodging.”

“You Englishmen are brave fellows,” said the smuggler with a merry laugh. “You like to pay your way, while those French thieves plunder and steal and ill-use every one they come near. Don’t you make yourself uncomfortable about that, my lad. As you hinted just now, the holy father is poor, and it may seem to you hard that you should live upon him; but you English are our friends, and so is the father. Make yourselves quite comfortable. You are very welcome, and we are glad to have you as our guests.—Eh, padre mio!” he continued, relapsing into his own tongue. “They are quite welcome, are they not?”

The priest nodded and smiled as he bent down and patted both the lads on the shoulder, Punch contenting himself with what he did not understand, for it seemed very friendly, while Pen took the hand that rested on his shoulder and raised it to his lips.

Then the old man slowly descended, and the smuggler turned and continued talking pleasantly to Pen.

“I have told him,” he said, “that I am going to have breakfast with you here, as my men have gone up to the mountains with the mules, and I don’t want to show myself and get a shot sent after me, for some of the Frenchmen are down in the village still. Be quiet for a day or two, and if my friends come before you are able to march we will get you on one of my mules. Hallo!” he added, “the father’s making a fire to cook us some breakfast. I shouldn’t wonder if he bakes us a cake and makes us a cup of good fragrant coffee. He generally contents himself with bread and herbs and a glass of water; but he knows my weaknesses—and I know his,” added the smuggler, laughing. “He never objects to a glass of good wine.”

The smuggler’s surmises were right, for before very long the old man paid several visits to the loft, and ended by seating himself with the others and partaking of a roughly prepared but excellent breakfast, which included newly made cake, fried bacon and eggs, with a capital bowl of coffee and goat’s-milk.

“Well, my friend,” said the smuggler, turning to Punch, “have you made a good meal?”

Punch looked uncomfortable, gave his head a scratch, and frowned.

“Tell him, comrade, I can’t jabber French,” he said.

“He asks if you have made a good breakfast, Punch.”

“Tell him it’s splendid.”

The wounded lad interpreted between them; while the smuggler now addressed himself to his patient.

“And you?” he said. “I suppose I may tell the father that his breakfast was capital, and that you can make yourself happy here till you get better?”

“Yes; and tell him, please, that our only regret is that we cannot show our gratitude more.”

“Tut, tut! There is no need. The father has helped you because you are brave young Englishmen who are over here risking your lives for our countrymen in trying to drive out the French invaders who have come down like a swarm of locusts upon our land. You understand very well, I suppose,”—continued the Spaniard, rolling up a cigarette and offering it to Pen, who took it and waited while the smuggler rolled up another for Punch and again another for himself before turning and taking a smouldering brand of wood from the priest, who had fetched it from the hearth below—“you understand very well why the French are here?”

“Not very well,” said Pen. “I am an English soldier here with my people to fight against the French, who have placed a French king in your country.”

“Yes,” said the Spaniard, frowning, as he sent a curl of fragrant smoke eddying towards the shutter-opening in the sloping roof, where as it rose soft and grey it began to glow with gold as it reached the sunshine that streamed across the little square; “they have thrust upon us another of the usurper’s kin, and this Napoleon has imprisoned our lawful ruler in Valençay.”

“I didn’t know all this,” replied Pen; “but I like to hear.”

“Good!” said the smuggler, nodding and speaking eagerly. “And you are an Englishman and fighting on our side. I know all this, and that your Wellesley is a brave general who is only waiting his time to sweep our enemies back to their own country. You are a friend who has suffered in our cause, and I can confide in you. You will be glad to hear that the prisoner has escaped.”

“Yes,” said Pen, forgetting the pain of his wound for the time in the interest of what he heard, while Punch yawned and did not seem happy with his cigarette. “But what prisoner?”

“The King, Ferdinand.”

Pen had never heard of any Ferdinand except one that he had read of in Shakespeare; but he said softly, “I am glad.”

“Yes,” said the smuggler, “and I and my friends are glad—glad that, poor smugglers though we are, and no soldiers, we can be of service to his Majesty. He has escaped from the French prison and is on his way to the Pyrenees, where we can help him onward to Madrid. For we as contrabandistas know all the passes through the frontier; and I and my followers are waiting till he reaches the appointed spot, where some of our brothers will bring him on to meet us, who will be ready to guide him and his friends farther on their way to the capital, or place them in safety in one of our hiding-places, our stores, of which we have many here in the mountains. He is long in coming, but he is on his way, and the last news I heard is that he is hidden by my friends at one of our caches a score or so of leagues away. He may be here to-night if the pass seems clear. It may be many nights; but he will come, and if the French arrive—well, they will have to fight,” said the smuggler, with a smile; and he lightly tapped the butt of one of his pistols. “It is hard for a king to have to steal away and hide; but every league he passes through the mountains here he will find more friends; and we shall try, some of us, to guide your English generals to where they can strike at our French foes. Yes, my young friend,” continued the captain, rolling up a fresh cigarette, “and we shall serve our King well in all this, and if some of us fall—well, it will be in a good cause, and better than spending our lives in carrying smuggled goods—silks and laces, eau de vie, cigars and tobacco duty free across these hills. There, we are contrabandistas, and we are used to risking our lives, for on either side of the mountains the Governments shoot us down. But we are patriots all the same, and we are risking our lives for our King just as if we were of the best. So get well, you two brave soldier lads. I see you have your guns, and maybe, as we have helped you, we may ask you to help us. You need not mind, for you will be fighting against your enemies the French. Come, light up your cigarette again. You must be tired of my long story.”

“Tired! No,” said Pen. “I am glad to hear it, for I have often thought and wondered why we English had come here to fight, and all I knew was that Napoleon was conquering everywhere and trying to master the world.”

“Which he will never do,” said the smuggler, laughing. “Strong as he is, and masterful, he will never succeed, and you know why?”

“No, I can’t say that,” replied Pen, wincing.

“Then I will tell you. Because the more he conquers the more enemies he makes, and nowhere friends. There, you are growing weary.”

“Oh no,” cried Pen. “I shrank because I felt my wound a little more. I am glad to hear all this.”

“But your friend—no?” said the contrabandista.

“That’s because he cannot understand what you say; but I shall tell him all that you have said when we are alone, and then he will be as much your friend as I am, and quite as ready to fight in your cause, though he is a boy.”

“Good!” said the Spaniard. “And some day I shall put you both to the proof.”