Chapter 31 | A Dream of a Ramrod | !Tention

Chapter Thirty One.

It seemed to Pen to be a dream, and then by some kind of mental change it appeared to be all reality. In the first instance he felt that he was lying in the loft over the priest’s room, trying to sleep, but he could not get himself into a comfortable position because Punch had gone down below to clean his musket and wanted him to come down too and submit his weapon to the same process. But it had happened that he wanted to go to sleep horribly, and he had refused to go down; with the consequence that as he lay just over the knot-hole Punch kept on poking his ramrod through the opening to waken him up, and the hard rod was being forced through the dry leaves of the Indian corn to reach his leg exactly where the bullet had ploughed, while in the most aggravating way Punch would keep on sawing the ramrod to and fro and giving him the most acute pain.

Then the boy seemed to leave off in a tiff and tell him that he might sleep for a month for aught he cared, and that he would not try to waken him any more.

Then somehow, as the pain ceased, he did not go to sleep, but went right off up the mountain-side in the darkness, guiding the King and his followers into a place of safety; still it was not so safe but that he could hear the French coming and firing at them now and then.

However, he went on and on, feeling puzzled all the time that he should know the way through the mountains so well, and he took the King to rest under the great chestnut-tree, and then on again to where the French were firing, and one of them brought him down with the bullet that ploughed his leg.

But that did not seem to matter, for, as if he knew every bit of the country by heart, he led the King to the goat-herd’s cottage, and advised him to lie down and have a good rest on the rough bed, because the peasant-girl would be there before long with a basket of food.

The King said that he did not care to sleep because he was so dreadfully thirsty, and what he wanted was a bowl of goat’s-milk. Then somehow he went to where the goat was waiting to be milked, and for a long time the milk would not come, but when it did and he was trying to fill the little wooden seau it was all full of beautiful cold water from the foot of the falls where the trout were rushing about.

Then somehow Punch kept on sawing his ramrod to and fro along the wound in his leg, and the more he tried to catch hold of the iron rod the more Punch kept on snatching it away; and they were going through the darkness again, with the King and his followers close behind, on the way to safety; while Pen felt that he was quite happy now, because he had saved the King, who was so pleased that he made him Sir Arthur Wellesley and gave him command of the British army.

Whereupon Punch exclaimed, “I never saw such a fellow as you are to sleep! Do wake up. Here’s Mr Contrabando waiting to speak to you, and he looks as if he wanted to go away.”

“Punch!” exclaimed Pen, starting up.

“Punch it is. Are you awake now?”

“Awake? Yes. Have I been dreaming?”

“I d’know whether you have been dreaming or not, but you have been snoring till I was ashamed of you, and the more I stirred you up the more you would keep on saying, ‘Ramrod.’”

“Bah! Nonsense!”

“That’s what I thought, comrade. But steady! Here he is again.”

“Ah, my young friend!” said the contrabandista, holding out his hand. “Better after your long sleep?”

“Better? Yes,” replied Pen eagerly. “Leg’s very stiff; but I am ready to go on. Are we to march again?”

“Well, no, there’s not much chance of that, for we are pretty well surrounded by the enemy, and here we shall have to stay unless we can beat them off.”

“Where are we? What place is this?” asked Pen rather confusedly.

“One of our hiding-places, my friend, where we store up our goods and stable the mules when the pass near here is blocked up by snow or the frontier guards. Well, how do you feel now? Ready to go into hiding where you will be safe, or are you ready to help us against your enemies the French?”

“Will there be fighting?” asked Pen eagerly.

“You may be pretty sure of that; but I don’t want to force you two wounded young fellows into taking part therein unless you are willing.”

“I am willing,” said Pen decisively; “but it’s only fair that I should ask my comrade, who is only one of the buglers of my regiment.”

“Oh, of course,” said the smuggler captain, “a non-combatant. He carries a musket, I see, like yourself.”

“Yes,” replied Pen, with a smile, “but it is only a French piece. We belong to a rifle-regiment by rights.”

“Yes; I have heard of it,” said the smuggler.

“Well, I will ask him,” said Pen, “for he doesn’t understand a word we are saying.—Punch,” he continued, addressing the boy, “the contrabandista wants to know whether we will fire a few shots against the French who are trying to take the Spanish King.”

“Where do they want to take him?” cried the boy eagerly.

“Back to prison.”

“Why, of course we will,” said the boy sharply. “What do you want to ask that for?”

“Because he knows that you are not a private soldier, but a bugle-boy.”

“Well, I can’t help that, can I? I am a-growing, and I dare say I could hit a haystack as well as a good many of our chaps. They ain’t all of them so clever because they are a bit older than I am.”

“Well, don’t get into a tiff, Punch. This isn’t a time to show your temper.”

“Who’s a-showing temper? I can’t help being a boy. What does he want to chuck that in a fellow’s teeth for?”

“Quiet! Quiet!” said Pen, smiling. “Then I am to tell him that you are ready to have a shot or two at the enemy?”

“Well, I do call you a pretty comrade!” said the boy indignantly. “I should have thought you would have said yes at once, instead of parlyvooing about it like that.—Right, sir!” cried the boy, catching up his musket, giving it two or three military slaps, and drawing himself up as if he had just heard the command, “Present arms!”

Bon!” said the smuggler, smiling; and he gave the boy a friendly slap on the shoulder.

“Ah!” ejaculated Punch, “that’s better,” as the smuggler now turned away to speak to a group of his men who were standing keeping watch behind some rocks a short distance away.—“I say, comrade—you did tell me once, but I forgetted it—what does bong mean?”


“Ho! All right. Bong! I shall remember that next time. Fire a few shots! I am game to go on shooting as long as the cartridges last; and my box is full. How’s yours?”

“Only half,” replied Pen.

“Oh, well, fair-play’s a jewel; share and share alike. Here, catch hold. That looks like fair measure. We don’t want to count them, do we?”

“Oh no, that’s quite near enough.”

“Will we fire a few shots at the French?” continued Punch eagerly. “I should just think we will! Father always said to me, ‘Pay your debts, my boy, as long as the money lasts;’ and though it ain’t silver and copper here, it’s cartridges and— There! Ain’t it rum, comrade? Now, I wonder whether you feel the same. The very thought of paying has made the pain in my back come again. I say, how’s your leg?”