Chapter 41 | Boots or Booty? | !Tention

Chapter Forty One.

“There, Punch,” said Pen, rising; “you didn’t dream, did you, that our friends crept up with their knives in the night to make an end of you?”

“No,” cried the boy excitedly, as he turned to gaze after the men, who were some little distance away amongst the goats, “I didn’t dream it. It was real. First one of them and then the other did come with his knife in his hand; but I cocked my musket, and they sneaked off again and pretended that they wanted to see to the fire.”

“And what then?” said Pen.

“Well, there wasn’t no what then,” replied the boy, “and I must have gone to sleep.”

“That was all a dream, I believe, Punch; and I suppose you had another dream or two about the wolves?”

“Yes, that was a dream. Yes, it must have been. No, it was more a bit of fancy, for I half-woke up and saw the fire shining on a whole drove of the savage beasts; but I soon made out that they weren’t wolves, because wolves don’t have horns. So it was the goats. I say, look here. Those two chaps have been milking. They don’t mean it for us, do they?”

The coming of the two goat-herds soon proved that they were hospitably bent, and the lads agreed between themselves that there were far worse breakfasts than black-bread cake and warm goat’s-milk.

This ended, a difficult task had to be mastered, and that was to try and obtain information such as would enable the two questioners to learn the whereabouts of the British troops.

But it proved to be easier than might have been supposed.

To Pen’s surprise he learned all he wanted by the use of three words—soldado, Francés, and Inglés—with the addition of a good deal of gesticulation.

For, their breakfast ended, the two lads stood with their hosts, and Pen patted his own breast and that of his companion, and then touched their muskets and belts.

Soldado,” he said. “Soldado.”

The fiercer-looking of the two goat-herds caught his meaning directly, and touched them both in turn upon the breast before repeating the word soldado (soldier).

“That’s all right, Punch,” said Pen. “I have made him understand that we are soldiers.”

“Tchah!” said Punch scornfully. “These Spaniels ain’t fools. They knowed that without you telling them.”

“Never mind,” said Pen. “Let me have my own way, unless you would like to do it.”

“No, thank you,” replied the boy, shrinking back, while Pen now turned and pointed in the direction where he believed the French troops lay.

Soldado Francés?” he said in a questioning tone; and the man nodded quickly, caught hold of the lad’s pointing arm, and pressed it a little to one side, as if to show him that he had not quite located their enemies correctly.

Soldado Francés!” he said, showing his white teeth in a smile; and then his face changed and he drew his knife. “Soldado Francés,” he said fiercely.

Pen nodded, and signed to the man to replace his knife.

“So far, so good, Punch,” said Pen. “I don’t know how we are going to get on about the next question.”

But again the task proved perfectly easy, for, laying his hand upon the goat-herd’s arm, he repeated the words “Soldado Inglés.”

Si,” said the man directly; and he patted the lad on his shoulder. “Soldado Inglés.”

“Yes, that’s all right,” said Pen; “but, now then, look here,” And pointing with his hand to a spot higher up the mountain, he repeated the two Spanish words with a questioning tone: “Soldado Inglés?”

The man looked at him blankly, and Pen pointed in another direction, repeating his question, and then again away down a far-reaching valley lying westward of where they stood.

And now the Spaniard’s face lit up as if he fully grasped the meaning of the question.

Si, si, si!” he cried, nodding quickly and pointing right away into the distant valley. “Soldado Inglés! Soldado Inglés!” he cried. “Muchos, muchos.” And then, thoroughly following the meaning of the lad’s questions, he cried excitedly, as he pointed away down the valley, where an occasional flash of light suggested the presence of a river, “Soldado Inglés, muchos, muchos.” And then he tapped the musket and belts and repeated his words again and again as he pointed away into the distance.

Bravo amigo!” cried Pen.—“There, Punch, I don’t think there’s a doubt of it. The British forces lie somewhere over there.”

“Then if the British forces lie over there,” cried Punch, almost pompously, “that’s where the —th lies, for they always go first. Why, we shall be at home again to-night if we have luck. My word, won’t the chaps give us a hooroar when we march into camp? For, of course, they think we are dead! You listen what old O’Grady says. You see if he don’t say, ‘Well done, me boys! Ye are welkim as the flures of May.’ I say, ask him how many miles it is to where our fellows lie.”

“No, Punch, you do it.”

“No, I ain’t going to try.”

“Well, look here; these men have been very good to us, and we ought to show that we are grateful. How is it to be done?”

“I don’t know,” said Punch. “We ain’t got no money, have we?”

“Not a peseta, Punch. But I tell you what will please them. You must give them your knife.”

“Give them my knife! Likely! Why, it’s the best bit of stuff that was ever made. I wouldn’t take a hundred pounds for it.”

“Well, no one will offer it to you, Punch, and you are not asked to sell it. I ask you to give it to them to pay for what they have done for us.”

“But give my knife! I wouldn’t.—Oh, well, all right. You know best, and if you think we ought to give it to them, there you are.—Good-bye, old sharper! I am very sorry to part with you all the same.”

“Never mind, Punch. I’ll give you a better one some day.”

“Some day never comes,” said the boy grumpily. “But I know you will if you can.”

Pen took the knife, and, eager to get the matter over, he stepped to where the bigger goat-herd stood watching them, and opened and shut the big clasp-knife, picked up a piece of wood, and showed how keen the blade was, the man watching him curiously the while; and then Pen closed it and placed it in the man’s hand.

The Spaniard looked at him curiously for a moment, as if not quite grasping his meaning.

Por usted,” said Pen; and the man nodded and smiled, but shook his head and gave him the knife back.

“Hooroar! He won’t have it,” cried Punch.

Pen pressed it upon the man again, and Punch groaned; but the man rejected it, once more thrusting the knife back with both hands, and then laughingly pointed down to Pen’s boots.

“What does he mean by that, Punch?” cried Pen.

“Haw, haw, haw, haw!” laughed the boy. “He wants you to give him your boots.”


“Here, give us hold of my knife. Hooroar! Sharper, I have got you again! But he sha’n’t have your boots; he shall have mine, and welcome.—Look here, my cock Spaniel,” continued the boy excitedly, as he pocketed his knife, and dropping himself on the ground he began to unfasten his boots. But the man shook his head and signed to him that they would not do, pointing again and again to Pen’s. “No, no; you can’t have them. These are better. You can have them and welcome.”

But there was a difference of opinion, the Spaniard persisting in his demand for the pair that had taken his fancy.

“Here, I didn’t think he was such a fool,” cried Punch. “These are the best;” and the boy thrust off his boots and held them out to the man, who still shook his head violently.

“No, no, Punch,” said Pen, who had quickly followed his companion’s example; and he drew off his own boots and held them to the man, who seized them joyfully, showing them with a look of triumph to his fellow. “There, put yours on again, Punch.”

“Not me,” said the boy. “Think I’m going to tramp in boots and let you tramp over the rocks barefoot? Blest if I do; so there! Here, you put them on.”

“Not I,” said Pen. “I don’t believe they would fit me.”

“Yes, they would. I do know that. You are years older than I am, but my feet’s quite as big as yours; so now then. I tried yours when you was asleep one night, and they fitted me exactly, so of course these ’ere will fit you. Here, catch hold.”

Pen turned away so decisively that the boy stood scowling; but a thought struck him, and with a look of triumph he turned to the younger of the two goat-herds.

“Here you are, cocky,” he cried; and to the man’s keen delight Punch thrust the pair of boots into his hands and gave him a hearty slap on the back. “It’s all right, comrade,” cried the boy. “Foots soon gets hard when you ain’t got no shoes. Nature soles and heels them with her own leather. Lots of our chaps have chucked their boots away, and don’t mind a bit. There was plenty of foots in the world, me boy, before there was any brogues. I heered O’Grady say that one day to one of our chaps who had had his boots stolen. I say, what are they going to do?”

This soon became evident, for the elder goat-herd, on seeing that the lads were about to start in the direction of the valley, pressed upon Pen a goatskin-bag which he took from a corner of the shelter, its contents being a couple of bread-cakes, a piece of cheese like dried brown leather, about a dozen onions, and the horn of salt.

“Come along, Punch,” cried Pen cheerily. “They have given us a quid pro quo at all events.”

“Have they?” cried Punch eagerly. “Take care of it then. I have often longed for a bit when I felt so horribly hungry. Old O’Grady told me over and over again that a chew of ’bacco is splendid when you ain’t got nothing to eat; so we will just try.”

“What are you talking about?” said Pen, as they marched along the mountain-slope like some one of old who “went delicately,” for the way was stony, and Nature had not had time to commence the promised soleing and heeling process.

“What was I talking about? You said they’d slipped some ’bacco into the bag.”

“Nonsense!” cried Pen.

“I swear you did. You said quid something.”

“I said a few Latin words that sounded like it.”

“Well, look ye here, comrade; don’t do it again. Latin was all very well for that old padre—good old chap! Bless his bald head! Regular trump he was! And parlyvooing was all very well for Mr Contrabando; but plain English for Bob Punchard, sivvy play, as we say in French.”