Chapter 43 | Fresh Comrades | !Tention

Chapter Forty Three.

Pen never could quite settle in his own mind how it all happened. He was conscious of the rush of water and the foam bubbling against his lips, while he clung tightly to his companion till they were swept against rocks, borne into eddies, whirled round now beneath the surface, now gasping for breath as darkness was turned into light; then feeling as if they were being dragged over rough pieces of rock that were slimy with weed as he caught at them with one hand, and then, still clinging to Punch, who clung to him, they were being carried slowly over a shallow patch where the water raced beside their ears, till at last he struggled out, half-blind and dizzy, to find himself alone, with the sun beating hotly upon his head.

He was giddy, breathless, confused in his excitement, as he pressed the water from his eyes; and then he uttered a cry, for about twenty yards from where he stood, with the water barely up to his ankles, he could see Punch lying upon his face, gradually gliding away towards the spot where the stream was beginning to run smooth and deep.

He could recall this part of his adventure, though, well enough: how he staggered and splashed to the place, where he could catch hold of the boy, and turn him over before getting hold of his belt and dragging him right out of the river on to the sandy bank where it was hot and dry.

And then he could recall how a great despair came upon him, and he knelt helplessly gazing down at his comrade, with the horrible feeling upon him that he was dead.

Then all was misty again. The river was running onward with a swift rush towards its mouth, and he was conscious that he was safe upon the bank from which he had started. Then he knew that he must have swooned away, and lay, for how long he could not tell; but the next thing that he remembered clearly was that he opened his eyes to see Punch bending over him and rocking him to and fro according to the drill instructions they had both learned as to how to deal with a fellow-soldier who has been half-drowned.

“Oh, Punch,” he cried, in a voice that sounded to him like a hoarse whisper, “I thought you were dead!”

The boy was blubbering as if his heart would break, and it was some moments before he half-sobbed and half-whimpered out, “Why, you couldn’t have done that, because it’s what I was thinking about you. But, I say, comrade, you are all right, aren’t you?”

“I—I suppose so,” gasped Pen.

“Oh, don’t talk like that,” sobbed the boy.

“This ’ere’s the worst of all. Do say as you are coming round. Why, you must be, or else you couldn’t talk. But, I say, did you save me, or did I save you? Blest if I know! And here we are on the wrong side after all! What’s to be done now?”

“Wring our clothes, I suppose, Punch,” said Pen wearily, “or lie down and rest without.”

“Well, I feel as if I should like to do that,” said Punch. “This ’ere sand is hot and dry enough to make us steam. I say, comrade,” he continued, wiping his eyes and speaking in a piteous tone, “don’t you take no notice of me and the water squeezing out of my eyes. I am so full of it that it’s running out. But we are all right, comrade. I was beginning to think you had gone and left me all alone. But I say, this ’ere’s a nice place, this Spain! Here, what’s the matter with you?” continued Punch excitedly. “Don’t turn like that, choking and pynting. Oh, this ’ere’s worse still! He’s in a blessed fit!”

He had seized Pen by the shoulders now, and began shaking him violently, till Pen began to struggle with him, forced him aside, and then pointing across the river, he gasped out, “Cavalry! Look, look!”

The boy swung himself round, one hand felt for his musket, the other at his belt, where the bayonet should have been, for the word cavalry suggested to him preparations for receiving a charge.

Then, following the direction of his companion’s pointing hand, he fully grasped what was meant, for coming down the slope across the river were a couple of English light dragoons, who had caught sight of the two figures on the opposite bank.

The men were approaching cautiously, each with his carbine at the ready, and for the moment it seemed as if the vedette were about to place the lives of the two lads in fresh peril. But as they drew nearer the boys rose and shouted; though the rushing noise of the river drowned their words.

As the boys continued to gesticulate, the men began to grasp the fact that they had been in the water, and what they were, for one of them began pointing along the stream and waving his hand, as he shouted again and again.

“Can’t—understand—what—you—say!” yelled Punch; and then putting his hand to his lips, he shouted with all his might, “English! Help!”

The word “help” evidently reached the ears of one of the dragoons, for, rising in his stirrups, he waved the hand that held his carbine and pointed downstream, yelling out something again.

“I don’t know, comrade,” cried Punch dolefully. “I think it was ‘Come on!’”

“I know now,” cried Pen. “It was ‘ford.’”

Then the drenched, exhausted pair staggered on over the dry sand, which suggested that at times the river must be twice its present width; and the vedette guided their horses carefully on amongst the stones of the farther bank, till, a few hundred yards lower down, where the river was clear of obstructions and ran swiftly on in a regular ripple, the two horses turned right and paced gently down into the water, which, half-way to their knees, splashed up as they made for the opposite bank, which the lads reached at the same time as the vedette.

“Why, hallo, my lads! We couldn’t make out what you were. The —th, aren’t you?”


“What! Have you been in the river?”

“Yes, tried to cross—’most drowned,” said Punch hoarsely.

“You should have come down to this ford. Where are you for?”

“Our corps, when we can find it,” said Pen.

“Oh, that’s all right; about two miles away. Come on.”

“Not me!” said Punch sturdily. “I have had enough of it.”

“What do you mean?” said the other dragoon who had not spoken. “Afraid to cross?”

“Yes, that’s it,” said Punch. “So would you be if you had had my dose. I’m nearly full of water now.”

“Well, you look it,” said the first dragoon, laughing. “Here, take hold of our stirrup-leathers. We will take you across all right.”

Punch hesitated.

“Shall we risk it, comrade?” he said.

“Yes, of course.”

And Punch limped painfully to the side of the second dragoon, while Pen took hold of the stirrup-leather of the first.

“Here, I say, this won’t do,” said the man, as their horses’ hoofs sank in the hot, dry sand of the other side. “Why, you are both regularly knocked up.—Dismount!” he cried, and he and his companion dropped from their saddles. “There, my lads, mount. You can ride the rest of the way. Hallo! Limping?” he continued. “What does that mean? Footsore, or a wound?”

“Wound,” said Pen quietly. “My comrade, there, has been worse than I. How far do you say it is to the camp?”

“A couple of miles; but we will see you there safe. How have you been off for rations?”

Pen told him, and an end was put to their famishing state by a surprise of the dragoons’ haversacks.

About half an hour later the led horses entered the camp, and the boy’s hearts were gladdened by the cheery notes of a cavalry call.

“Ah,” whispered Punch, as he leaned over from his seat in the saddle to whisper to Pen, “that seems to do a fellow’s heart good, comrade. But ’tain’t so good as a bugle. If I could hear that again I should be just myself.”