Chapter 7 | More About Him | !Tention

Chapter Seven.

It was bright daylight, and Pen Gray started up in alarm, his mind in a state of confusion consequent upon the heaviness of his sleep and the feeling of trouble that something—he knew not what—had happened.

For a few moments he was divided between the ideas that the enemy had come to arrest him and that his companion had passed away in his sleep. But these were only the ragged shadows of the night, for the boy was still sleeping soundly, the food remained untouched, and, upon cautiously looking outside, there was nothing to be seen but the beauties of a sunny morn.

Pen drew a deep breath as he returned to the hut, troubled with a sensation of weariness and strain, but still light-hearted and hopeful.

There was something invigorating in the mountain air even deep down there in the valley, and he was ready to smile at his position as his eyes lit upon the little pail.

“Oh, I say,” he said to himself, “it is like temptation placed in one’s way! How horribly hungry I am! Well, no wonder; but I must play fair.”

Taking out his knife, he was about to divide the piece of cake, which had so swollen up in the milk that there seemed to be a goodly portion for two; but, setting his teeth hard, he shut the knife with a snap and pulled himself together.

“Come,” he muttered, “I haven’t gone through all this drilling for months to snatch the first chance to forget it. I will begin the day by waiting until poor Punch wakes.”

He gave another look at his companion to make sure that he was still sleeping soundly and was no worse; and then, after glancing at the priming of his rifle, he stepped out to reconnoitre, keeping cautiously within shelter of the trees, but not obtaining a glimpse of any of the vedettes.

“Looks as if they have gone,” he thought, and he stepped to the edge of another patch of woodland to again sweep the valley-sides as far as was possible.

This led him to the edge of the river, where, as soon as he appeared, he was conscious of the fact that scores of semi-transparent-looking fish had darted away from close to his feet, to take shelter beneath stones and the bank higher up the stream, which glided down towards the fall pure as crystal and sparkling in the sun.

“Trout!” he exclaimed. “Something to forage for; and then a fire. Doesn’t look like starving.”

Pen took another good look round, but nothing like a vedette or single sentry was in view; and after a few moments of hesitation he snatched at the opportunity.

Stepping back into the shelter of the woods, he hurriedly stripped, after hanging his rifle from a broken branch, and then dashing out into the sunshine he leaped at once into the beautiful, clear, sparkling water, which flashed up at his plunge. Then striking out, he swam with vigorous strokes right into the depths, and felt that he was being carried steadily downward towards the fall.

This was something to make him put forth his strength; and as he struck out upstream so as to reach the bank again there was something wondrously invigorating in the cool, crisp water which sent thrills of strength through his exhausted frame, making the lad laugh aloud as he fought against the pressure of the water, won, and waded ashore nearly a hundred yards below where he had plunged in.

“What a stream!” he exclaimed as he shook the streaming water from his tense muscles. “I must mind another time. How cold it was! But how hot the sun feels! Double!” he ejaculated, and he started along the bank in a military trot, reached the spot again where he had made his plunge, looked round, indulged in another run in the brilliant sunshine, and, pretty well half-dried by his efforts, stepped back into the wood and rapidly resumed his clothes.

“Why, it has pretty well taken the stiffness out of me,” he muttered, “and I feel ready for anything, only I’m nearly famished. Here, I can’t wait,” he added, as he finished dressing, smartening himself up into soldierly trim, and giving his feet a stamp or two as he resumed his boots. “Now, how about poor Punch? He can’t be worse, for he seemed to have slept so well. It seems hard, but I must wake him up.”

To the lad’s great satisfaction, as he reached the door of the rough cabin, he found that the wounded boy was just unclosing his eyes to look at him wonderingly as if unable to make out what it all meant.

“Gray,” he said faintly.

“Yes. How are you, lad?”

“I—I don’t quite know,” was the reply, given in a faint voice.—“Oh, I recollect now. Yes. There, it stings—my wound.”

“Yes, I’ll bathe it and see to it soon,” said Pen eagerly; “but you are no worse.”

“Ain’t I? I—I thought I was. I say, look here, Gray; what does this mean? I can’t lift this arm at all. It hurts so.”

“Yes. Stiff with your wound; but it will be better when I have done it up.”

“Think so?”


“But look here.”

“Yes, I am looking.”

“This arm isn’t wounded. Look at that.”

“Yes, I see; you lifted it up and it fell down again.”

“Yes. There’s no strength in it. It ain’t dead yet?”

“Didn’t seem like it,” said Pen, smiling cheerily. “You lifted it up.”

“Yes, I know; but it fell back again. And what’s the matter with my voice?”


“Yes, there is,” cried the boy peevishly. “It’s all gone squeaky again, like it was before it changed and turned gruff. I say, Gray, am I going to be very bad, and never get well again?”

“Not you! What nonsense!”

“But I am so weak.”

“Well, you have seen plenty of our poor fellows in hospital, haven’t you?”

“Yes, some of them,” said the boy feebly.

“Well, weren’t they weak?”

“Yes, I forgot all that; but I wasn’t so bad as this yesterday. It was yesterday, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. Don’t you remember?”

“No. How was it?”

“There, don’t you bother your brains about that.”

“But I want to know.”

“And I want you to do all you can to get well.”

“Course you do. ’Tisn’t fever, is it?”

“Fever! No! Yes, you were feverish. Every one is after a wound. Now then,” And he took out and opened his knife.

“Wound! Wound!” said the boy, watching him. “Whatcher going to do with your knife? Take your bay’net if you want to finish a fellow off.”

“Well, I don’t,” said Pen, laughing.

“’Tain’t anything to laugh at, comrade.”

“Yes, it is, when you talk nonsense. Now then, breakfast.”

“Don’t gammon,” said the poor fellow feebly. “My head isn’t all swimmy now. Beginning to remember. Didn’t you carry me down here?”

“To be sure, and precious heavy you were!”

“Good chap!” said the boy, sighing. “You always was a trump; but don’t play with a poor fellow. There can’t be no breakfast.”

“Oh, can’t there? I’ll show you; and I want to begin. I say, Punch, I’m nearly starved.”

“I’m not,” said the poor fellow sadly. “I couldn’t eat.”

“Oh, well, you have got to, so look sharp, or I shall go mad.”

“Whatcher mean?”

“I told you I’m starving. I have hardly touched anything for two days except water.”

“Well, go on then. What is there for breakfast?”


“Ugh! Don’t! Black dry bread! It makes me feel sick.”

“Bread and milk.”

“Where did you get the milk?”

“Never you mind,” said Pen, plunging his knife into the dark sop which half-filled the little pail. “Now then, you have got to eat first.”

“No, don’t ask me; I can’t touch it,” and the boy closed his eyes against the piece of saturated bread that his companion held out to him on the knife.

“You must,” said Pen; “so look sharp.”

“I can’t, I tell you.”

“Well, then, I shall have to starve.”

“No, no; go on.”

“After you.”

It took a good deal of pressure, but at last the truth of the French saying about its being only the first step that costs was proved, for after the first mouthful, of which the poor fellow shudderingly partook, the boy consented to open his mouth again, after holding out until his amateur surgeon and nurse had consented to share the meal, which proved refreshing to the patient, who partook of a little; while, bearing in mind that he could at all events restore the fluid food, Pen ate ravenously, his spirits rising with every mouthful.

“It will go hard,” he said to himself, “if I can’t forage something else. There are the trout, to begin with. I know I can catch some of them in the shallows, and that too without rod or line. That is,” he added, “if we are not found out and marched off as prisoners.”

“Whatcher thinking about?” said Punch drowsily.

“Catching fish, and making a fire to cook them.”

“There’s my flint and steel in my satchel, but where’s your fish?”

“In the river.”

“But you can’t catch ’em.”

“Oh, can’t I, Punch?”

“Oh yes, I know,” piped the boy. “They are trout. I saw some the other day when we crossed that stream. I saw some run under the stones, and wanted to creep up and tiddle one, only I couldn’t leave the ranks.”

“Ah, well, there are no ranks to leave now, Punch, and we shall have plenty of time to tiddle the trout, as you call it, for we shall have to stay here till you get well.”

“I say, don’t talk, please. Want to go to sleep.”

“That’s right,” said Pen cheerfully. “Sleep away, and I won’t bathe your wound till you wake again.”

The boy made no answer, but dropped off at once.

“That’s better,” thought Pen, “and while he sleeps I will see whether I can’t get some of the trout.”

He waited until his companion was breathing heavily, and then he seated himself by the door and began to carefully clean his rifle and accoutrements, which soldierly task at an end, he stood over the sleeping boy a few minutes, and then stepped outside the dark hut to plunge into the sunshine; but, recollecting himself, he stepped in amongst the trees, and keeping close in their shelter moved from spot to spot spending nearly half an hour searching every eminence for signs of danger.

“The coast seems clear,” he said to himself, “and the enemy may have moved on; but I must be careful. I want to join our fellows, of course; but if I’m made prisoner it will be the death of poor Punch, for they are not very careful about prisoners, and—”

Pen stopped short as he held on to the bough of one of the stunted trees growing in the rocky bottom and peered out to sweep the side of the valley where he felt that the mule-track ought to be.

He started back as if the bullet that had been fired from a musket had cut the leaves above his head and stood listening to the roll of echoes which followed the shot. Then there was another, and another, followed by scores, telling him that a sharp skirmish had begun; and after a while he could just make out a faint cloud of smoke above the trees, where the dim vapour was slowly rising.

“Yes,” he said, “that’s where I thought the mule-path must be. But what a height it is up! And what does it mean? Are our fellows coming back and driving the enemy before them, or is it the other way on?”

There was no telling; but when, about an hour later, the firing had grown nearer and then slowly become more and more distant till it died away, Pen had learned one thing, and that was the necessity for keeping carefully in hiding, for the enemy must be somewhere near.

He stepped back into the hut after silence once more reigned in the false scene of peace, and found that the peppering of the musketry had had no effect upon the sleeper, who did not stir when he leant over him and laid his hand upon the poor fellow’s forehead, which was cool and moist.

“Ha!” sighed Pen, “he’s not going to die; but he will be as weak as weak for a month to come, and I ought to have been with our fellows instead of hiding here, for I have no business to be doing ambulance work, and so they would tell me. Ah!” he ejaculated, as he started to the door again, for from somewhere much farther away there came the deep roll of a platoon of musketry, which was repeated again and again, but always more distant, though growing, while still more faintly, into the sounds of a sharp engagement, till it died quite away.

“I never thought of that. That first firing I heard must have been the enemy. I wonder I didn’t think so before. I am sure now. There wasn’t a single shot that I could have said was from a rifle. But it is impossible to say for certain which side is holding the valley. At any rate our fellows were not there.”