Chapter 9 | How To Treat an Enemy | !Tention

Chapter Nine.

“Well, but is that all?” said Punch.

“Yes, and now you are tired and had better have a nap, and by the time you wake I will have some more milk for you.”

“Bother the old milk! I’m sick of it; and I don’t want to go to sleep. I feel sometimes as if I had nearly slept my head off. A fellow can’t be always sleeping. Now, look here; I tell you what you have got to do some day. You must serve that uncle of yours out.”

“Let him rest. You are tired and weak.”

“No, I ain’t. All that about you has done me good. I did not know that you had had such a lot of trouble, sir.”

“Ah, what’s that, Punch!” cried Pen sharply. “Don’t you say ‘sir’ to me again!”

“Shall if I like. Ain’t you a gentleman?”

“No, sir. Only Private Penton Gray, of the —th Rifles.”

“Well, you are a-saying ‘sir’ to me.”

“Yes, but I don’t mean it as you do. While I am in the regiment we are equals.”

“Oh yes, I like that!” said the boy with a faint laugh. “Wish we was. Only Private Penton Gray of the —th! Well, ain’t that being a gentleman? Don’t our chaps all carry rifles? They are not like the line regiments with their common Brown Besses. Sharpshooters, that’s what we are. But they didn’t shoot sharp enough the other day, or else we shouldn’t be here. I have been thinking when I have been lying half-asleep that there were so many Frenchies that they got our lads between two fires and shot ’em all down.”

“I hope not, Punch. What makes you think that?”

“Because if they had been all right they would have been after us before now to cut us out, and—and—I say, my head’s beginning to swim again.”

“Exactly, you are tired out and must go to sleep again.”

“But I tell you I don’t—”

The poor boy stopped short, to gaze appealingly in his companion’s eyes as if asking for help, and the help Pen gave was to lay his hand gently on his eyelids and keep it there till he felt that the sufferer had sunk into a deep sleep.

The next day the poor fellow had quite a serious relapse, and lay looking so feeble that once more Pen in his alarm stood watching and blaming himself for rousing the boy into such a state of excitement that he seemed to have caused him serious harm.

But just as Punch seemed at the worst he brightened up again.

“Look here,” he said, “I ain’t bad. I know what it is.”

“So do I,” replied Pen. “You have been trying your strength too much.”

“Wrong!” cried the boy faintly. “It was you give me too much to eat. You ought to have treated me like a doctor would, or as if I was a prisoner, and given me dry bread.”

“Ah!” sighed Pen. “But where was the bread to come from?”

“Jusso,” said Punch, with a faint little laugh; “and you can’t make bread without flour, can you? But don’t you think I’m going to die, because I am ever so much better to-day, and shall be all right soon. Now, go on talking to me again about your uncle.”

“No,” said Pen, “you have heard too much of my troubles already.”

“Oh no, I ain’t. I want to hear you talk about it.”

“Then you will have to wait, Punch.”

“All right, then. I shall lie and think till my head begins to go round and round, and I shall go on thinking about myself till I get all miserable and go backwards. You don’t want that, do you?”

“You know I don’t.”

“Very well, then, let’s have some more uncle. It’s like doctor’s stuff to me. I’ve been thinking that you might wait a bit, and then go and see that lawyer chap and punch his head, only that would be such a common sort of way. It would be all right if it was me, but it wouldn’t do for you. This would be better. I have thought it out.”

“Yes, you think too much, Punch,” said Pen, laying his hand upon his companion’s forehead.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” cried the boy pettishly. “It’s nice and cool now.”

“Yes, it is better now. That last sleep did you good.”

“Not it, for I was thinking all the time.”

“Nonsense! You were fast asleep.”

“Yesterday,” said the boy; “but I was only shamming to-day, so that I could think, and I have been thinking that this would do. You must wait till we have whopped the French and gone back to England, and got our new uniforms served out, and burnt all our rags. Then we must go and see your uncle, and—”

“That’ll do, Punch. I want to see to your wound now.”

“What for? It’s going on all right. Here, whatcher doing of? You ain’t going to cut up that other sleeve of your shirt, are you?”

“Yes; it is quite time that you had a fresh bandage.”

“Ah, that’s because you keep getting it into your head that I’m worse and that I’m going to die; and it’s all wrong, for I am going to be all right. The Frenchies thought they’d done for me; but I won’t die, out of spite. I am going to get strong again, and as soon as the colonel lets me carry a rifle I will let some of them have it, and— Oh, very well; if you must do it, I suppose I must lie still; only get it over. But—ya! I don’t mean to die. What’s the good of it, when there’s so much for us to do in walloping the French? But when we do get back to the regiment you see how I will stick up for you, and what a lot I will make the chaps think of you!”

“Will you keep your tongue quiet, Punch?”

“No, I sha’n’t,” said the boy with a mocking laugh. “There, you needn’t tie that so tight so as to make it hurt me, because I shall go on talking all the same—worse. You always begin to shy and kick out like one of those old mules when I begin talking to you like this. You hates to hear the truth. I shall tell the chaps every blessed thing.”

But, all the same, Punch lay perfectly still now until the dressing of his wound was at an end; and then very faintly, almost in a whisper, he said, “Yes; our chaps never knew what a good chap—”

“Ah! Asleep again!” said Pen, with a sigh of relief. “There must be slight delirium, and I suppose I shall be doing no good by trying to stop him. Poor fellow! He doesn’t know how he hurts me when he goes wandering on like this. I wish I could think out some way of getting a change of food. Plenty of milk, plenty of fish. I have been as far as I dared in every direction, but there isn’t a trace of a cottage. I don’t want much—only one of those black-bread cakes now and then. Any one would have thought that the people in a country like this would have kept plenty of fowls. Perhaps they do where there are any cottages. Ah, there’s no shamming now. He’s fast enough asleep, and perhaps when he awakes he will be more himself.”

But poor Punch’s sleep only lasted about half an hour, and then he woke up with his eyes glittering and with a strangely eager look in his countenance, as he stretched out the one hand that he could use.

“Yes,” he said, “that’s it. I know what you will have to do. Go to that uncle of yours—”

“Punch, lad,” cried Pen, laying his hand softly upon the one that had closed upon his wrist, “don’t talk now.”

“I won’t much, only it stops my head from going round. I just want to say—”

“Yes, I know; but I have been watching a deal while you slept.”

“What for?” cried the boy.

“To make sure that the enemy did not surprise us.”

“Ah, you are a good chap,” said the boy, pressing his wrist.

“And I am very tired, and when you talk my head begins to go round too.”

“Does it? Well, then, I won’t say much; only I have got this into my head, and something seems to make me tell you.”

“Leave it till to-morrow morning, then.”

“No; it must come now, for fear I should forget it. What you have to do is to go to your uncle like an officer and a gentleman—”

“Punch, Punch!”

“All right; I have just done. Pistols like an officer—same as they uses when they fights duels. Then you walks straight up to him, with your head in the air, and you says to him, ‘You don’t desarve it, sir, but I won’t take any dirty advantage of you; so there’s the pistols,’ you says. ‘Which will you choose? For we are going to settle this little affair.’ Then I’ll tell you how it is. Old Pat Reilly—who was a corporal once, before he was put back into the ranks—I heerd him telling our chaps over their pipes how he went with the doctor of the regiment he was in to carry his tools to mend the one of them who was hurt. He called it—he was an Irishman, you know—a jool; and he said when you fight a jool, and marches so many paces, and somebody—not the doctor, but what they calls the second—only I think Pat made a mistake, because there can’t be two seconds; one of them must be a first or a third—”

“There, Punch, tell me the rest to-morrow.”

“No,” said the boy obstinately; but his voice was growing weaker. “I have just done, and I shall be better then, for what I wanted to say will have left off worrying me. Let’s see what it was. Oh, I know. You stands opposite to your uncle, turns sideways, raises your pistol, takes a good aim at him, and shoots him dead. Now then, what do you say to that?”

“That I don’t want to shoot him dead, Punch.”

“You don’t?”


“Why, isn’t he your enemy?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then I suppose that won’t do.”

“I’m afraid not, Punch.”

“Then you must wait a little longer till you get promoted for bravery in the field. You will be Captain Gray then, and then you can go to him, and look him full in the face, and smile at him as if you felt that he was no better than a worm, and ask him what he thinks of that.”

“What! Of my captain’s uniform, Punch?”

“No, I mean you smiling down at him as if he wasn’t worth your notice.”

“Ah, that sounds better, Punch.”

“Then, you think that will do?”


“Then, now I will go to sleep.”

“Ah, and get better, Punch.”

“Oh yes, I am going to get better now.”

With a sigh of satisfaction, the boy closed his eyes, utterly exhausted, and lay breathing steadily and well, while Pen stood leaning over him waiting till he felt sure that the boy was asleep; and then, as he laid his hand lightly upon his patient’s brow, a sense of hopefulness came over him on feeling that he was cool and calm.

“There are moments,” he thought to himself, “when it seems as if I ought to give up as prisoners, for it is impossible to go on like this. Poor fellow, he wants suitable food, and think how I will I don’t know what I could do to get him better food. I should be to blame if I stand by and see him die for want of proper nourishment.” And it seemed to him that his depressing thoughts had affected his eyes, for the cabin had grown dull and gloomy, and his despair became more deep.

“Oh, it’s no use to give way,” he muttered. “There must be food of some kind to be found if I knew where to forage for it. Why not kill one of the kids?”

He stopped short in his planning and took a step forward, to pass round the rough heather pallet, thus bringing him out of the shadow into the light and face to face with a girl of about seventeen or eighteen, who was resting one hand upon the doorpost and peering in at the occupant of the rough bed, but who now uttered a faint cry and turned to run.