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´╗┐Title: !Tention - A Story of Boy-Life during the Peninsular War
Author: Fenn, George Manville, 1831-1909
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "!Tention - A Story of Boy-Life during the Peninsular War" ***

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!Tention, a Story of Boy-Life during the Peninsular War, by George
Manville Fenn.

________________________________________________________________________

A young private, Penton Gray, known as Pen, is injured during an
engagement in the Peninsular War.  When he comes to he finds that the
boy bugler, Punch, from his regiment, is lying injured close by.  The
British troops are near, but the area where the boys are is occupied by
the French, who are the enemy.  The boys need to recover from their
wounds, and then to get back to their regiment.  They have numerous
adventures, and meet several people who help them, including the deposed
Spanish King.

Eventually they reach their regiment where they are interviewed by the
commanding officer, who realises that the young private has actually had
the education normally needed for an officer, and that he has the
knowledge needful to lead the troops through the mountains to take the
French in the rear.  This engagement is very successful, leading to the
routing of the French.  As a result Private Gray is made up to officer
rank.

The book is well written, and is an enjoyable read or listen.

________________________________________________________________________

!TENTION, A STORY OF BOY-LIFE DURING THE PENINSULAR WAR, BY GEORGE
MANVILLE FENN.



CHAPTER ONE.

TO SAVE A COMRADE.

A sharp volley, which ran echoing along the ravine, then another, just
as the faint bluish smoke from some hundred or two muskets floated up
into the bright sunshine from amidst the scattered chestnuts and
cork-trees that filled the lower part of the beautiful gorge, where, now
hidden, now flashing out and scattering the rays of the sun, a torrent
roared and foamed along its rocky course onward towards its junction
with the great Spanish river whose destination was the sea.

Again another ragged volley; and this was followed by a few dull,
heavy-sounding single shots, which came evidently from a skirmishing
party which was working its way along the steep slope across the river.

There was no responsive platoon reply to the volley, but the skirmishing
shots were answered directly by _crack! crack! crack_! the reports that
sounded strangely different to those heavy, dull musket-shots which came
from near at hand, and hardly needed glimpses of dark-green uniforms
that dotted the hither slope of the mountain-side to proclaim that they
were delivered by riflemen who a few minutes before were, almost in
single line, making their way along a rugged mountain-path.

A second glance showed that they formed the rear-guard of a body of
sharpshooters, beyond whom in the distance could be made out now and
then glints of bright scarlet, which at times looked almost orange in
the brilliant sunshine--orange flashed with silver, as the sun played
upon musket-barrel and fixed bayonet more than shoulder-high.

The country Spain, amidst the towering Pyrenees; the scarlet that of a
British column making its way along a rugged mule-path, from which those
that traversed it looked down upon a scene of earthly beauty, and
upwards at the celestial blue, beyond which towered the rugged peaks
where here and there patches of the past winter's snow gleamed and
sparkled in the sun.

Strategy had indicated retreat; and the black-green, tipped at collar
and cuff with scarlet, of England's rifle-regiment was covering the
retiring line, when the blue-coated columns of the French General's
division had pressed on and delivered the wild volleys and scattered
shots of the skirmishers which drew forth the sharp, vicious, snapping
reply of the retreating rear-guard.

"At last!" said one of the riflemen, rising from where he had knelt on
one knee to take cover behind a bush, and there stand driving down a
cartridge with a peculiarly sharp, ringing sound of iron against iron,
before finishing off with a few heavy thuds, returning the bright rod to
its loops, and raising the pan of the lock to see that it was well
primed with the coarse powder of the day.

"Yes--at last!" said his nearest comrade, who with a few more had halted
at a subaltern's command to wait in cover for a shot or two at their
pursuing foe.  "Are we going to hold this place?"

"No," said the young officer.  "Hear that, my man?"  For a note or two
of a bugle rang out sweet and clear in the beautiful valley, suggesting
to one of the men a similar scene in an English dell; but he sighed to
himself as it struck him that this was a different hunt, and that they,
the men of the --th, the one rifle-regiment of the British Army, were
the hunted, and that those who followed were the French.

A few more cracks from the rifles as the retreat was continued, and then
the French musketry ceased; but the last of the sharpshooters obtained
glimpses of the blue coats of the French coming quickly on.

"Have you sickened them, my lads?" said the young officer, as he led his
men after the retreating main body of their friends.

"No, sir," said the young private addressed; "they seem to have lost
touch of us.  The mule-track has led right away to the left here."

"To be sure--yes.  Then they will begin again directly.  Keep your face
well to the enemy, and take advantage of every bit of cover.--Here,
bugler, keep close up to me."

The sturdy-looking boy addressed had just closed up to his officer's
side when, as they were about to plunge into a low-growing patch of
trees, there was another volley, the bullets pattering amongst the
branches, twigs and leaves cut from above the men's heads falling
thickly.

"Forward, my lads--double!"  And the subaltern led his men through the
trees to where the mountain-side opened out a little more; and, pointing
with his sword to a dense patch a little farther on, he shouted, "Take
cover there!  We must hold that patch.--Here, bugler!--Where's that
boy?"

No one answered, the men hurriedly following the speaker at the double;
but the young private who had replied to the subaltern's questions,
having fallen back to where he was running with a companion in the rear,
looked over his shoulder, and then, startled by the feeling that the boy
had not passed through the clump, he stopped short, his companion
imitating his example and replying to the eager question addressed to
him:

"I dunno, mate.  I thought he was with his officer.  Come on; we don't
want to be prisoners."

He started again as he spoke, not hearing, or certainly not heeding, his
comrade's angry words--

"He must be back there in the wood."

Carrying his rifle at the trail, he dashed back into the wood, hearing,
as he ran, shouts as of orders being given by the enemy; but he ran on
right through the clump of trees to where the mule-path meandered along
by the edge of the precipice, and lay open before him to the next patch
of woodland which screened the following enemy from view.

But the path was not unoccupied, for there, about fifty yards from him,
he caught sight of his unfortunate young comrade, who, bugle in hand,
was just struggling to his feet; and then, as he stood upright, he made
a couple of steps forward, but only to stagger and reel for a moment;
when, as his comrade uttered a cry, the boy tottered over the edge of
the path, fell a few yards, and then rolled down the steep slope out of
sight.

The young rifleman did not stop to think, but occupied the brief moments
in running to his comrade's help; and, just as a volley came crashing
from the open wood beyond the path, he dropped down over the side,
striving hard to keep his feet and to check his downward progress to
where he felt that the boy must have fallen.  Catching vainly at branch
and rock, he went on, down and down, till he was brought up short by a
great mossy block of stone just as another volley was fired, apparently
from the mule-track high above him; and half-unconsciously, in the
confusion and excitement of the moment, he lay perfectly still, cowering
amongst the sparse growth in the hope that he might not be seen from the
shelf-like mule-track above, though expectant all the while that the
next shot fired would be at him.

But, as it happened, that next shot was accompanied by many more; and
as, fearing to move, he strained his eyes upward, he could see the grey
smoke rising, and hear the sound of a bugle, followed by the rush of
feet, and he knew that, so far, he had not been seen, but that the
strong body of the enemy were hurrying along the mule-track in full
pursuit of his friends.

"Just as if I had been running," muttered the young rifleman; and he
stole his left hand slowly upwards, from where he was lying in a most
awkward position, to rest it upon his breast as if to check the heavy
beating of his heart.

"Ah!" he panted at last, as with strained eyes and ears he waited for
some sign of his presence behind the advancing enemy being known.
"Where's that boy?" he muttered hoarsely; and he tried to look about
without moving, so as not to expose himself to any who might be passing
along the rocky ledge.

The next minute the necessity for caution was emphasised, for there was
a hoarse command from somewhere above, followed by the heavy tramp of
feet which told only too plainly that he was being cut off from his
regiment by another body of the enemy.

"I couldn't help it," he said.  "I couldn't leave that poor fellow
behind."

He had hardly uttered this thought when, apparently from just beyond the
rugged mass of stone which had checked his descent, there came a low
groan, followed by a few words, amongst which the listener made out,
"The cowards!"

"That you, Punch?" whispered the young rifleman excitedly.

"Eh, who's that?" was the faint reply.

"Hist!  Lie still.  I'll try and get to you directly."

"That you, Private Gray?"

"Yes, yes," was whispered back, and the speaker felt his heart leap
within his breast; "but lie still for a few moments."

"Oh, do come!  I'm--I've got it bad."

The young private felt his heart sink again as he recalled the way in
which the boy had staggered and fallen from the edge of the track above
him.  Then, in answer to the appeal for help, he passed his rifle over
his body, and, wrenching himself round, he managed to lower himself
beyond the mass of rock so as to get beneath and obtain its shelter from
those passing along the ledge, but only to slip suddenly for a yard or
two, with the result that the shrubs over which he had passed sprang up
again and supplied the shelter which he sought.

"Punch!  Punch!  Where are you?" he whispered, as, satisfied now that he
could not be seen from above, he raised his head a little and tried to
make out him whom he sought.

But all was perfectly still about where he lay, while the sound of
musketry came rolling and echoing along the narrow ravine; and above the
trees, in the direction in which his friends must be, there was a rising
and ever-thickening cloud of smoke.

Then for a few minutes the firing ceased, and in the midst of the
intense silence there arose from the bushes just above the listener's
head a quick twittering of premonitory notes, followed by the sharp,
clear, ringing song of a bird, which thrilled the lad with a feeling of
hope in the midst of what the moment before had been a silence that was
awful.

Then from close at hand came a low, piteous groan, and a familiar voice
muttered, "The cowards--to leave a comrade like this!"



CHAPTER TWO.

POOR PUNCH.

Private Gray, of his Majesty's --th Rifles,--wrenched himself round once
more, pressed aside a clump of heathery growth, crawled quickly about a
couple of yards, and found himself lying face to face with the bugler of
his company.

"Why, Punch, lad!" he said, "not hurt much, are you?"

"That you, Private Gray?"

"Yes.  But tell me, are you wounded?"

"Yes!" half-groaned the boy; and then with a sudden access of
excitement, "Here, I say, where's my bugle?"

"Oh, never mind your bugle.  Where are you hurt?" cried the boy's
comrade.

"In my bugle--I mean, somewhere in my back.  But where's my instrument?"

"There it is, in the grass, hanging by the cord."

"Oh, that's better," groaned the boy.  "I thought all our chaps had gone
on and left me to die."

"And now you see that they hav'n't," said the boy's companion.  "There,
don't try to move.  We mustn't be seen."

"Yes," almost babbled the boy, speaking piteously, "I thought they had
all gone, and left me here.  I did try to ketch up to them; but--oh, I
am so faint and sick that it's all going round and round!  Here, Private
Gray, you are a good chap, shove the cord over my head, and take care
the enemy don't get my bugle.  Ah!  Water--water, please!  It's all
going round and round."

Penton Gray made no effort now to look round for danger, but, unstopping
his water-bottle, he crept closer to his companion in adversity, passed
the strap of the boy's shako from under his chin, thrust his cap from
his head to lie amongst the grass, and then opened the collar of his
coatee and began to trickle a little water between the poor fellow's
lips and sprinkled a little upon his temples.

"Ah!" sighed the boy, as he began to revive, "that's good!  I don't mind
now."

"But you are hurt.  Where's your wound?" said the young private eagerly.

"Somewhere just under the shoulder," replied the boy.  "'Tain't bleeding
much, is it?"

"I don't know yet.--I won't hurt you more than I can help."

"Whatcher going to do?"

"Draw off your jacket so that I can see whether the hurt's bad."

"'Tain't very," said the boy, speaking feebly of body but stout of
heart.  "I don't mind, comrade.  Soldiers don't mind a wound.--Oh, I
say!" he cried, with more vigour than he had previously evinced.

"Did I hurt you?"

"Yes, you just did.  Were you cutting it with your knife?"

"No," said his comrade with a half-laugh, as he drew his hand from where
he had passed it under the boy's shoulder.  "That's what cut you,
Punch," and he held up a ragged-looking bullet which had dropped into
his fingers as he manipulated the wound.

"Thought you was cutting me with your knife," said the boy, speaking
with some energy now.  "But, I say, don't you chuck that away; I want
that.--What did they want to shoot me there for--the cowards!  Just as
if I was running away, when I was only obeying orders.  If they had shot
me in front I could have seen to it myself.--I say, does it bleed much?"

"No, my lad; but it's an ugly place."

"Well, who wants it to be handsome?  I ain't a girl.  Think you can stop
it, private?"

"I think I can bind it up, Punch, and the bleeding will stop of itself."

"That's good.  I say, though, private--sure to die after it, ain't I?"

"Yes, some day," said the young soldier, smiling encouragingly at the
speaker; and then by the help of a shirt-sleeve and a bandage which he
drew from his knapsack, the young soldier managed pretty deftly to bind
up his comrade's wound, and then place him in a more comfortable
position, lying upon his side.

"Thank ye!" said the boy with a sigh.  "But, I say, you have give it me
hot."

"I am very sorry, boy."

"Oh, never mind that.  But just wipe my face; it's all as wet as wet,
and the drops keep running together and tickling."

This little service was performed, and then the boy turned his head
uneasily aside.

"What is it, Punch?"

"That there bullet--where is it?"

"I have got it safe."

"That's right.  Now, where's my bugle?"

"There it is, quite safe too."

"Yes, that's right," said the boy faintly.  "I don't want to lose that;
but--Oh, I say, look at that there dent!  What'll the colonel say when
he sees that?"

"Shall I tell you, Punch?" said the young man, who bent over him,
watching every change in his face.

"Yes--no.  I know: `Careless young whelp,' or something; and the
sergeant--"

"Never mind the sergeant," said the young sharpshooter.  "I want to tell
you what the colonel will say, like the gentleman he is."

"Then, what'll he say?" said the wounded lad drowsily.

"That he has a very brave boy in his regiment, and--Poor chap, he has
fainted again!  My word, what a position to be in!  Our fellows will
never be able to get back, and if I shout for help it means hospital for
him, prison for me.  What shall I do?"

There was nothing to be done, as Pen Gray soon realised as he lay upon
his side in the shade of the steep valley, watching his wounded comrade,
who gradually sank into the sleep of exhaustion, while the private
listened for every sound that might suggest the coming on or retreating
of the French troops.  His hopes rose once, for it seemed to him that
the tide of war was ebbing and flowing lower down the valley, and his
spirits rose as the mountain-breeze brought the sounds of firing
apparently nearer and nearer, till he felt that the English troops had
not only rallied, but were driving back the French over the ground by
which they had come.  But as the day wore on he found that his hopes
were false; and, to make their position worse, fresh troops had come
down the valley and were halted about a quarter of a mile from where he
and his sleeping companion lay; while, lower down, the firing, which had
grown fiercer and fiercer, gradually died out.

He was intently straining his ears, when to his surprise the afternoon
sun began to flash upon the weapons of armed men, and once more his
hopes revived in the belief that the French were being driven back; but
to his astonishment and dismay, as they came more and more into sight, a
halt seemed to have been called, and they too settled down into a
bivouac, and communications by means of mounted men took place between
them and the halted party higher up the valley; the young rifleman, by
using great care, watching the going to and fro unseen.

Evening was coming on, and Pen Gray was still watching and wondering
whether it would be possible to take advantage of the darkness, when it
fell, to try and pass down the valley, circumvent the enemy, and
overtake their friends, when the wounded boy's eyes unclosed, and he lay
gazing wonderingly in his comrade's eyes.

"Better, Punch?" said Pen softly.

"What's the matter?" was the reply; and the boy gazed in his face in a
dazed, half-stupid way.

"Don't you remember, lad?"

"No," was the reply.  "Where's the ridgment?"

"Over yonder.  Somewhere about the mouth of the valley, I expect."

"Oh, all right.  What time is it?"

"I should think about five.  Why?"

"Why?" said the boy.  "Because there will be a row.  Why are we here?"

"Waiting till you are better before trying to join our company."

"Better?  Have we been resting, then, because my feet were so bad with
the marching?"

Pen was silent as he half-knelt there, listening wonderingly to his
comrade's half-delirious queries, and asking himself whether he had
better tell the boy their real position.

"So much marching," continued the boy, "and those blisters.  Ah, I
remember!  I say, private, didn't I get a bullet into me, and fall right
down here?  Yes, that's it.  Here, Private Gray, what are you going to
do?"

"Ah, what are we going to do?" said the young man sadly.  "I was in
hopes that you would be so much better, or rather I hoped you might,
that we could creep along after dark and get back to our men; but I am
afraid--"

"So'm I," said the boy bitterly, as he tried to move himself a little,
and then sank back with a faint groan.  "Couldn't do it, unless two of
our fellows got me in a sergeant's sash and carried me."

"I'd try and carry you on my back," said Pen, "if you could bear it."

"Couldn't," said the boy abruptly.  "I say, where do you think our lads
are?"

"Beaten, perhaps taken prisoners," said Pen bitterly.

"Serve 'em right--cowards!  To go and leave us behind like this!"

"Don't talk so much."

"Why?"

"It will make you feverish; and it's of no use to complain.  They
couldn't help leaving us.  Besides, I was not left."

"Then how come you to be here?" said the boy sharply.

"I came after you, to help you."

"More old stupid you!  Didn't you know when you were safe?"

Pen raised his brows a little and looked half-perplexed, half-amused at
the irritable face of his comrade, who wrinkled up his forehead with
pain, drew a hard breath, and then whispered softly, "I say, comrade, I
oughtn't to have said that there, ought I?"

Pen was silent.

"You saw me go down, didn't you?"

Pen bowed his head.

"And you ran back to pick me up?  Ah!" he ejaculated, drawing his breath
hard.

"Wound hurt you much, my lad?"

"Ye-es," said the lad, wincing; "just as if some one was boring a hole
through my shoulder with a red-hot ramrod."

"Punch, my lad, I don't think it's a bad wound, for while you were
asleep I looked, and found that it had stopped bleeding."

"Stopped?  That's a good job; ain't it, comrade?"

"Yes; and with a healthy young fellow like you a wound soon begins to
heal up if the wounded man lies quiet."

"But I'm only a boy, private."

"Then the wound will heal all the more readily."

"I say, how do you know all this?" said the boy, looking at him
curiously.

"By reading."

"Reading!  Ah, I can't read--not much; only little words.  Well, then,
if you know that, I have got to lie still, then, till the hole's grown
up.  I say, have you got that bullet safe?"

"Oh yes."

"Don't you lose it, mind, because I mean to keep that to show people at
home.  Even if I am a boy I should like people to know that I have been
in the wars.  So I have got to lie still and get well?  Won't be bad if
you could get me a bundle or two of hay and a greatcoat to cover over
me.  The wind will come down pretty cold from the mountains; but I
sha'n't mind that so long as the bears don't come too.  I shall be all
right, so you had better be off and get back to the regiment, and tell
them where you have left me.  I say, you will get promoted for it."

"Nonsense, Punch!  What for?"

"Sticking to a comrade like this.  I have been thinking about it, and I
call it fine of you running back to help me, with the Frenchies coming
on.  Yes, I know.  Don't make faces about it.  The colonel will have you
made corporal for trying to save me."

"Of course!" said Pen sarcastically.  "Why, I'm not much older than
you--the youngest private in the regiment; more likely to be in trouble
for not keeping in the ranks, and shirking the enemy's fire."

"Don't you tell me," said the boy sharply.  "I'll let the colonel and
everybody know, if ever I get back to the ranks again."

"What's that?" said Pen sharply.  "If ever you get back to the ranks
again!  Why, you are not going to set up a faint heart, are you?"

"'Tain't my heart's faint, but my head feels sick and swimmy.  But, I
say, do you think you ought to do any more about stopping up the hole so
as to give a fellow a chance?"

"I'll do all I can, Punch," said Pen; "but you know I'm not a surgeon."

"Course I do," said the boy, laughing, but evidently fighting hard to
hide his suffering.  "You are better than a doctor."

"Better, eh?"

"Yes, ever so much, because you are here and the doctor isn't."

The boy lay silent for a few minutes, evidently thinking deeply.

"I say, private," he said at last, "I can't settle this all out about
what's going to be done; but I think this will be best."

"What?"

"What I said before.  You had better wait till night, and then creep off
and follow our men's track.  It will be awkward in the dark, but you
ought to be able to find out somehow, because there's only one road all
along by the side of this little river.  You just keep along that while
it's dark, and trust to luck when it's daytime again.  Only, look here,
my water-bottle's empty, so, as soon as you think it's dark enough, down
you go to the river, fill it, and bring it back, and I shall be all
right till our fellows fight their way back and pick me up."

"And if they are not able to--what then?" said Pen, smiling.

"Well, I shall wait till I get so hungry I can't wait any longer, and
then I will cry _chy-ike_ till the Frenchies come and pick me up.  But,
I say, they won't stick a bayonet through me, will they?"

"What, through a wounded boy!" said Pen angrily.  "No, they are not so
bad as that."

"Thank ye!  I like that, private.  I have often wished I was a man; but
now I'm lying here, with a hole in my back, I'm rather glad that I am
only a boy.  Now then, catch hold of my water-bottle.  It will soon be
dark enough for you to get down to the river; and you mustn't lose any
time.  Oh, there's one thing more, though.  You had better take my
bugle; we mustn't let the enemy have that.  I think as much of my bugle
as Bony's chaps do of their eagles.  You will take care of it, won't
you?"

"Yes, when I carry it," said Pen quietly.

"Well, you are going to carry it now, aren't you?"

"No," said Pen quietly.

"Oh, you mean, not till you have fetched the water?"

Pen shook his head.

"What do you mean, then?"

"To do my duty, boy."

"Of course you do; but don't be so jolly fond of calling me boy.  You
said yourself a little while ago that you weren't much older than I am.
But, I say, you had better go now; and I suppose I oughtn't to talk, for
it makes my head turn swimmy, and we are wasting time; and--oh, Gray,"
the boy groaned, "I--I can't help it.  I never felt so bad as this.
There, do go now.  Get the water, and if I am asleep when you come back,
don't wake me so that I feel the pain again.  But--but--shake hands
first, and say good-bye."

The boy uttered a faint cry of agony as he tried to stretch out his
hand, which only sank down helplessly by his side.

"Well, good-bye," he panted, as Pen's dropped slowly upon the quivering
limb.  "Well, why don't you go?"

"Because it isn't time yet," said Pen meaningly, as after a glance round
he drew some of the overhanging twigs of the nearest shrub closer
together, and then passed his hand across the boy's forehead, and
afterwards held his wrist.

"Thank you, doctor," said the boy, smiling.  "That seems to have done me
good.  Now then, aren't you going?"

"No," said Pen, with a sigh.

"I say--why?"

"You know as well as I do," replied Pen.

"You mean that you won't go and leave me here alone?  That's what you
mean."

"Yes, Punch; you are quite right.  But look here.  Suppose I was lying
here wounded, would you go off and leave me at night on this cold
mountain-side, knowing how those brutes of wolves hang about the rear of
the army?  You have heard them of a night, haven't you?"

"Yes," said the boy, shudderingly drawing his breath through his tightly
closed teeth.  "I say, comrade, what do you want to talk like that for?"

"Because I want you to answer my question: Would you go off and leave me
here alone?"

"No, I'm blessed if I would," said the boy, speaking now in a voice full
of animation.  "I couldn't do it, comrade, and it wouldn't be like a
soldier's son."

"But I am not a soldier's son, Punch."

"No," said the boy, "and that's what our lads say.  They don't like you,
and they say--There, I won't tell you what."

"Yes, tell me, Punch.  I should like to know."

"They say that they have not got anything else against you, only you
have no business here in the ranks."

"Why do they say that?"

"Because, when they are talking about it, they say you are a gentleman
and a scholard."

"But I thought I was always friendly and sociable with them."

"So you are, Private Gray," cried the boy excitedly; "and if ever I get
back to the ranks alive I'll tell them you are the best comrade in the
regiment, and how you wouldn't leave me in the lurch."

"And I shall make you promise, Punch, that you never say a word."

"All right," said the boy, with a faint smile, "I'll promise.  I won't
say a word; but," he continued, with a shudder which did not conceal his
smile, "they will be sure to find it out and get to like you as much as
I do now."

"What's the matter, Punch?" said Pen shortly.  "Cold?"

"Head's hot as fire, so's my shoulder; but everywhere else I am like
ice.  And there's that swimming coming in my head again.--I don't mind.
It's all right, comrade; I shall be better soon, but just now--just
now--"

The boy's voice trailed off into silence, and a few minutes later young
Private Penton Gray, of his Majesty's newly raised --th Rifles, nearly
all fresh bearers of the weapon which was to do so much to win the
battles of the Peninsular War, prepared to keep his night-watch on the
chilly mountain-side by stripping off his coatee and unrolling his
carefully folded greatcoat to cover the wounded lad.  And that
night-watch was where he could hear the howling and answering howls of
the loathsome beasts that seemed to him to say: "This way, comrades:
here, and here, for men are lying wounded and slain; the watch-fires are
distant, and there are none to hinder us where the banquet is spread.
Come, brothers, come!"



CHAPTER THREE.

WHERE THE WOLVES HOWL.

"Ugh!"  A long, shivering shudder following upon the low, dismal howl of
a wolf.

"Bah!  How cold it is lying out here in this chilly wind which comes
down from the mountain tops!  I say, what an idiot I was to strip myself
and turn my greatcoat into a counterpane!  No, I won't be a humbug; that
wasn't the cold.  It was sheer fright--cowardice--and I should have felt
just the same if I had had a blanket over me.  The brutes!  There is
something so horrible about it.  The very idea of their coming down from
the mountains to follow the trail of the fighting, and hunt out the dead
or the wounded who have been forgotten or have crawled somewhere for
shelter."

Pen Gray lay thinking in the darkness, straining his ears the while to
try and convince himself that the faint sound he heard was not a
movement made by a prowling wolf scenting them out; and as he lay
listening, he pictured to himself the gaunt, grisly beast creeping up to
spring upon him.

"Only fancy!" he said sadly.  "That wasn't the breathing of one of the
beasts, only the wind again that comes sighing down from the
mountains.--I wish I was more plucky."

He stretched out his hand and laid his rifle amongst the shrubs with its
muzzle pointed in the direction from whence the sighing sound had come.

"I'll put an end to one of them," he muttered bitterly, "if I don't miss
him in the dark.  Pooh!  They won't come here, or if they do I have only
to jump up and the cowardly beasts will dash off at once; but it is
horrid lying here in the darkness, so solitary and so strange.  I
wouldn't care so much if the stars would come out, but they won't
to-night.  To-night?  Why, it must be nearly morning, for I have been
lying here hours and hours.  And how dark it is in this valley, with the
mountains towering up on each side.  I wish the day would come, but it
always does seem ten times as long when you are waiting and expecting
it.  It is getting cold though.  Seems to go right through to one's
bones.--Poor boy," he continued, as he stretched out one hand and gently
passed it beneath his companion's covering.  "He's warm enough.  No--too
hot; and I suppose that's fever from his wound.  Poor chap!  Such a boy
too!  But as brave as brave.  He must be a couple of years younger than
I am; but he's more of a man.  Oh, I do wish it was morning, so that I
could try and do something.  There must be cottages somewhere--
shepherds' or goat-herds'--where as soon as the people understand that
we are not French they might give me some black-bread and an onion or
two."

The young soldier laughed a soft, low, mocking kind of laugh.

"Black-bread and an onion!  How queer it seems!  Why, there was a time
when I wouldn't have touched such stuff, while now it sounds like a
feast.  But let's see; let's think about what I have got to do.  As soon
as it's daylight I must find a cottage and try to make the people
understand what's the matter, and get them to help me to carry poor
Punch into shelter.  Another night like this would kill him.  I don't
know, though.  I always used to think that lying down in one's wet
clothes, and perhaps rain coming in the night, would give me a cold; but
it doesn't.  I must get him into shelter, though, somehow.  Oh, if
morning would only come!  The black darkness makes one feel so horribly
lonely.--What nonsense!  I have got poor Punch here.  But he has the
best of it; he can sleep, and here I haven't even closed my eyes.  Being
hungry, I suppose.--I wonder where our lads are.  Gone right off
perhaps.  I hope we haven't lost many.  But the firing was very sharp,
and I suppose the French have kept up the pursuit, and they are all
miles and miles away."

At that moment there was a sharp flash with the report of a musket, and
its echoes seemed to be thrown back from the steep slope across the
torrent, while almost simultaneously, as Gray raised himself upon his
elbow, there was another report, and another, and another, followed by
more, some of which seemed distant and the others close at hand; while,
as the echoes zigzagged across the valley, and the lad stretched out his
hand to draw himself up into a sitting position, oddly enough that hand
touched something icy, and he snatched it back with a feeling of
annoyance, for he realised that it was only the icy metal that formed
his wounded companion's bugle, and he lay listening to the faint notes
of another instrument calling upon the men to assemble.

"Why, it's a night attack," thought Pen excitedly, and unconsciously he
began to breathe hard as he listened intently, while he fully grasped
the fact that there were men of the French brigade dotted about in all
directions.

"And there was I thinking that we were quite alone!" he said to himself.

Then by degrees his short experience of a few months of the British
occupation on the borders of Portugal and Spain taught him that he had
been listening to a night alarm, for from out of the darkness came the
low buzz of voices, another bugle was sounded, distant orders rang out,
and then by degrees the low murmur of voices died away, and once more
all was still.

"I was in hopes," thought Gray, "that our fellows were making a night
attack, giving the enemy a surprise.  Why, there must be hundreds within
reach.  That puts an end to my going hunting about for help as soon as
the day breaks, unless I mean us to be taken prisoners.  Why, if I moved
from here I should be seen.--Asleep, Punch?" he said softly.

There was no reply, and the speaker shuddered as he stretched out his
hand to feel for his companion's forehead; but at the first touch there
was an impatient movement, and a feeling of relief shot through the
lad's breast, for imagination had been busy, and was ready to suggest
that something horrible might have happened in the night.

"Oh, I do wish I wasn't such a coward," he muttered.  "He's all right,
only a bit feverish.  What shall I do?  Try and go to sleep till
morning?  What's the good of talking?  I am sure I couldn't, even if I
did try."

Then the weary hours slowly crept along, the watcher trying hard to
settle in his own mind which was the east, but failing dismally, for the
windings of the valley had been such that he could only guess at the
direction where the dawn might appear.

There were no more of the dismal bowlings of the wolves, though, the
scattered firing having effectually driven them away; but there were
moments when it seemed to the young watcher that the night was being
indefinitely prolonged, and he sighed again and again as he strained his
eyes to pierce the darkness, and went on trying to form some plan as to
his next movement.

"I wonder how long we could lie in hiding here," he said to himself,
"without food.  Poor Punch in his state wouldn't miss his ration; but
by-and-by, if the French don't find us, this bitter cold will have
passed away, and we shall be lying here in the scorching sunshine--for
it can be hot in these stuffy valleys--and the poor boy will be raving
for water--yes, water.  Who was that chap who was tortured by having it
close to him and not being able to reach it?  Tantalus, of course!  I am
forgetting all my classics.  Well, soldiers don't want cock-and-bull
stories out of Lempriere.  I wonder, though, whether I could crawl down
among the bushes to the edge of the torrent and fill our water-bottles,
and get back up here again without being seen.  But perhaps, when the
day comes, and if they don't see us, the French will move off, and then
I need only wait patiently and try and find some cottage.--Yes, what is
it?"

He raised himself upon his arm again, for Punch had begun to mutter; but
there was no reply.

"Talking in his sleep," said Pen with a sigh.  "Good for him that he can
sleep!  Oh, surely it must be near morning now!"

The lad sprang to his knees and placed one hand over his eyes as he
strained himself round, for all at once he caught sight of a tiny speck
as of glowing fire right overhead, and he stared in amazement.

"Why, that can't be daylight!" he thought.  "It would appear, of course,
low down in the east, just a faint streak of dawn.  That must be some
dull star peering through the clouds.  Why, there are two of them," he
said in a whisper; "no, three.  Why, it is day coming!"  And he uttered
a faint cry of joy as he crouched low again and gazed, so to speak, with
all his might at the wondrous scene of beauty formed by the myriad
specks of orange light which began to spread overhead, and grow and grow
till the mighty dome that seemed supported in a vast curve by the
mountains on either side of the valley became one blaze of light.

"Punch," whispered Pen excitedly, "it's morning!  Look, look!  How
stupid!" he muttered.  "Why should I wake him to pain and misery?  Yes,
it is morning, sure enough," he muttered again, for a bugle rang out
apparently close at hand, and was answered from first one direction and
then another, the echoes taking up the notes softly and repeating them
again and again till it seemed to the listener as if he must be lying
with quite an army close at hand awakening to the day.

The light rapidly increased, and Pen began to look in various directions
for danger, wondering the while whether some patch of forest would offer
itself as an asylum somewhere close at hand; but he only uttered a sigh
of relief as he grasped the fact that, while high above them the golden
light was gleaming down from the sun-flecked clouds, the gorges were
still full of purple gloom, and clouds of thick mist were slowly
gathering in the valley-bottom and were being wafted along by the breath
of morn and following the course of the river.

To his great relief too, as the minutes glided by, he found that great
patches of the rolling smoke-like mist rose higher and higher till a
soft, dank cloud enveloped them where they lay, and through it he could
hear faintly uttered orders and the tramp of men apparently gathering
and passing along the shelf-like mule-path.

"And I was longing for the sun to rise!" thought Pen.--"Ah, there's an
officer;" for somewhere just overhead there was the sharp click of an
iron-shod hoof among the rocks.  "He must have seen us if it hadn't been
for this mist," thought the lad.  "Now if it will only last for half an
hour we may be safe."

The mist did last for quite that space of time--in fact, until Pen Gray
was realising that the east lay right away to his right--for a golden
shaft of light suddenly shot horizontally from a gap in the mountains,
turning the heavy mists it pierced into masses of opalescent hues; and,
there before him, he suddenly caught sight of a cameo-like figure which
stood out from where he knew that the shelf-like mule-path must run.
The great bar of golden light enveloped both rider and horse, and
flashed from the officer's raised sword and the horse's trappings.

Then the rolling cloud of mist swept on and blotted him from sight, and
Pen crouched closer and closer to his sleeping comrade, and lay with
bated breath listening to the tramp, tramp of the passing men not a
hundred feet above his head, and praying now that the wreaths of mist
might screen them, as they did till what seemed to him to be a strong
brigade had gone on in the direction taken by his friends.

But he did not begin to breathe freely till the tramping of hoofs told
to his experienced ears that a strong baggage-train of mules was on its
way.  Then came the tramp of men again.

"Rear-guard," he thought; and then his heart sank once more, for the
tramping men swept by in the midst of a dense grey cloud, which looked
like smoke as it rolled right onward, and as if by magic the sun burst
out and filled the valley with a blaze of light.

"They must see us now," groaned Pen; and he closed his eyes in his
despair.



CHAPTER FOUR.

"WATER, OR I SHALL DIE!"

Pen's heart beat heavily as he lay listening to the tramping of feet
upon the rocky shelf, and at last the sounds seemed so close that he
drew himself together ready to spring to his feet and do what he could
to protect his injured comrade.  For in his strange position the idea
was strong upon him that their first recognition by the enemy might be
made with the presentation of a bayonet's point.

But his anticipations proved to be only the work of an excited brain;
and, as he lay perfectly still once more, the heavy tramp, tramp, a good
deal wanting in the regularity of the British troops, died out, and he
relieved the oppression that bore down upon his breast with a deep sigh.

Nothing was visible as the sounds died out; and, waiting till he felt
that he was safe, he changed his position slightly so as to try and make
out whether the rear-guard of the enemy had quite disappeared.

In an instant he had shrunk down again amongst the bushes, for there,
about a hundred yards away, at the point of an angle where the mule-path
struck off suddenly to the left, and at a spot that had undoubtedly been
chosen for its command of the road backward, he became aware of the
presence of an outpost of seven or eight men.

This was startling, for it put a check upon any attempt at movement upon
his own part.

Pen lay thinking for a few moments, during which he made sure that his
comrade was still plunged in a deep, stupor-like sleep.  Then, after a
little investigation, he settled how he could move slightly without
drawing the attention of the vedette; and, taking advantage thereof,
crawled cautiously about a couple of yards with the greatest care.
Then, looking back as he slowly raised his head, which he covered with a
few leafy twigs, he was by no means surprised to see at the edge of the
mule-path about a quarter of a mile away another vedette.  This shut off
any attempt at retreat in that direction, and he was about to move again
when he was startled by a flash of light reflected from a musket-barrel
whose bearer was one acting as the leader of a third vedette moving up
the side of the valley across the river, and which soon came to a halt
at about the same height above the stream as that which he occupied
himself.

The lad could not control a movement of impatience as the little knot of
infantry settled themselves exactly opposite to his own hiding-place,
and in a position from which the French soldiers must be able to control
one slope of the valley for a mile in each direction.

"It's maddening!" thought Pen.  "I sha'n't be able to stir, and I dare
say they'll have more vedettes stationed about.  It means giving up, and
nothing else."

Very slowly and cautiously he wrenched himself round, and then rolled
over twice so as to bring himself alongside of his sleeping comrade; and
then, as he resumed his reconnoitring, where he was just able to command
the farther side of the valley away to his right and in a direction
where he hoped to find the land clear, he started again.

"Why, they are everywhere!" said the lad half-aloud and with a faint
groan of dismay; for there, higher up the opposite side, were a couple
of sentries who seemed to be looking straight down upon him.  "Why, they
must have seen me!" he muttered; and for quite an hour now he lay
without stirring, half in the expectation of seeing the low bushes in
motion and a little party of the blue-coated enemy coming across to
secure fresh prisoners.

But the time wore on, with the chill of the night dying out in the warm
sunshine now beginning to search Pen's side of the valley with the
bright shafts of light, which suggested to him the necessity for
covering his well-kept rifle with the leafy twigs he was able to gather
cautiously so as not to betray his presence.

He was in the act of doing this when, turning his head slightly, a flash
of light began to play right into his eyes, and he stopped short once
more to try and make out whether this had been seen by either of the
enemy on duty, for he now awoke to the fact that poor Punch's bugle was
lying quite exposed.

The fact was so startling that, instead of trying to reach its cord and
draw the glistening instrument towards him, he lay perfectly still
again, sweeping the sides of the valley as far as he could in search of
danger, but searching in vain, till the thought occurred to him that he
might achieve the object he had in view by cautiously taking out his
knife and cutting twig after twig so that they might fall across the
curving polished copper.

This he contrived to do, and then lay still once more, breathing freely
in the full hope that if he gave up further attempt at movement he might
escape detection.

"Besides," he said to himself, with a bitter smile playing upon his
lips, "if they do make us out they may not trouble, for they will think
we are dead."

He lay still then, waiting for Punch to awaken so that he could warn him
to lie perfectly quiet.

The hours glided by, with the sun rising higher and setting the watcher
thinking, in spite of his misery, weariness, and the pangs of hunger
that attacked him, of what a wonderfully beautiful contrast there was
between the night and the day.  With nothing else that he could do, he
recalled the horrors of the past hours, the alternating chills of cold
and despair, and the howlings of the wolves; and he uttered more than
one sigh of relief as his eyes swept the peaks away across the valley,
which here and there sent forth flashes of light from a few scattered
patches of melting snow, the beautiful violet shadows of the transverse
gullies through which sparkling rivulets descended with many a fall to
join the main stream, which dashed onward with the dull, musical roar
which rose and fell, now quite loud, then almost dying completely away.
The valley formed a very paradise to the unfortunate fugitive, and he
muttered bitterly:

"How beautiful it would have been under other circumstances, when such a
wondrous scene of peace was not disfigured by war!  So bitterly cold
last night," thought the young private impatiently, for he was fighting
now against two assaults, both of which came upon him when he was trying
hard to lie perfectly still and maintain his equanimity while the pangs
of hunger and thirst were growing poignant.  "It seems so easy," he
muttered, "to lie still and keep silence, and here I am feeling that I
must move and do something, and wanting so horribly to talk.  It would
be better if that poor boy would only awaken and speak to me.  And
there's that water, too," he continued, as the faint plashing, rippling
sound rose to his ears from below.  "Oh, how I could drink!  I wish the
wind would rise, so that I couldn't hear that dull plashing sound.  How
terribly hot the sun is; and it's getting worse!"

Then a horrible thought struck him, that Punch might suddenly wake up
and begin to talk aloud, feverish and delirious from his sufferings; and
then when Pen's troubles were at their very worst, and he could hardly
contain himself and keep from creeping downwards to the water's edge, it
seemed as if a cloud swept over him, and all was blank, for how long he
could not tell, but his fingers closed sharply to clutch the twigs and
grass amongst which he lay as he started into full consciousness.

"Why, I have been asleep!" he muttered.  "I must have been;" and he
stared wildly around.  There was a great shadow there, and now the sun
is beating down upon that little gully and lighting up the flashing
waters of the fall.  "Why, I must have been sleeping for hours, and it
must be quite midday."

His eyes now sought the positions of the different vedettes, and all was
so brilliant and clear that he saw where the men had stood up their
muskets against bush or tree, noted the flash from bayonets and the
duller gleam from musket-barrels.  In one case, too, the men were
sheltering themselves beneath a tree, and this sent an additional pang
of suffering through the lad, as he felt for the first time that the sun
was playing with burning force upon his neck.

"It's of no use," he said.  "Even if they see me, I must move."

But he made the movement with the mental excuse that it was to see how
his wounded companion fared.

It only meant seizing hold of a clump of wiry heather twice over and
drawing himself to where his face was close to the sleeper.  Then he
resigned himself again with a sigh to try and bear his position.

"He's best off," he muttered, "bad as he is, for he can't feel what I
do."

How the rest of that day of scorching sunshine and cruel thirst passed
onward Pen Gray could not afterwards recall.  For the most part it was
like a feverish dream, till he awoke to the fact that the sun was
sinking fast, and that from time to time a gentle breath of cool air was
wafted down from the mountains.

Then the hunger began to torture him again, though at times the thirst
was less.  His brain was clearer, though, and he lay alternately
watching the vedettes and noting that they had somewhat changed their
positions, and trying to perfect his plans as to what he must do as soon
as the shades of night should render it possible for him to move unseen.

Finally, the last sentry was completely blotted out by the gathering
darkness; and, uttering the words aloud, "Now for it!"  Pen tried to
raise himself to his knees before proceeding to carry out his plan, when
he sank back again with an ejaculation half of wonder, half of dread.
For a feeling of utter numbness shot through him, paralysing every
movement; while, prickling and stinging, every fibre of his frame
literally quivered as he lay there in despair, feeling that all his
planning had been in vain, and that now the time had arrived when he
might carry out his attempt in safety the power of movement had
absolutely gone.

How long he lay like this he could not tell, but it was until the
night-breeze was coming down briskly from the mountains, and the sound
of the plashing water far below sent a sudden feeling of excitement
through his nerves.

"Water!" he muttered.  "Water, or I shall die!"



CHAPTER FIVE.

HARD WORK.

It was like coming back to life.  In an instant Pen felt full of energy
and excitement once more.  The pangs of hunger supplemented those of
thirst; and, almost raging against them now, he felt that he must fight,
and he rose with an effort to his feet, with the tingling numbness
feeling for the moment worse than ever, but only to prick and spur him
into action.

"Ah!" he ejaculated, "it is like life coming back."  Turning to where
his comrade lay breathing heavily, he snatched off the leafy twigs with
which he had sheltered him.

"Asleep, Punch?" he said; but he was only answered by a low sigh.

"Poor boy!" he muttered; "but I must."

He snatched off, full of energy now, his jacket and overcoat, and
resumed them.  Then, picking up his rifle, he slackened the sling and
passed it over his shoulder.  In doing this he kicked against the bugle,
and slung the cord across the other shoulder.  Then, tightening the
strap of his shako beneath his chin, he drew a deep breath and looked
first in the one direction and then in another in search of the
vedettes; but all was darkness for a while, and he was beginning to feel
the calm of certainty as regarded their being perfectly free from
observation, when, from the nearest point where he had made out the
watchers, he suddenly became aware of how close one party was by seeing
the faint spark of light which the next minute deepened into a glow, and
the wind wafted to his nostrils the odour of coarse, strong tobacco.

"Ah, nearer than I thought," said the lad to himself, and, looking round
once more, he made out another faint glow of light; and then, bending
over his comrade, he felt about for his hands and glided his own to the
boy's wrists, which felt dank and cold, as he stood thinking for a
moment or two of the poor fellow's condition.

"I can't help it.  My only hope is that he is quite insensible to pain.
He must be, or he couldn't sleep like this.  It must be done."

Pen's plans had been carefully laid, and he had not anticipated any
difficulty.

"It's only a matter of strength," he said to himself, "and I feel
desperate and strong enough now to do anything."

But it meant several failures, and he was checked by groan after groan
before he at last managed to seat himself with his back to the wounded
boy, after propping him up against one of the gnarled little oak-trunks
amongst which they had been lying.

Again and again he had been hindered by the rifle slung across his back.
More than once, too, he had despairingly told himself that he must cast
it aside, but only to feel that at any cost a soldier must hold to his
arms.  Then it was the cartouche-box; this, drawn round before him, he
was troubled by the position of his haversack, and ready to rage with
despair at the difficulties which he had to overcome.

At last, though, he sat there shivering, and listening to try and make
out whether the poor boy's moanings had been heard, before drawing a
deep breath and beginning to drag the poor fellow's wrists over his
shoulders.  Then, making one tremendous heave as he threw himself
forward, he had Punch well upon his back and staggered up, finding
himself plunging down the slope headlong as he struggled to keep his
feet, but in vain; for his balance was gone, and a heavy fall was saved
by his going head first into the tangled branches of a scrub oak, where
he was brought up short with his shako driven down over his eyes.

Penton regained his balance and his breath--to stand listening for some
sound of the enemy having taken the alarm, but all was quite still--and,
freeing his rifle, he began to use it in the darkness as a staff of
support, and to feel his way amongst the shrubs and stones downward
always, the butt saving him from more than one fall, for he could not
take a step without making sure of a safe place for his feet before he
ventured farther.

It was a long and tedious task; but in the silence of the night the
sound of the rushing water acted as a guide, and by slow degrees, and
after many a rest, he felt at last that he must be getting nearer to the
river.

But, unfortunately, the lower he plunged downwards the deeper grew the
obscurity, while the moisture from the rushing stream made the tangled
growth more dense.  Consequently, he had several times over to stop and
fight his way out of some thicket and make a fresh start.

At such times he took advantage more than once of some low-growing
horizontal oak-boughs, which barred his way and afforded him a
resting-place, across which he could lean and make the bough an easy
support for his burden.

It had seemed but a short distance down to the stream from where he
scrutinised his probable path overhead, and doubtless without burden and
by the light of day half an hour would have been sufficient to carry him
to the river's brink; but it was in all probability that nearer three
hours had elapsed before his farther progress was checked by his finding
himself in the midst of a perfect chaos of rocks, just beyond which the
water was falling heavily; and, utterly exhausted, he was glad to lower
his burden softly down upon a bed of loose shingle and dry sand.

"There's nothing for it but to wait for day," he said half-aloud, and
then--after, as best he could in the darkness, placing the wounded boy
in a comfortable position and again covering him with his outer
garments--he began to feel his way cautiously onward till he found that
every time and in whatever direction he thrust down the butt of his
rifle it plashed into rushing water which came down so heavily that it
splashed up again into his face, and in spite of the darkness he could
feel that he was standing somewhere at the foot of a fall where a heavy
volume of water was being dashed down from a considerable height.

Pen's first proceeding now was to go down upon his knees as close to the
torrent as he could get, and there refill his water-bottle, before
(after securing it) he leaned forward and lowered his face until his
lips touched the flowing water, and he drank till his terrible thirst
was assuaged.

This great desire satisfied, he rose again, to stand listening to the
heavy rush and roar of the falls, which were evidently close at hand,
and whose proximity produced a strange feeling of awe, suggestive, as it
were, of a terrible danger which paralysed him for the time being and
held him motionless lest at his next step he should be swept away.

The feeling passed off directly as the thought came that his comrade was
insensible and dependent upon him for help; and it struck him now that
he might not be able in that thick darkness to find the spot where he
had left him.

This idea came upon him with such force as he made a step first in one
direction and then in another that he began to lose nerve.

"Oh, it won't do to play the coward now," he muttered.  "I must find
him--I must!  I must try till I do."

But there is something terribly confusing in thick darkness.  It is as
if a natural instinct is awakened that compels the one who is lost to go
wrong; and before Pen Gray had correctly retraced his steps from where
he had lain down to drink he had probably passed close to his insensible
companion at least a score of times, while the sense of confusion, the
nearness of danger and a terrible death, grew and grew till in utter
despair and exhaustion he staggered a few steps and sank down almost
breathless.

"It is no good," he groaned to himself.  "I can do no more.  I must wait
till daylight."

As he lay stretched out upon his back, panting heavily from weakness, it
seemed to him that the roar of the falling water had redoubled, and the
fancy came upon him that there was a tone of mocking triumph over his
helplessness.  In fact, the exertion which he had been called upon to
make, the want of sleep, and possibly the exposure during many hours to
the burning sun, had slightly affected his brain, so that his wild
imagination conjured up non-existent dangers till all was blank, for he
sank into the deep sleep of exhaustion, and lay at last open-eyed,
wondering, and asking himself whether the foaming water that was
plunging down a few yards away was part of some dream, in which he was
lying in a fairy-like glen gazing at a rainbow, a little iris that
spanned in a bridge of beauty the sparkling water, coming and going as
the soft breeze rose and fell, while the sun sent shafts of light
through the dew-sprinkled leaves of the many shrubs and trees that
overhung the flowing water and nearly filled the glen.

Sleep still held him in its slackening grasp, and he lay motionless,
enjoying the pleasant sense of coolness and rest till his attention was
caught by a black-and-white bird which suddenly came into sight by
alighting upon a rock in the midst of the rushing stream.

It was one of many scattered here and there, and so nearly covered by
the water that every now and then, as the black-and-white bird hurried
here and there, its legs were nearly covered; but it seemed quite at
home, and hurried away, wading easily and seldom using its wings, till
all at once, as Pen watched, he saw the little creature take a step,
give its tail a flick, and disappear, not diving but regularly walking
into deep water, to reappear a few yards away, stepping on to another
rock, running here and there for a few moments, and again disappearing
in the most unaccountable way.

"It is all a dream," thought Pen.  "Ducks dive, but no bird could walk
under water like that.  Why, it's swimming and using its wings like a
fish's fins.  I must be asleep."

At that moment the bird stepped on to another rock, to stand heel-deep;
and as it was passing out of sight with a quick fluttering of its wings,
which did not seem to be wetted in the least, Pen made an effort to
raise himself on his elbow, felt a dull, aching sensation of strain, and
lost sight of the object that had caught his attention.  He found,
however, that it was no dream, for across the little torrent and high up
the steep, precipitous bank before him he could see a goat contentedly
browsing upon the tender green twigs of the bushes; while, at his next
movement, as he tried to raise himself a little more, there within
touch, and half behind him, lay the companion whose very existence had
been blotted out of his mind; and he uttered a cry of joy--or rather
felt that he did, for the sound was covered by the roar of the falling
water--and dragged himself painfully to where he could lay one hand upon
the bugle-boy's breast.

"Why, Punch," he felt that he cried, as the events of the past hours
came back with a rush, "I thought I'd lost you.  No, I fancied--I--Here,
am I going mad?"

He felt that he shouted that question aloud, and then, sending a pang
through his strained shoulder, he clapped his hands to his forehead and
looked down wildly at the still insensible boy.

"Here, Punch!  Punch!" he repeated inaudibly.  "Speak--answer!  I--oh,
how stupid!" he muttered--"I am awake, and it is the roar of that water
that seems to sweep away every other sound.  Yes, that must be it;" for
just then he saw that the goat had raised its head as it gazed across at
him, and stretched out its neck.

"Why, it's bleating," he said to himself, "and I can't hear a sound."

The efforts he had made seemed to enable him to think more clearly, and
his next act was to rise to his knees stiffly and painfully, and then
begin to work his joints a little before bending over his companion and
shrinkingly laying his hand upon his breast.

This had the desired effect--one which sent a strange feeling of relief
through the young private's breast--for the wondering, questioning eyes
he now met looked bright and intelligent, making him bend lower till he
could speak loudly in the boy's ear the simple question, "How are you?"

He could hardly hear the words himself, but that they had been heard by
him for whom they were intended was evident, for Punch's lips moved in
reply, and the next moment, to Pen's delight, he raised one hand to his
parched lips and made a sign as of drinking.

"Ah, you are better!" cried Pen excitedly, and this time he felt that he
almost heard his own words above the deep-toned, musical roar.



CHAPTER SIX.

PEN'S PATIENT.

Punch's appealing sign was sufficient to chase away the imaginative
notions that had beset Pen's awakening.  His hand went at once to the
water-bottle slung to his side, and, as he held the mouth to his
comrade's lips and forgot the pain he suffered in his strained and
stiffening joints, he watched with a feeling of pleasure the avidity
with which the boy drank; and as he saw the strange bird flit by once
more he recalled having heard of such a bird living in the west country.

"Yes," he said to himself, "I remember now--the dipper.  Busy after
water-beetles and perhaps after tiny fish.--You are better, Punch, or
you wouldn't drink like that;" and he carefully lowered the boy's head
as he ceased drinking.  "Yes, and though I can't hear you, you have come
to your senses again, or you would not look at me like that.--Ah, I
forgot all about them!"  For a sound other than that produced by the
falling waters came faintly to his ear.  It was from somewhere far
above, and echoed twice.  "Yes, I had forgotten all about them."

He began looking anxiously about him, taking in the while that he was
close to the river where it ran in a deep, precipitous gully; and as he
looked up now to right and then to left, eagerly and searchingly, for
the danger that he knew could not be far away, his eyes ranged through
densely wooded slopes, lit up here and there by the morning sunshine,
and always sweeping the sides of the valley in search of the vedettes,
but without avail, not even the rugged mule-path that ran along the side
being visible.

"They are not likely to see us here," Pen said to himself, "and they
can't have seen me coming down.  Oh, what a job it was!  I feel as if I
must have been walking in my sleep half the time, and I am so stiff I
can hardly move.  But I did it, and we must be safe if we can keep out
of sight; and that ought to be easy, for they are not likely to come
down here.  Now, what's to be done?"

That was a hard question to answer; but growing once more full of energy
now that he was satisfied that there was no immediate danger, Pen
stepped back lamely, as if every muscle were strained, to his
companion's side, to be greeted with a smile and a movement of the boy's
lips.

"Now, let's see to your wound," he said, with his lips to the boy's ear;
and he passed one hand under Punch's wounded shoulder to try and turn
him over.  This time, as Punch's lips parted and his face grew convulsed
with pain, Pen's ears mastered the roar, and he heard the sufferer's
cry.

"Hurt you too much?" he said, as he once more put his lips to the boy's
ear.

The answer was a nod.

"Well," thought Pen, "he must be better, so I'll let him be; but we
can't stop here.  I must try and get him through the trees and away from
this horrible noise.  But I can't do it now.  At least, I don't think I
can.  Then, what's next?"

The inaudible reply to the question came from somewhere inside, and he
bent closer over Punch once more.

"Aren't you hungry?" he roared in his ear.

The boy shook his head.

"Well, I am," shouted Pen.--"Oh, how stupid!  This is like telling the
enemy where we are, if they are anywhere within hearing.  Hullo, what
does this mean?"  For he suddenly caught sight of the goat springing
from stone to stone low down the stream as if coming to their side of
the rushing water; and with the thought filling his mind that a tame
goat like this must have an owner who was more likely to be an enemy of
strangers than a friend, Pen began searching the rugged slopes on both
sides of the river, but in vain.  The goat, which had crossed, was now
coming slowly towards them, appearing to be quite alone, though soon
proving itself to be quite accustomed to the presence of human beings,
for it ended by trotting over the sand and shingle at the river's edge
till it had approached them quite closely, to stand bleating at them,
doubtless imploringly, though no sound was heard.

This lasted for a few minutes, and then the goat moved away, passing
Punch, and disappearing upward through the dense growth, and apparently
making its way up by the side of the great fall.

No sooner was it out of sight than a thought struck Pen; and, making a
sign to his companion that meant "I won't be long," he shouldered his
rifle and began to climb upwards in the direction taken by the goat.

He was beginning to regret now that he had not started sooner, for there
was no sign of the little beast, and he was about to turn when, just to
his right, he noted faint signs of what seemed to be a slightly used
track which was easy to follow, and, stepping out, he observed the trees
were more open, and at the end of a few minutes he found himself level
with the top of the falls, where the river was gliding along in a deep,
glassy sheet before making its plunge over the smooth, worn rocks into a
basin below.

He had just grasped this when he saw that the faint track bore off to
the right, and caught sight of the goat again moving amongst the trees,
and for the next few minutes he had no difficulty in keeping it in
sight, and, in addition, finding that it was making for what seemed to
be the edge of another stream which issued from a patch of woodland on
its way to the main torrent.

"I must get him here if I can," thought Pen, for the roar of the falling
waters was subdued into a gentle murmur, and to his surprise he caught
sight of a shed-like building amongst the trees, fenced in by piled-up
pieces of stone evidently taken from the smaller stream which he
approached; and it was plain that this was the spot for which the goat
had been making.

The young rifleman stopped short, trying to make out whether the place
was inhabited; but he could see no sign save that the goat was making
for the stone fence, on to which the active beast leaped, balanced
itself carefully for a few moments, and then sprang down on the other
side, to be greeted by a burst of bleating that came from apparently two
of its kind within.

Pen stood screened by the trees for a time, fully expecting to see some
occupant of the hut make his appearance; but the bleating ceased
directly, and, approaching carefully, the young private stood at last by
the rough stone wall, looking down on a scene which fully explained the
reason for the goat's visit.

She had returned to her kids; and after climbing the wall a very little
search showed the visitor that the goat and her young ones were the sole
occupants of the deserted place.

It was the rough home of a peasant who had apparently forsaken it upon
the approach of the French soldiery.  Everything was of the simplest
kind; but situated as Pen Gray was it presented itself in a palatial
guise, for there was everything that he could wish for at a time like
that.

As before said, it was a shed-like structure; but there was bed and
fireplace, a pile of wood outside the door, and, above all, a roof to
cover those who sought shelter.

"Yes, I must bring him here somehow," thought Pen as he caught sight of
a cleanly scrubbed pail and a tin or two hanging upon nails in the wall.
But he saw far more than this, for his senses were sharpened by hunger;
and with a smile of satisfaction he hurried out, noting as he passed
them that the kids, keen of appetite, were satisfying their desire for
food; and, hurrying onwards, he made his way back to where he had left
his companion lying in the dry, sandy patch of shingle; and some hours
of that forenoon were taken up in the painful task of bearing the
wounded lad by slow degrees to where, after much painful effort, they
could both look down upon the nearly hidden shed.

"How are you now, Punch?" asked Pen, turning his head upwards.

There was no reply.

"Why, Punch," cried Pen, "you are not asleep, are you?"

"Asleep!" said the boy bitterly; and then, in a faint whisper, "set me
down."

Pen took a step forward to where he could take hold of a stunted
oak-bough whose bark felt soft and strange; and, holding tightly with
one hand, he held his burden with the other while he sank slowly, the
branch bending the while till he was kneeling.  Then he slid his load
down amongst the undergrowth and quickly opened his water-bottle and
held it to the boy's lips.

"Feel faint, lad?" he said.

Again there was no answer; but Punch swallowed a few mouthfuls.

"Ah, that's better," he said.  "Head's swimming."

"Well, you shall lie still for a few minutes till you think you can bear
it, and then I want you to get down to that hut."

Punch looked up at him with misty eyes, wonderingly.

"Hut!" he said faintly.  "What hut?"

"The one I told you about.  You will be able to see it when you are
better.  There's a rough bed there where you will be able to lie and
rest till your wound heals."

"Hut!"

"Oh, never mind now.  Will you have some more water?"

The boy shook his head.

"Not going to die, am I?" he said feebly.

"Die!  No!" cried Pen, with his heart sinking.  "A chap like you isn't
going to die over a bit of a wound."

"Don't," said the boy faintly, but with a tone of protest in his words.
"Don't gammon a fellow!  I am not going to mind if I am.  Our chaps
don't make a fuss about it when their time comes."

"No," said Pen sharply; "but your time hasn't come yet."

The boy looked up at him with a peculiar smile.

"Saying that to comfort a fellow," he almost whispered; "only, I say,
comrade, you did stick to me, and you won't--won't--"

"Won't what?" said Pen sharply.  "Leave you now?  Is it likely?"

"Not a bit yet," said the poor fellow faintly; "but I didn't mean that."

"Then what did you mean?" cried Pen wonderingly.

The poor lad made a snatch at his companion's arm, and tried to draw him
down.

"What is it?" said Pen anxiously now, for he was startled by the look in
the boy's eyes.

"Want to whisper," came in a broken voice.

"No; you can't have anything to whisper now," said Pen.  "There, let me
give you a little more water."

The boy shook his head.

"Want to whisper," he murmured in a harsh, low voice.

"Well, what is it?  But you had better not.  Shut your eyes and have a
bit of a nap till you are rested and the faintness has gone.  I shall be
rested, too, then, and I can get you down into the hut, where I tell you
there's a bed, and, better still, Punch, a draught of sweet warm milk."

"Gammon!" said the boy again; and he hung more heavily upon Pen's
arm.--"Want to whisper."

"Well, what is it?" said Pen, trying hard to master the feeling of
despair that was creeping over him.

"Them wolves!" whispered the boy.  "Don't let them get me, comrade, when
I'm gone."

"You shut your eyes and go to sleep," cried Pen angrily.

"No," said the boy, speaking more strongly now.  "I aren't a baby, and I
know what I'm saying.  You tell me you won't let them have me, and then
I will go to sleep; and then if I don't wake up no more--"

"What!" cried Pen, speaking with a simulated anger, "you won't be such a
coward as to go and leave me all alone here?"

The boy started; his eyes brightened a little, and he gazed
half-wonderingly in his companion's face.

"I--I didn't think of that, comrade," he faltered.  "I was thinking I
was going like some of our poor chaps; but I don't want to shirk.
There, I'll try not."

"Of course you will," said Pen harshly.  "Now then, try and have a nap."

The boy closed his eyes, and in less than a minute he was breathing
steadily and well, but evidently suffering now and then in his sleep,
for the hand that clasped Pen's gave a sudden jerk at intervals.

Quite an hour, during which the watcher did not stir, till there was a
sharper twitch and the boy's eyes opened, to look wonderingly in his
companion's as if he could not recall where he was.

"Have a little water now, Punch?"

"Drop," he said; but the drop proved to be a thirsty draught, and he
spoke quite in his senses now as he put a brief question.

"Is it far?" he said.

"To the hut?  No.  Do you think you can bear me to get you on my back
again?"

"Yes.  Going to.  Look sharp!"

But as soon as the boy felt his companion take hold of his hand after
restopping the water-bottle, Punch whispered, "Stop!"

"What is it?  Would you like to wait a little longer?"

"No.  Give me a bullet out of a cartridge."

"A bullet?  What for?"

"To bite," said the boy with a grim smile.

Pen hesitated for a moment in doubt, looking in the boy's smiling eyes
the while.  Then, as a flash of recollection of stories he had heard
passed through his mind, he hastily drew a cartridge from his box, broke
the little roll open, scattering the powder and setting the bullet free
before passing it to his companion, who nodded in silence as he seized
the piece of lead between his teeth.  Then, nodding again, he raised one
hand, which Pen took, and seizing one of the branches of the gnarled
tree he bent it down till he got it close to his companion, and bade him
hold on with all his might.

Punch's fingers closed tightly upon the bough, which acted like a spring
and helped to raise its holder sufficiently high for Pen to get him once
more upon his shoulders, which he had freed from straps thrown down
beside his rifle.

"Try and bear it," he panted, as he heard the low, hissing breath from
the poor fellow's lips, and felt him quiver and wince.  "I know it's
bad," he added encouragingly, "but it won't take me long."

It did not, for in a very few minutes he had reached the rough stone
wall, to which he shifted his burden, stood for a few moments panting,
and then climbed over, took the sufferer in his arms, and staggered into
the waiting shelter, where the next minute Punch was lying insensible
upon the bed.

"Ha!" ejaculated Pen as he passed the back of his hand across his
streaming forehead.

This suggested another action, but it was the palm of his hand that he
laid across his companion's brow.

"All wet!" he muttered.  "He can't be very feverish for the perspiration
to come like that."

Then he started violently, for a shadow crossed the open door, and he
involuntarily threw up one hand to draw his slung rifle from his
shoulder, and then his teeth snapped together.

There was no rifle there.  It was lying with his cartouche-box right
away by the stunted oak, as he mentally called the cork-tree.

The next minute he was breathing freely, for the deep-toned bleat of the
goat arose, and he looked out, to see that it was answerable for the
shadow.

"Ah, you will have to pay for this," he muttered, as he started to run
to where his weapon lay, his mind full now of thoughts that in his
efforts over his comrade had been absent.

He was full of expectation that one or other of the vedettes might have
caught sight of him bearing his load to the hut; and, with the full
determination to get his rifle and hurry back to defend himself and his
companion for as long as the cartridges held out, he started with a run
up the slope, which proved to be only the stagger of one who was utterly
exhausted, and degenerated almost into a crawl.

He was back at last, to find that Punch had not moved, but seemed to be
sleeping heavily as he lay upon his sound shoulder; and, satisfied by
this, Pen laid his rifle and belts across the foot of the bed and drew a
deep breath.

"I can't help it," he nearly groaned.  "It isn't selfish; but if I don't
have something I can do no more."

Then, strangely enough, he uttered a mocking laugh as he stepped to a
rough shelf and took a little pail-like vessel with one stave prolonged
into a handle from the place where it had been left clean by the last
occupant of the hut, and as he stepped with it to the open door
something within it rattled.

He looked down at it in surprise and wonder, and it was some moments
before he grasped the fact that the piece of what resembled blackened
clay was hard, dry cake.

"Ah!" he half-shouted as he raised it to his lips and tried to bite off
a piece, but only to break off what felt like wood, which refused to
crumble but gradually began to soften.

Then, smiling grimly, he thrust the cake within his jacket and stepped
out, forgetting his pain and stiffness, to find to his dismay that there
was no sign of the goat.

"How stupid!" he muttered the next minute.  "My head won't go.  I can't
think."  And, recalling the goat's former visit to the rough shelter, he
hurried to where he had been a witness of its object, and to his great
delight found the animal standing with half-closed eyes nibbling at some
of the plentiful herbage while one of its kids was partaking of its
evening meal.

Pen advanced cautiously with the little wooden vessel, ready to seize
the animal by one of its horns if it attempted to escape, as it turned
sharply and stared at him in wonder; but it only sniffed as if in
recognition at the little pail, and resumed its browsing.  But the kid
was disposed to resent the interruption of the stranger, and some little
force had to be used to thrust it away, returning again and again to
begin to make some pretence of butting at the intruder.

Pen laughed aloud at the absurdity of his task as he finally got rid of
the little animal, and made his first essay at milking, finding to his
great delight that he was successful, while the goat-mother took it all
as a matter of course, and did not move while her new friend refreshed
himself with a hearty draught of the contents of the little pail; and
then, snatching at a happy thought, drew the hardened cake from his
breast and placed it so that it could soak up the soft warm milk which
flowed into the vessel.

"Ah!" sighed the young soldier, "who'd have thought that taking the
king's shilling would bring a fellow to this?  Now for poor Punch.
Well, we sha'n't starve to-night."

Once more as he turned from the goat the thought assailed him that one
of the vedettes might be in sight; but all was still and beautiful as he
stepped back slowly, eating with avidity portions of the gradually
softening black-bread, and feeling the while that life and hope and
strength were gradually coming back.

"Now for poor Punch!" he muttered again; and, entering the rough shelter
once more, he stood looking down upon the wounded boy, who was sleeping
heavily, so soundly that Pen felt that it would be a cruelty to rouse
him.  So, partaking sparingly of his novel meal, he placed a part upon a
stool within reach of the rough pallet.

"Wounded men don't want food," he muttered.  "It's Nature's way of
keeping off fever; and I must keep watch again, and give him a little
milk when he wakes.  Yes, when he wakes--when he wakes," he muttered, as
he settled himself upon the earthen floor within touch of his sleeping
comrade.  "Mustn't close the door," he continued, with a little laugh,
"for there doesn't seem to be one; and, besides, it would make the place
dark.  Why, there's a star peeping out over the shoulder of the
mountain, and that soft, low, deep hum is the falling water.  Why, that
must be the star I used to see at home in the old days; and, oh, how
beautiful and restful everything seems!  But I mustn't go to sleep.--Are
you asleep, Punch?" he whispered softly.  "Poor fellow!  That's right.
Sleep and Nature will help you with your wound; but I must keep awake.
It would never do for you to rouse up and find me fast.  No," he
half-sighed.  "Poor lad, you mustn't go yet where so many other poor
fellows have gone.  A boy like you!  Well!  It's the--fortune--fortune--
of war--and--and--"

Nature would take no denial.  Pen Gray drew one long, deep, restful
breath as if wide-awake, and then slowly and as if grudgingly respired.

Fast asleep.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

MORE ABOUT HIM.

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?"

"Yes."

"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?"

"Nothing."

"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?"

"Bread."

"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."



CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE KING'S SHILLING.

"Ha, ha, ha, ha!"  A bright, ringing specimen of a youth's laugh, given
out by one who is healthy, strong, and fairly content, allowing for
drawbacks, with the utterer's position in life.

"Whatcher laughing at?" followed in the querulous tones of one who was
to a great extent at the opposite pole of life.

"You, Punch."

"I don't see nothing to laugh at, sick and weak as I am."

"Yes, you are weak enough, and don't know the difference as I do."

"Difference!  There ain't no difference.  I'm a regular invalid, as they
calls them, and just as bad as some of our poor chaps who go back to
live on the top of a wooden leg all the rest of their lives."

"Stuff and nonsense, Punch!  You are getting better and stronger every
day."

"I ain't.  Look at that arm; it's as thin as a mop-stick."

"Well, it is thin, certainly; but a chap of your age, growing fast,
generally is thin."

"Ya!  Growing!  How can a fellow grow with a hole in his back?"

"You haven't got a hole in your back.  It's healing up fast."

"'Taint."

"Yes, it is.  You haven't seen it, and I have every day.  I say it's
healing beautifully."

"Ah, you'll say next that I ain't weak."

"No, I shan't."

"Well, that's because you are always trying to make me think that I am
better than I am."

"Well, what of that?  I don't want to put you out of heart."

"No, but you needn't gammon me.  I know I ain't as weak as a rat,
because I am ten times weaker.  I have got no wind at all; and I do wish
you wouldn't be always wallacking me down to that big waterfall.  I'm
always pumped out before I get half-way there, and quite done up before
I get back.  What's the good of going there?"

"Beautiful place, Punchy, and the mountain air seems to come down with
the water and fill you full of strength."

"Does you perhaps, but it don't do me no good.  Beautiful place indeed!
Ugly great hole!"

"'Tisn't; it's lovely.  I don't believe we shall ever see a more
beautiful spot in our lives."

"It makes me horrible.  I feel sometimes as if I could jump in and put
myself out of my misery.  Just two steps, and a fellow would be washed
away to nowhere."

"Why, you have regularly got the grumps to-day, Punch; just, too, when
you were getting better than ever."

"I ain't, I tell you.  I had a look at myself this morning while you
were snoring, and I am as thin as a scarecrow.  My poor old mother
wouldn't know me again if ever I got back; and I sha'n't never see our
old place no more."

"Yes, you will, Punch--grown up into a fine, manly-looking British
rifleman, for you will be too big to blow your bugle then.  You might
believe me."

"Bugle!  Yes, I didn't give it a rub yesterday.  Just hand it off that
peg."

Pen reached the bugle from where it hung by its green cord, and the
lines in Punch's young forehead began to fade as he gave the instrument
a touch with his sleeve, and then placed the mouthpiece to his lips,
filled out his sadly pale, hollow cheeks, and looked as if he were going
to blow with all his might, when he was checked by Pen clapping his hand
over the glistening copper bell.

"Whatcher doing of?" cried the boy angrily.

"Stopping you.  There, you see you are better.  You couldn't have
attempted that a while ago."

"Ya!  Think I'm such a silly as to bring the enemy down upon us?"

"Well, I didn't know."

"Then you ought to.  I should just like to give the call, though, to set
our dear old lads going along the mountain-side there skirmishing and
peppering the frog-eating warmints till they ran for their lives."

"Hurrah!" shouted Pen.  "Who's trying to bring the enemy down upon us
now, when we know there are some of them sneaking about in vedettes as
they hold both ends of the valley.  Now you say you are not better if
you dare."

"Oh, I don't want to fall out," grumbled the invalid.  "You think you
know, but you ain't got a wound in your back to feel when a cold wind
comes off the mountains.  I think I ought to know best."

"But you don't, Punch.  Those pains will die out in time, and you will
go on growing, and keeping thin perhaps for a bit; but your muscles will
fill out by-and-by, same as mine do in this beautiful air."

"Needn't be so precious proud of them," said the boy sourly.

"I'm not.  There, have another fish."

"Sha'n't.  I'm sick to death on them.  They are only Spanish or
Portuguee trout, and not half so good as roach and dace out of a good
old English pond."

Pen laughed merrily again.

"Ah, grin away!  I think I ought to know."

"Yes--better than to grumble when I have broiled the fish so nicely over
the wood embers with sticks I cut for skewers.  They were delicious, and
I ate till I felt ashamed."

"So you ought to be."

"To enjoy myself so," continued Pen, "while you, with your mouth so out
of taste and no appetite, could hardly eat a bit."

"Well, who's to have a happetite with a wound like mine?  I shall never
get no better till I get a mug of real old English beer."

"Never mind; you get plenty of milk."

"Ya!  Nasty, sickly stuff!  I'll never touch it again."

"Well then, beautiful sparkling water."

"Who wants sparkling water?  'Tain't like English.  It's so thin and
cold."

"Come, come; you must own that you are mending fast, Punch."

"Who wants to be mended," snarled the poor fellow, "and go through life
like my old woman's cracked chayney plate with the rivet in it!  I was a
strong lad once, and could beat any drummer in the regiment in a race,
while now I ought to be in horspital."

"No, you ought not.  I'll tell you what you want, Punch."

"Oh, I know."

"No, you don't.  You want to get just a little stronger, so as you can
walk ten miles in a day."

"Ten miles!  Why, I used to do twenty easy."

"So you will again, lad; but I mean in a night, for we shall have to lie
up all day and march all night so as to keep clear of the enemy."

"Then you mean for us to try and get out of this wretched hole?"

"I mean for us to go on tramp as soon as you are quite strong enough;
and then you will think it's a beautiful valley.  Why, Punch, I have
crept about here of a night while you have been asleep, so that I have
got to know the place by heart, and I should like to have the chance of
leading our fellows into places I know where they could hold it against
ten times or twenty times their number of Frenchmen who might try to
drive them out."

"You have got to know that?" said Punch with a show of animation that
had grown strange to the poor fellow.

"Yes," cried Pen triumphantly.

"Well, then, all I have got to say is you waren't playing fair."

"Of course it wasn't.  Seeing you were so weak you couldn't walk."

"There now, you are laughing at a fellow; but you don't play fair."

"Don't I?  In what way?"

"Why, you promised while I have been so bad that you would read to me a
bit."

"And I couldn't, Punch, because we have got nothing to read."

"And then you promised that you would tell me how it was you come to
take the king's shilling."

"Well, yes, I did; but you don't want to know that."

"Yes, I do.  I have been wanting to know ever since."

"Why, boy?"

"Because it seems so queer that a lad like you should join the ranks."

"Why queer?  You are too young yet, but you will be in the ranks some
day as a full private."

"Yes, some day; but then, you see, my father was a soldier.  Yours
warn't, was he?"

"No-o," said Pen, frowning and looking straight away before him out of
the hut-door.

"Well, then, why don't you speak out?"

"Because I don't feel much disposed.  It is rather a tender subject,
Punch."

"There, I always knew there was something.  Look here; you and me's
friends and comrades, ain't we?"

"I think so, Punch.  I have tried to be."

"So you have.  Nobody could have been better.  I have lain awake lots of
times and thought about what you did.  You haven't minded my saying such
nasty things as I have sometimes?"

"Not I, Punch.  Sick people are often irritable."

"Yes," said the boy eagerly, "that's it.  I have said lots of things to
you that I didn't mean; but it's when my back's been very bad, and it
seemed to spur me on to be spiteful, and I have been very sorry
sometimes, only I was ashamed to tell you.  But you haven't done
anything to be ashamed of?"  Pen was silent for a few moments.

"Ashamed?  No--yes."

"Well, you can't have been both," said the boy.  "Whatcher mean by
that?"

"There have been times, Punch, when I have felt ashamed of what I have
done."

"Why, what have you done?  I don't believe it was ever anything bad.
You say what it was.  I'll never tell."

"Enlisted for a soldier."

"What?" cried the boy.  "Why, that ain't nothing to be ashamed of.  What
stuff!  Why, that's something to be proud of, specially in our Rifles.
In the other regiments we have got out here the lads are proud of being
in scarlet.  Let 'em.  But I know better.  There isn't one of them who
wouldn't be proud to be in our dark-green, and to shoulder a rifle.
Besides, we have got our bit of scarlet on the collar and cuffs, and
that's quite enough.  Why, you are laughing at me!  You couldn't be
ashamed of being in our regiment.  I know what it was--you ran away from
home?"

"It was no longer home to me, Punch."

"Why, didn't you live there?"

"Yes; but it didn't seem like home any longer.  It was like this, Punch.
My father and mother had died."

"Oh," said the boy softly, "that's bad.  Very good uns, waren't they?"

Pen bowed his head.

"Then it waren't your home any longer?"

"Yes and no, Punch," said the lad gravely.

"There you go again!  Don't aggravate a fellow when he is sick and weak.
I ain't a scholar like you, and when you puts it into me with your `yes
and no' it makes my head ache.  It can't be yes and no too."

"Well, Punch," said Pen, smiling, "it was mine by rights, but I was
under age."

"What's under age?"

"Not twenty-one."

"Of course not.  You told me months ago that you was only eighteen.
Anybody could see that, because you ain't got no whiskers.  But what has
that got to do with it?"

"Well, I don't see why I should tell you all this, Punch, for it's all
about law."

"But I want to know," said the boy, "because it's all about you."

"Well, it's like this: my father left my uncle to be executor and my
trustee."

"Oh, I say, whatcher talking about?  You said your father was a good un,
didn't you?"

"I did."

"Well, then, he couldn't have left your uncle to be your executioner
when you hadn't done nothing."

"Executor, Punch," said the lad, laughing.

"Well, that's what I said, didn't I?"

"No; that's a very different thing.  An executor is one who executes."

"Well, I know that.  Hangs people who ain't soldiers, and shoots them as
is.  Court-martial, you know."

"Punch, you are getting in a muddle."

"Glad of it," said the boy, "for I thought it was, and I don't like to
hear you talk like that."

"Then let's put it right.  An executor is one who executes the commands
of a person who is dead."

"Oh, I see," said the boy.  "Dead without being executed."

"Look here, Punch," said Pen, laughing, "you had better be still and
listen, and I will try and make it plain to you.  My uncle was my
father's executor, who had to see that the property he left was
rightfully distributed."

"Oh, I see," said Punch.

"And my father made him my trustee, to take charge of the money that was
to be mine when I became twenty-one."

"All right; go on.  I am getting it now."

"Then he had to see to my education, and advise me till I grew up."

"Well, that was all right, only if I had been your old man, seeing what
a chap you are, I shouldn't have called in no uncle.  I should have
said, `Young Penton Gray has got his head screwed on proper, and he will
do what's right.'  I suppose, then, your uncle didn't."

"I thought not, Punch."

"Then, of course, he didn't.  What did he do, then?"

"Made me leave school," said Pen.

"Oh, well, that don't sound very bad.  Made you leave school?  Well, I
never was at school but once, but I'd have given anything to be made to
come away."

"Ah, perhaps you would, Punch.  But then there are schools and schools."

"Well, I know that," said the boy irritably; "but don't tease a fellow,
it makes me so wild now I'm all weak like."

"Well, then, let's say no more about it."

"What!  Leave off telling of me?"

"Yes, while you are irritable."

"I ain't irritable; not a bit.  It's only that I want to know."

"Very well, then, Punch; I will cut it short."

"No, you don't, so come now!  You promised to tell me all about it, so
play fair."

"Very well, then, you must listen patiently."

"That's what I'm a-doing of, only you will keep talking in riddles like
about your executioners and trustees.  I want you to tell me just in
plain English."

"Very well, then, Punch.  I was at a military school, and I didn't want
to be fetched away."

"Oh, I see," cried the boy.  "You mean one of them big schools where
they makes young officers?"

"Yes."

"Like Woolwich and Addiscombe?"

"Yes."

"You were going to be a soldier, then--I mean, an officer?"

"An officer is a soldier, Punch."

"Of course he is.  Oh, well, I don't wonder you didn't want to be
fetched away.  Learning to be an officer, eh?  That's fine.  Didn't your
uncle want you to be a soldier, then?"

"No.  He wanted me to go as a private pupil with a lawyer."

"What, and get to be a lawyer?" cried the boy excitedly.  "Oh, I say,
you weren't going to stand that?"

"No, Punch.  Perhaps I should have obeyed him, only I knew that it had
always been my father's wish that I should go into the army, and he had
left the money for my education and to buy a commission when I left the
military school."

"Here, I know," cried the boy excitedly; "you needn't tell me no more.
I heard a story once about a wicked uncle.  I know--your one bought the
commission and kept it for himself."

"No, Punch; that wouldn't work out right.  When I begged him to let me
stay at the military school he mocked at me, and laughed, and said that
my poor father must have been mad to think of throwing away money like
that; and over and over again he insisted that I should go on with my
studies of the law, and give up all notion of wearing a red coat, for he
could see that that was all I thought about."

"Well?" said the boy.

"Well, Punch?"

"And then you punched his head, and ran away from home."

"No, I did not."

"Then you ought to have done.  I would if anybody said my poor father
was mad; and, besides, your uncle must have been a bad un to want to
make you a lawyer.  I suppose he was a lawyer too."

"Yes."

"There, if I didn't think so!  But he must have been a bad un.  Said you
wanted to be a soldier so as to wear the uniform?  Well, if you did want
to, that's only nat'ral.  A soldier's always proud of his uniform.  I
heard our colonel say that it was the king's livery and something to be
proud on.  I am proud of mine, even if it has got a bit raggy-taggy with
sleeping out in it in all sorts of weather, and rooshing through bushes
and mud, and crossing streams.  But soldiers don't think of that sort of
thing, and we shall all have new things served out by-and-by.  Well, go
on."

"Oh, that's about all, Punch."

"You get on.  I know better.  Tain't half all.  I want you to come to
the cutting off and taking the shilling."

"Oh, you want to hear that?"

"Why, of course I do.  Why, it's all the juicy part.  Don't hang fire.
Let's have it with a rush now.  Fix bayonets, and at them!"

"Why, Punch," said Pen, laughing, "don't you tell me again that you are
not getting better!"

"I waren't going to now.  This warms a fellow up a bit.  I say, your
uncle is a bad un, and no mistake.  There, forward!"

"But I have nearly told all, Punch.  Life got so miserable at home, and
I was so sick of the law, that I led such a life with my uncle through
begging him to let me go back to the school, that he, one day--"

"Well, whatcher stopping for?" cried the boy, whose cheeks were flushed
and eyes sparkling with excitement.

"I don't like talking about it," replied Pen.  "I suppose I was wrong,
for my father had left all the management of my affairs in his
brother-in-law's hands."

"Why, you said your uncle's hands just now!"

"Yes, Punch; in my mother's brother's hands, so he was my uncle."

"Well, go on."

"And I had been begging him to alter his plans."

"Yes, and let you go back to the school?"

"And I suppose he was tired out with what he called my obstinacy, and he
told me that if ever I dared to mention the army again he would give me
a sound flogging."

"And you up and said you would like to catch him at it?" cried Punch
excitedly.  "No, Punch; but I lost my temper."

"Enough to make you!  Then you knocked him down?"

"No, Punch, but I told him he was forgetting the commands my father had
given him, and that I would never go to the lawyer's office again."

"Well, and what then?"

"Then, Punch?  Oh, I don't like to talk about it.  It makes me feel hot
all over even to think."

"Of course it does.  It makes me hot too; but then, you see, I'm weak.
But do go on.  What happened then?"

"He knocked me down," said the lad hoarsely.

"Oh!" cried the boy, trying to spring up from his rough couch, but
sinking back with the great beads of perspiration standing upon his
brown forehead.  "Don't you tell me you stood that!"

"No, Punch; I couldn't.  That night I went right away from home, just as
I stood, made my way to London, and the next day I went to King Street,
Westminster, and saw where the recruiting sergeants were marching up and
down."

"I know," cried the boy, "with their canes under their arms and their
colours flying."

"Yes, Punch, and I picked out the one in the new regiment, the --th
Rifles."

"Yes," cried Punch, "the Rifle green with the red collars and cuffs."

Pen, half-excited by his recollections, half-amused at the boy's intense
interest, nodded again.

"And took the king's shilling," cried Punch; "and I know, but I want you
to tell me--you joined ours just to show that uncle that you wanted to
serve the king, and not for the sake of the scarlet coat."

"Yes, Punch, that was why; and that's all."



CHAPTER NINE.

HOW TO TREAT AN ENEMY.

"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?"

"No."

"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?"

"Yes."

"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.



CHAPTER TEN.

TALKING IN HIS SLEEP.

"No, no!  Pray, pray, stop!" cried Pen, dashing out after his strange
visitor, who was making for the edge of the nearest patch of wood.

The imploring tone of his words had its effect, though the tongue was
foreign that fell upon the girl's ears, and she stopped slowly, to look
back at him; and, then as it seemed to dawn upon her what her pursuer
was, she slowly raised her hands imploringly towards him, the gesture
seeming to speak of itself, and say, "Don't hurt me!  I am only a
helpless girl."

Then she looked up at him in wonder, for Pen raised his in turn, as he
exclaimed, "Don't run away.  I want your help."

The girl shook her head.

"_Ingles_."

"_Si, si, Ingles, Ingles_.  Don't go.  I won't hurt you."

"_Si, si, Ingles_," said the girl with some animation now.

"Ah, she understands that!" thought Pen; and then aloud, "Help!
Wounded!" and he pointed at the open door.

The girl looked at him, then at the door, and then shook her head.

"Can you understand French?" cried Pen eagerly; and the girl shook her
head again.

"How stupid to ask like that!" muttered Pen; and then aloud, "Help!
Wounded."

The girl shook her head once more, and then started and struggled
slightly as Pen caught her by the arm.

"Don't fight," he cried.  "Help! help!"  And he gesticulated towards the
hut as he pointed through the door at the dimly seen bed, while the girl
held back at arm's-length, gazing at him wildly, until a happy thought
struck him, for he recalled the words that he had more than once heard
used by the villagers while he and his fellows were foraging.

"_El pano_," he cried; "_el pano_--bread, bread!"  And he pointed to the
dimly seen boy and then to his own mouth.

"_Si, el pano_!" cried the girl, ceasing her faint struggle.

"_Si, si_!" cried Pen again, and he joined his hands together for a
moment before slowly beckoning their visitor to follow him into the
cottage.

He stepped in, and then turned to look back, but only to find that the
girl still held aloof, and then turned to look round again as if in
search of help.  As she once more glanced in his direction with eyes
that were full of doubt, Pen walked round to the back of the rough
pallet, placing the bed between them, and then beckoned to the girl to
come nearer as he pointed downward at his sleeping patient.

Their visitor still held aloof, till Pen raised his hands towards her,
joining them imploringly, and his heart leaped with satisfaction as she
began slowly and cautiously to approach.

And now for his part he sank upon his knees, and as she watched him,
looking ready to dart away at any moment, he placed one finger upon his
lips and raised his left hand as if to ask for silence, while he uttered
softly the one word, "Hush!"

To his great satisfaction the girl now approached till her shadow fell
across the bed, and, supporting herself by one hand, she peered in.

"I'd give something if I could speak Spanish now," thought Pen.  "What
can I do to make her understand that he is wounded?  She ought to be
able to see.  Ah, I know!"

He pointed quickly to his rifle, which was leaning against the bed, and
then downward at where the last-applied bandage displayed one end.
Then, pointing to poor Punch's face, he looked at the girl sadly and
shook his head.

It was growing quite dusk inside the hut, but Pen was able to see the
girl's face light up as, without a moment's hesitation now she stepped
quickly through the rough portal and bent down so that she could lightly
touch the sleeper's hand, which she took in hers as she bent lower and
then rose slowly, to meet Pen's inquiring look; and as she shook her
head at him sadly he saw that her eyes were filling with tears.

"Sick," he whispered; "dying.  _El pano, el pano_;" and his next
movement was telling though grotesque, for he opened his mouth and made
signs of eating, before pointing downward at the boy.

"_Si, si_," cried the girl quickly, and, turning to the door again, she
passed through, signing to him to follow, but only to turn back, point
to the little pail that stood upon the floor by the bed's head, and
indicate that she wanted it.

Pen grasped her meaning, caught up the pail, handed it to her, and quite
simply and naturally sank upon one knee and bent over to lightly kiss
the girl's extended hand, which closed upon the edge of the little
vessel.

She shrank quickly, and a look of half-dread, half-annoyance came upon
her countenance; but, as Pen drew back, her face smoothed and she nodded
quickly, pointed in the direction of the big fall, made two or three
significant gestures that might or might not have meant, "I'll soon be
back," and then whispered, "_El pano, el pano_;" and ran off over the
rugged stones as swiftly as one of her own mountain goats.

"Ha!" said Pen softly, as he sighed with satisfaction, "_el pano_ means
bread, plain enough, and she must have understood that.  Gone," he
added, as the girl disappeared.  "Then there must be another cottage
somewhere in that direction, and I am going to hope that she will come
back soon with something to eat.  Who could have thought it?--But
suppose she has gone to join some of the French who are about here, and
comes back with a party to take us prisoners!--Oh, she wouldn't be so
treacherous; she can't look upon us as enemies.  We are not fighting
against her people.  But I don't know; they must look upon us as made up
of enemies.  No, no, she was only frightened, and no wonder, to find us
in her hut, for it must be hers or her people's.  Else she wouldn't have
come here.  No, a girl like that, a simple country girl, would only
think of helping two poor lads in distress, and she will come back and
bring us some bread."

As Pen stood watching the place where the girl had disappeared his hand
went involuntarily to his pocket, where he jingled a few _pesetas_ that
he had left; and then, as he canvassed to himself the possibility of the
girl's return before long, he went slowly back into the hut and stood
looking down at the sleeper.

"Bread and milk," he said softly.  "It will be like life to him.  But
how queer it seems that I should be worrying myself nearly to death,
giving up my clothes to make him comfortable, playing doctor and nurse,
and nearly starving myself, for a boy for whom I never cared a bit.  I
couldn't have done any more for him if he had been my brother.  Why,
when I used to hear him speak it jarred upon me, he seemed so coarse and
common.  It's human nature, I suppose, and I'm not going to doubt that
poor girl again.  She looks common and simple too--a Spanish peasant, I
suppose, who had come to milk and see to the goats after perhaps being
frightened away by the firing.  A girl of seventeen or eighteen, I
should say.  Well, Spanish girls would be just as tender-hearted as ours
at home.  Of course; and she did just the same as one of them would have
done.  She looked sorry for poor Punch, and I saw one tear trickle over
and fall down.--There, Punch, boy; we shall be all right now if the
French don't come."

Pen stepped out in the open and seated himself upon a piece of mossy
rock where he could gaze in the direction where he had last seen his
visitor.  But it was all dull and misty now.  There was the distant
murmur of the great fall, the sharp, sibilant chirrup of crickets.  The
great planet which had seemed like a friend to him before had risen from
behind the distant mountain, and there was a peculiar sweet, warm
perfume in the air that made him feel drowsy and content.

"Ah," he sighed, "they say that when things are at their worst they
begin to mend.  They are mending now, and this valley never felt, never
looked, so beautiful before.  How one seems to breathe in the sweet,
soft, dewy night-air!  It's lovely.  I don't think I ever felt so truly
happy.  There, it's of no use for me to watch that patch of wood, for I
could not see our visitor unless she was coming with a lantern; and
perhaps she has had miles to go.  Well, watching the spot is doing no
good, and if she's coming she will find her way, and she is more likely
not to lose heart if I'm in the hut, for I might scare her away.  Here,
let's go in and see how poor old Punch is getting on!  But I never
thought--I never could have imagined--when I was getting up my `lessons
for to-morrow morning' that the time would come when I should be waiting
and watching in a Spanish peasant's hut for some one to come and bring
me in for a wounded comrade a cake of black-bread to keep us both
alive."

Pen Gray walked softly in the direction of the dimly seen hut through
heathery brush, rustling at every step and seeming to have the effect of
making him walk on tiptoe for fear he should break the silence of the
soft southern evening.

The lad stopped and listened eagerly, for there was a distant shout that
suggested the hailing of a French soldier who had lost his way in the
forest.  Then it was repeated, "Ahoy-y-hoy-hoy-y-y!" and answered from
far away, and it brought up a suggestion of watchful enemies searching
for others in the darkened woods.

Then came another shout, and an ejaculation of impatience from the
listener.

"I ought to have known it was an owl.  Hallo!  What's that?  Has she
come back by some other way?"

For the sound of a voice came to him from inside the rough hut, making
him hurry over the short distance that separated him from the door,
where he stood for a moment or two listening, and he heard distinctly,
"Not me!  I mean to make a big fight for it out of spite.  Shoot me
down--a boy--for obeying orders!  Cowards!  How would they like it
themselves?"

"Why, Punch, lad," said Pen, stepping to the bedside and leaning over
his comrade, "what's the matter?  Talking in your sleep?"

There was no reply, but the muttering voice ceased, and Pen laid his
hand upon the boy's forehead, as he said to himself, "Poor fellow!  A
good mess of bread-and-milk would save his life.  I wonder how long she
will be!"



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

PUNCH'S COMMISSARIAT.

It was far longer than Pen anticipated, for the darkness grew deeper,
the forest sounds fainter and fainter, and there were times when the
watcher went out to listen and returned again and again to find Punch
sleeping more restfully, while the very fact that the boy seemed so calm
appeared to affect his comrade with a strange sense of drowsiness, out
of which he kept on rousing himself, muttering the while with annoyance,
"I can't have her come and find me asleep.  It's so stupid.  She must be
here soon."

And after a trot up and down in the direction in which he had seen the
girl pass, and back, he felt better.

"Sleep is queer," he said to himself.  "I felt a few minutes ago as if I
couldn't possibly keep awake."

He softly touched Punch's temples again, to find them now quite cool,
and seating himself at the foot of the rough pallet he began to think
hopefully of the future, and then with his back propped against the
rough woodwork he stared wonderingly at the glowing orange disc of the
sun, which was peering over the mountains and sending its level rays
right through the open doorway of the hut.

Pen gazed at the soft, warm glow wonderingly, for everything seemed
strange and incomprehensible.

There was the sun, and here was he lying back with his shoulders against
the woodwork of the rough bed.  But what did it all mean?

Then came the self-evolved answer, "Why, I have been asleep!"

Springing from the bed, he just glanced at his softly breathing
companion as he ran out to look once more in the direction taken by the
girl.

Then he stepped back again in the hope that she might have returned
during the night and brought some bread; but all was still, and not a
sign of anybody having been there.

Pen's heart sank.

"Grasping at shadows," he muttered.  "Here have I been wasting time over
sleep instead of hunting for food."

Ignorant for the time being of the cause of the wretched feeling of
depression which now stole over him, and with no friendly voice at hand
to say, "Heart sinking?  Despondent?  Why, of course you are ready to
think anything is about to occur now that you are literally starving!"
Pen had accepted the first ill thought that had occurred to him, and
this was that his companion had turned worse in the night and was dying.

Bending over the poor fellow once more, he thrust a hand within the
breast of his shirt, and his spirits sank lower, for there was no
regular throbbing beat in response, for the simple reason that in his
hurry and confusion of intellect he had not felt in the right place.

"Oh!" he gasped, and his own voice startled him with its husky,
despairing tone, while he bent lower, and it seemed to him that he could
not detect the boy's breath playing upon his cheek.

"Oh, what have I done?" he panted, and catching at the boy's shoulders
he began to draw him up into a sitting position, with some wild idea
that this would enable him to regain his breath.

But the next moment he had lowered him back upon the rough pallet, for a
cry Punch uttered proved that he was very much alive.

"I say," he cried, "whatcher doing of?  Don't!  You hurt?"

"Oh, Punch," cried Pen, panting hard now, "how you frightened me!"

"Why, I never did nothink," cried the boy in an ill-used tone.

"No, no.  Lie still.  I only thought you were getting worse.  You were
so still, and I could not hear you breathe."

"But you shouldn't," grumbled the wounded boy surlily, as he screwed
first one shoulder up to his ear and then the other.  "Hff!  You did
hurt!  What did you expect?  Think I ought to be snoring?  I say,
though, give a fellow some more of that milk, will you?  I'm thirsty.
Couldn't you get some bread--not to eat, but to sop in it?"

"I don't think I could eat anything, but--" The boy stopped short as he
lay passing his tongue over his fever-cracked lips, for the doorway of
the miserable cabin was suddenly darkened, and Pen sprang round to find
himself face to face with his visitor of the previous evening, who stood
before him with the wooden vessel in one hand and a coarse-looking
bread-cake in the other.

She looked searchingly and suspiciously at Pen for a few moments; and
then, as if seeing no cause for fear, she stepped quickly in, placed the
food she had brought upon the rough shelf, and then bent over Punch and
laid one work-roughened hand upon the boy's forehead, while he stared up
at her wonderingly.

The girl turned to look round at Pen, and uttered a few words hurriedly
in her Spanish patois.  Then, as if recollecting herself, she caught the
bread-cake from where she had placed it, broke a piece off, and put it
in the young rifleman's hand, speaking again quickly, every word being
incomprehensible, though her movements were plain enough as she signed
to him to eat.

"Yes, I know what you mean," said Pen smiling; "but I want the bread for
him," and he pointed to the wounded boy.

The peasant-girl showed on the instant that though she could not
understand the stranger's words his signs were clear enough.  She broke
off another piece of the bread and took down the little wooden-handled
pail, which was half-full of warm milk.  This she held up to Pen, and
signed to him to drink; but he shook his head and pointed to Punch.
This produced a quick, decisive nod of the head, as the girl wrinkled up
her forehead and signed in an insistent way that Pen should drink first.

He obeyed, and then the girl seated herself upon the bed and began to
sop pieces of the bread and hold them to Punch's lips.

"Thenkye," he said faintly, and for the first time for many days the boy
showed his white teeth, as he smiled up in their visitor's face.  "'Tis
good," he said, and his lips parted to receive another fragment of the
milk-softened bread, which was given in company with a bright girlish
smile and a few more words.

"I say," said Punch, slowly turning his head from side to side, "I
suppose you can't understand plain English, can you?"

The girl's voice sounded very pleasant, as she laughingly replied.

"Ah," said Punch, "and I can't understand plain Spanish.  But I know
what you mean, and I will try to eat.--'Tis good.  Give us a bit more."

For the next ten minutes or so the peasant-girl remained seated upon the
bedside attending to the wounded boy, breaking off the softer portions
of the cake, soaking them in the warm milk, and placing them to the
sufferer's lips, and more than once handing portions of the cake to Pen
and giving him the clean wood vessel so that he might drink, while the
sun lit up the interior of the hut and lent a peculiar brightness to the
intently gazing eyes of its three occupants, till the rustic breakfast
came to an end, this being when Punch kept his lips closed, gazed up
straight in the girl's face, and smiled and shook his head.

"Good!" said the girl in her native tongue, and she nodded and laughed
in satisfaction before playfully making believe to close the boy's eyes,
and ending by keeping her hand across the lids so that he might
understand that he was now to sleep.

To this Punch responded by taking the girl's hand in his and holding it
for a few moments against his cheek before it was withdrawn, when the
poor wounded lad turned his face away so that no one should see that a
weak tear was stealing down his sun-browned cheek.

But the girl saw it, and her own eyes were wet as she turned quickly to
Pen, pointed to the bread and milk, signed to him that he should go on
eating, and then hurried out into the bright sunshine, Pen following, to
see that she was making straight for the waterfall.

The next minute she had disappeared amongst the trees.

"Well, Punch," cried Pen, as he stepped back to the hut, "feel better
for your breakfast?"

"Better?  Yes, of course.  But I say, she didn't see me snivelling, did
she?"

"Yes, I think so; and it made her snivel too, as you call it.  Of course
she was sorry to see you so weak and bad."

"Ah!" said Punch, after a few moments' silence, during which he had lain
with his eyes shut.

"What is it?  Does your wound hurt you?"

"No; I forgot all about it.  I say, I should like to give that girl
something, because it was real kind of her; but I ain't got nothing but
a sixpence with a hole in it, and she wouldn't care for that, because
it's English."

"Well, I don't know, Punch.  I dare say she would.  A good-hearted girl
like that wouldn't look upon its value, but would keep it out of
remembrance of our meeting."

"Think so?" said Punch eagerly, and with his eyes sparkling.  "Oh, don't
I wish I could talk Spanish!"

"Oh, never mind that," said Pen.  "Think about getting well.  But, all
the same, I wish I could make her understand so that she could guide me
to where our fellows are."

"Eh?" cried the boy eagerly.  "You ain't a-going to run away and leave
me here, are you?"

"Is it likely, Punch?"

"Of course not," cried the boy.  "Never you mind what I say.  I get
muddly and stupid in my head sometimes, and then I say things I don't
mean."

"Of course you do; I understand.  It's weakness," said Pen cheerily;
"but you are getting better."

"Think so, comrade?  You see, I ain't had no doctor."

"Yes, you have.  Nature's a fine doctor; and if we can keep in hiding
here a few days more, and that girl will keep on bringing us bread and
milk, you will soon be in marching order; so we are not going to be in
the dumps.  We will find our fellows somehow."

"To be sure we will," said Punch cheerfully, as he wrenched himself a
little over, wincing with pain the while.

"What is it, Punch?  Wound hurt you again?"

"Yes; horrid," said the boy with a sigh.

"Then, why don't you lie still?  You should tell me you wanted to move."

"Yes, all right; I will next time.  It did give me a stinger.  Sets a
fellow thinking what some of our poor chaps must feel who get shot down
and lie out in the mountains without a comrade to help them--a comrade
like you.  I shall never--"

"Look here, Punch," interrupted Pen, "I don't like butter."

"I do," said the boy, with his eyes dancing merrily.  "Wished I had had
some with that bread's morning."

"Now, you know what I mean," cried Pen; "and mind this, if you get
talking like that to me again I will go off and leave you."

"Ha, ha!" said the boy softly, "don't believe you.  All right then, I
won't say any more if you don't like it; but I shall think about it all
the more."

"There you go again," cried Pen.  "What is it you want?  What are you
trying to get?  You are hurting yourself again."

"Oh, I was only trying to get at that there sixpence," said the poor
fellow, with a dismal look in his face.  "I'm half-afraid it's lost.--
No, it ain't!  I just touched it then."

"Then don't touch it any more."

"But I want it."

"No, you don't, not till that girl comes; and you had better keep it
till we say good-bye."

"Think so?" said Punch.

Pen nodded.

"You think she will come again, then?"

"She is sure to."

"Ah," said Punch, rather drowsily now, "I say, how nice it feels for any
one to be kind to you when you are bad."

"Very," said Pen thoughtfully.  "Pain gone off?"

"Yes; I am all right now.  Think she will come back soon?"

"No, not for hours and hours."

"Oh, I say, Pen.  Think it would be safe for me to go to sleep?"

"Yes, quite."

"Then I think I will, for I feel as if I could sleep for a week."

"Go to sleep then.  It's the best thing you can do."

"Well, I will.  Only, promise me one thing: if she comes while I'm
asleep, I--I--want you--promise--promise--wake--"

"Poor fellow!" said Pen, "he's as weak as weak.  But that breakfast has
been like life to him.  Well, there's some truth in what they say, that
when things come to the worst they begin to mend."

A few minutes later, after noting that his poor wounded comrade had sunk
into a deep sleep, Pen stole gently out among the trees, keeping a sharp
lookout for danger as he swept the slopes of the valley in search of
signs of the enemy, for he felt that it was too much to hope for the
dark-green or scarlet of one of their own men.

But the valley now seemed thoroughly deserted, and a restful feeling
began to steal through the lad's being, for everything looked peaceful
and beautiful, and as if the horrors of war had never visited the land.

The sun was rising higher, and he was glad to take shelter beneath the
rugged boughs of a gnarled old cork-tree, where he stood listening to
the low, soft, musical murmur of the fall.  And as he pictured the
clear, bright, foaming water flashing back the sun's rays, and in
imagination saw the shadowy forms of the trout darting here and there,
he took a step or two outward, but checked himself directly and turned
back to where he could command the door of the hut, for a feeling of
doubt crossed his mind as to what might happen if he went away; and
before long he stole back to the side of the rough pallet, where he
found Punch sleeping heavily, feeling, as he seated himself upon a rough
stool, that he could do nothing more but wait and watch.  But it was
with a feeling of hope, for there was something to look forward to in
the coming of the peasant-girl.

"And that can't be for hours yet," thought the lad; and then his mind
drifted off to England, and the various changes of his life, and the
causes of his being there.  And then, as he listened to the soft hum of
insect-life that floated through the open door, his eyelids grew heavy
as if he had caught the drowsy infection from his companion.  Weak as he
was from light feeding, he too dropped asleep, so that the long, weary
time that he had been wondering how he should be able to pass was but as
a minute, for the sun was setting when he next unclosed his eyes, to
meet the mirthful gaze of Punch, who burst into a feeble laugh as he
exclaimed, "Why, you have been asleep!"



CHAPTER TWELVE.

A RUSTLE AMONG THE TREES.

"Asleep!" cried Pen, starting up and hurrying to the door.

"Yes; I have been watching ever so long.  I woke up hours ago, all in a
fright, thinking that gal had come back; and I seemed to see her come in
at the door and look round, and then go again."

"Ah, you saw her!" said Pen, looking sharply to right and left as if in
expectation of some trace of her coming.

"No," said Punch, "it's no use to look.  I have done that lots of times.
Hurt my shoulder, too, screwing myself round.  She ain't been and left
nothing."

"But you saw her?" cried Pen.

"Well," said Punch, in a hesitating way, "I did and I didn't, like as
you may say.  She seemed to come; not as I saw her at first--I only felt
her, like.  It was the same as I seemed to see things when I have been
off my head a bit."

"Yes," said Pen, "I understand."

"Do you?" said Punch dreamily.  "Well, I don't.  I didn't see her, only
it was like a shadow going out of the door; but I feel as sure as sure
that she came and stood close to me for ever so long, and I think I saw
her back as she went out; and then I quite woke up and lay and listened,
hoping that she would come again."

"I hope it was only a dream, Punch," said Pen; "but I had no business to
go to sleep like that."

"Why not?  You waren't on sentry-go; and there was nothing to do."

"I ought to have kept awake."

"No, you oughtn't.  I was jolly glad to see you sleep; and I lay here
and thought of what a lot of times you must have kept awake and watched
over me when I was so bad, and--Here, whatcher going to do?"

"Going away till you have done talking nonsense."

"Oh, all right.  I won't say no more.  You are such a touchy chap.
Don't go away.  Give us a drink."

"Ah, now you are talking sense," said Pen, as he made for the shelf upon
which the little wooden vessel stood.  "Here, Punch," he said, "you
mustn't drink this.  It has turned sour."

"Jolly glad of it.  Chuck it away and fetch me a good drink of water.
Only, I say, I'd give it a good rinse out first."

"Yes," said Pen dryly, "I think it would be as well.  Now, you don't
think that I should have given you water out of a dirty pail?"

"Well, how should I know?" said the boy querulously.  "But, where are
you going to get it from?"

"Out of the pool just below the waterfall."

"Ah, it will be nice and cool from there," said the boy, passing his
tongue over his dry lips.  "I was afraid that you might get it from
where the sun had been on it all day."

"Were you?" said Pen, smiling.

"Here, I say, don't grin at a fellow like that," said the boy peevishly.
"You do keep catching a chap up so.  Oh, I am so thirsty!  It's as if I
had been eating charcoal cinders all day; and my wound's all as hot and
dry as if it was being burnt."

"Yes, I had no business to have been asleep," said Pen.  "I'll fetch the
water, and when you have had a good drink I will bathe your wound."

"Ah, do; there's a good chap.  But don't keep on in that aggravating
way, saying you oughtn't to have gone to sleep.  I wanted you to go to
sleep; and it wasn't a dream about her coming and looking at me while I
was asleep.  I dessay my eyes were shut, but I felt somebody come, and
it only aggravates me for you to say nobody did."

"Then I won't say it any more, Punch," cried Pen as he hurried out of
the door.  "But you dreamt it, all the same," he continued to himself as
he hurried along the track in the direction of the fall, keeping a sharp
lookout the while, partly in search of danger, partly in the faint hope
that he might catch sight of their late compassionate visitor, who might
be on the way bearing a fresh addition to their scanty store.

But he encountered no sign of either friend or enemy.  One minute he was
making his way amongst the gnarled cork-trees, the next he passed out to
where the soft, deep, lulling, musical sound of the fall burst upon his
ears; and soon after he was upon his knees drinking deeply of the fresh,
cool water, before rinsing out and carefully filling the wooden _seau_,
which he was in the act of raising from the pool when he started, for
there was a movement amongst the bushes upon the steep slope on the
other side of the falls.

Pen's heart beat heavily, for, fugitive as he was, the rustling leaves
suggested an enemy bent upon taking aim at him or trapping him as a
prisoner.

He turned to make his way back to the hut, and then as the water
splashed from the little wooden pail, he paused.

"What a coward I am!" he muttered, and, sheltering himself among the
trees, he began to thread his way between them towards where he could
pass among the rocks that filled the bed of the stream below the falls
so as to reach the other side and make sure of the cause of the movement
amidst the low growth.

"I dare say it was only goats," he said.  "Time enough to run when I see
a Frenchman; but I wish I had brought my piece."

Keeping a sharp lookout for danger, he reached the other side of the
little river, and then climbed up the rocky bank, gained the top in
safety, and once more started violently, for he came suddenly upon a
goat which was browsing amongst the bushes and sprang out in alarm.

"Yes, I am a coward!" muttered the lad with a forced laugh; and,
stepping back directly, he lowered himself down the bank, recrossed the
stream, filled the little pail, and made his way to where his wounded
companion was waiting for him impatiently.

"Oh, I say, you have been a time!" grumbled the boy, "and I am so
thirsty."

"Yes, Punch, I have been a while.  I had rilled the pail, when there was
a rustle among the trees, and I thought one of the Frenchies was about
to pounce upon me."

"And was it?"

"No, only a goat amongst the bushes; and that made me longer.  There,
let me hold you up--no, no, don't try yourself.  That's the way.  Did it
hurt you much?"

The boy drank with avidity, and then drew a long breath.

"Oh, 'tis good!" he said.  "Nice and cool too.  What, did it hurt?  Yes,
tidy; but I ain't going to howl about that.  Good job it wasn't a
Frenchy.  Don't want them to find us now we are amongst friends.  If
that gal will only bring us a bit to eat for about another day I shall
be all right then.  Sha'n't I, comrade?"

"Better, I hope, Punch," said Pen, smiling; "but you won't be all right
for some time yet."

"Gammon!" cried the boy.  "I shall.  It only wants plenty of pluck, and
a wound soon gets well.  I mean to be fit to go on again precious soon,
and I will.  I say, give us a bit more of that cake, and--I say--what's
the Spanish for butter?"

Pen shook his head.

"Well, cheese, then?  That will do.  I want to ask her to bring us some.
It's a good sign, ain't it, when a chap begins to get hungry?"

"Of course it is.  All you have got to do is to lie still, and not worry
your wound by trying to move."

"Yes, it is all very fine, but you ain't got a wound, and don't know how
hard it is to lie still.  I try and try, and I know how it hurts me if I
do move, but I feel as if I must move all the same.  I say, I wish we
had got a book!  I could keep quiet if you read to me."

"I wish I had one, Punch, but I must talk to you instead."

"Well, tell us a story."

"I can't, Punch."

"Yes, you can; you did tell me your story about how you came to take the
shilling."

"Well, yes, I did tell you that."

"Of course you did, comrade.  Well, that's right.  Tell us again."

"Nonsense!  You don't want to hear that again."

"Oh, don't I?  But I do.  I could listen to that a hundred times over.
It sets me thinking about how I should like to punch somebody's head--
your somebody, I mean.  Tell us all about it again."

"No, no; don't ask me to do that, Punch," said Pen, wrinkling up his
forehead.

"Why?  It don't hurt your feelings, does it?"

"Well, yes, it does set me thinking about the past."

"All right, then; I won't ask you.  Here, I know--give us my bugle and
the bit of flannel and stuff out of the haversack.  I want to give it a
polish up again."

"Why, you made it quite bright last time, Punch.  It doesn't want
cleaning.  You can't be always polishing it."

"Yes, I can.  I want to keep on polishing till I have rubbed out that
bruise in the side.  It's coming better already.  Give us hold on it."

Pen hesitated, but seeing how likely it was to quiet his patient's
restlessness, he placed the bright instrument beside him, and with it
the piece of cloth with which he scoured it, and the leather for a
polisher, and then sat thoughtfully down to watch the satisfied look of
intentness in the boy's countenance as he held the copper horn so close
to his face that he could breathe upon it without moving his head, and
then go on polish, polish, slowly, till by degrees the movement of his
hand became more slow, his eyes gradually closed, his head fell
sideways, and he sank to sleep.

"Poor fellow!" said Pen thoughtfully.  "But he can't be worse, or he
wouldn't sleep like that."

Pen rose carefully so as not to disturb the sleeper, and cautiously
peered outside the hut-door, keeping well out of sight till he had
assured himself that there was no enemy visible upon the slopes of the
valley, and then, taking a few steps under the shelter of the trees, he
scanned the valley again from another point of view, while he listened
intently, trying to catch the sound of the tramping of feet or the voice
of command such as would indicate the nearness of the enemy.

But all was still, all looked peaceful and beautiful; and after stepping
back to peer through the hut-door again to see that Punch had not
stirred, he passed round to the back, where he could gaze in the
direction of the fall and of the track by which the peasant-girl had
hurried away.

"I wonder whether she will come back again," thought Pen; and then
feeling sure that they would have another visit from their new friend,
he went slowly back to the hut and seated himself where he could watch
the still-sleeping boy and think; for there was much to dwell upon in
the solitude of that mountain valley--about home, and whether he should
ever get back there and see England again, or be one of the unfortunates
who were shot down and hastily laid beneath a foreign soil; about how
long it would be before Punch was strong enough to tramp slowly by his
side in search of their own corps or of some other regiment where they
would be welcome enough until they could join their own.

These were not inspiriting thoughts, and he knew it must be weeks before
the poor fellow's wound would be sufficiently healed.  Then other mental
suggestions came to worry him as to whether he was pursuing the right
course; as a companion he felt that he was, but as a soldier he was in
doubt about the way in which his conduct would be looked upon by his
superiors.

"Can't help it," he muttered.  "I didn't want to skulk.  I couldn't
leave the poor fellow alone--perhaps to the wolves."

The day went by very slowly.  It was hot, and the air felt full of
drowsiness, and the more Pen forced himself to be wakeful the more the
silence seemed to press him down like a weight of sleep to which he was
forced to yield from time to time, only to start awake again with a
guilty look at his companion, followed by a feeling of relief on finding
that Punch's eyes were still closed and not gazing at him mockingly.

Slow as it was, the evening began to approach at last, and with it the
intense longing for the change that would be afforded by the sight of
their visitor.

But the time glided on, and with it came doubts which were growing into
feelings of surety which were clinched by a sudden movement on the part
of the wounded boy, whose long afternoon-sleep was brought to an end
with an impatient ejaculation.

"There!  I knew how it would be," he said.  "She won't come now."

"Never mind, Punch," said Pen, trying to speak cheerily.  "There's a
little more bread, and I will go now and see if I can find the goat, and
try and get some milk."

"Not you," said the boy peevishly.  "She will know you are a stranger,
and won't let you try again.  I know what them she-billy goats are.  I
have watched them over and over again.  Leave the bread alone, and let's
go to sleep.  We shall want it for breakfast, and water will do.  I mean
to have one good long snooze ready for to-morrow, and then I am going to
get up and march."

"Nonsense, Punch," cried Pen.  "You can't."

"Can't I?" said the boy mockingly.  "I must, and, besides, British
soldiers don't know such a thing as can't."

"Ah!" cried Pen excitedly, as he started up and made for the door, for
there was the rustling sound of feet amongst the bushes; and directly
after, hot and panting with exertion, the peasant-girl appeared at the
opening that was growing dim in the failing light.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

"LOOK OUT, COMRADE!"

"Hooray!" cried Punch, wrenching his head round and stretching one hand
towards their visitor, who stepped in, put the basket she carried upon
the bed, and placed her hand upon her side, breathing hard as if she
were in pain.

"Why, you have been running," cried Punch, looking at her reproachfully.
"It was all right on you, and you are a good little lass to come, but
you shouldn't have run so fast.  'Tain't good."

As the girl began to recover her breath she showed her white teeth and
nodded merrily at the wounded boy; and then, as if she had grasped his
meaning, she turned to Pen, caught up the basket, and began rapidly to
take out its contents, which consisted first of bunches of grapes, a few
oranges, and from beneath them a piece of thin cheese and another cake,
which lay at the bottom in company with a rough-looking drinking-mug.

These were all arranged upon the bed close beside Punch, while the girl,
as she emptied her basket, kept on talking to Pen in a hurried way,
which he took to mean as an apology for her present being so common and
simple.

Upon this base Pen made what he considered a suitable reply, thanking
the girl warmly for her compassion and kindness to two unfortunate
strangers.

"I wish I could make you understand," he said; "but we are both most
grateful and we shall never forget it, and--What's the matter?"

For all at once, as the girl was listening eagerly to his words and
trying to understand them, nodding smilingly at him the while, a sudden
change came over her countenance as she gazed fixedly past the young
soldier at the little square opening in the hut-wall behind him which
served as a window, and then turned to snatch her basket from the bed.

"What is it?" cried Pen.

"Look out, comrade--the window behind," said Punch.

Pen turned on the instant, but the dim window gave no enlightenment, and
he looked back now at the girl, who was about to pass through the door,
but darted back again to run round the foot of the bed, so as to place
it between her and the swarthy-looking Spanish peasant-lad who suddenly
appeared to block the doorway, a fierce look of savage triumph in his
eyes, as he planted his hands upon his hips and burst out into an angry
tirade which made the girl shrink back against the wall.

Not a word was intelligible to the lookers-on, but all the same the
scene told its own tale.  Punch's lips parted, his face turned white,
and he lay back helpless, with his fingers clenched, while Pen's chest
began to heave and he stood there irresolute, breathing hard as if he
had been running, knowing well as he did what the young Spaniard's words
must mean.

What followed passed very quickly, for the young Spaniard stepped
quickly into the hut, thrust Pen aside, stepped round to the foot of the
bed, and caught the shrinking girl savagely by the wrist.

She shrank from him, but he uttered what sounded more like a snarl than
words, and began to drag her back round the foot of the bed towards the
door.

Pen felt as if something were burning in his chest, and he breathed
harder, for there was a twofold struggle taking place therein between
the desire to interfere and the feeling of prudence that told him he had
no right to meddle under the circumstances in which he was placed.

Prudence meant well, and there was something very frank and brave in her
suggestions; but she had the worst of it, for the girl began to resist
and retort upon her assailant angrily, her eyes flashing as she
struggled bravely to drag her wrist away; but she was almost helpless
against the strong muscles of the man, and the next moment she turned
upon Pen an appealing look, as she uttered one word which could only
mean "Help!"

Pen took that to be the meaning, and the hot feeling in his young
English breast burst, metaphorically, into flame.

Springing at the young Spaniard, he literally wrested the girl from his
grasp; and as she sprang now to catch at Punch's extended hand, Pen
closed with her assailant, there was a brief struggle, and the Spaniard
was driven here and there for a few moments before he caught his heel
against the rough sill at the bottom of the doorway and went down
heavily outside, but only to spring up again with his teeth bared like
those of some wild beast as he sprang at Pen.

A piercing shriek came from the girl's lips, and she tried to free
herself from Punch's detaining hand; but the boy held fast, checking the
girl in her brave effort to throw herself between the contending pair,
while Punch uttered the warning cry, "Look out!  Mind, comrade!  Knife!
Knife!"

The next instant there was a dull thud, and the Spaniard fell heavily in
the doorway, while Pen stood breathing hard, shaking his now open hand,
which was rapidly growing discoloured.

"Has he cut you, comrade?" cried Punch in a husky voice.

"No.  All right!" panted Pen with a half-laugh.  "It's only the skin
off--his teeth.  I hit first," But he muttered to himself, "Cowardly
brute!  It was very near.--No, no, my girl," he said now, aloud, as the
girl stripped a little handkerchief from her neck and came up to him
timidly, as if to bind up his bleeding knuckles.  "I will go down to the
stream.  That will soon stop;" and he brushed past her, to again face
the Spaniard, who was approaching him cautiously now, knife in hand,
apparently about to spring.

"Oh, that's it, is it?" said Pen sternly, and still facing the Spaniard
he took a couple of steps backward towards the wall of the hut.

His assailant did not read his intention, and uttered a snarl of triumph
as he continued his cautious tactics and went on advancing, swinging
himself from side to side as if about to spring; and a dull gleam of
light flashed from the knife he held in his hand.

But the hand Pen had thrust out behind him had not been idle; and Punch,
who lay helplessly upon the bed, uttered a sigh of satisfaction, for
with one quick movement Pen threw forward his right again to where it
came closely in contact with his left, which joined on in throwing
forward horizontally the rifle Pen had caught from where it stood in the
corner of the hut, the muzzle delivering a dull blow in the Spaniard's
chest.  There was a sharp _click, click_, and Pen thundered out, "Drop
that knife and run, before it's--fire!"

The man could not understand a word of English, but he plainly
comprehended the young soldier's meaning, for his right hand
relinquished its grasp, the knife fell with a dull sound upon the
earthen floor, and its owner turned and dashed away, while the girl
stood with her hands clasped as she uttered a low sigh full of relief,
and then sank down in a heap upon the floor, sobbing as if her heart
would break.

"One for him, comrade," cried Punch hoarsely.  "How would it be to spend
a cartridge over his head?  Make him run the faster."

"No need, Punch.  This is a bad bit of luck."

"Bad luck!" said Punch.  "I call it fine.  Only I couldn't come and
help.  Yes, fine!  Teach him what British soldier means.  Oh, can't you
say something to tell that poor girl not to cry like that?  Say, old
man," said the boy, dropping into a whisper, "didn't see it before.
Why, he must be her chap!"



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

PUNCH WILL TALK.

"Yes, I suppose you are right, Punch," said Pen, frowning.
"Thick-headed idiot.  I have quite taken the skin off my knuckles.  Poor
girl," he continued, "she has been cruelly punished for doing a womanly
action."

"Yes; but he's got it too, and serve him right.  Oh, didn't I want to
help!  But, my word, he will never forget what a British fist is.  Yours
will soon be all right.  Oh, I wish she wouldn't go on crying like that!
Do say something to her and tell her we are very sorry she got into a
scrape."

"No, you say something," said Pen quietly.  But there was no need, for
the girl suddenly sprang up, hurriedly dashing away her tears, her eyes
flashing as if she were ashamed of being seen crying; and, looking
sharply from one to the other, she frowned, stamped her little foot upon
the earthen floor, and pointed through the open door.

"_Juan malo_!" she cried, and, springing to where the knife lay, she
caught it up, ran outside, and sent it flying in amongst the trees.
Then coming back, she approached Pen.

"_Juan malo_!" she cried.  "_Malo_--_malo_!"

"_Mal_--bad," said Pen, smiling.  "That's Latin as well as Spanish.
_Si_," he continued, to the girl, "_Juan mal_--_malo_."

The girl nodded quickly and pointed to his hand.  "_Navajo_?" she said.

"What does that mean?" said Pen.  "Knife?"  And he shook his head.  "No,
no, no, no," he said, and to give effect to his words he energetically
struck the injured hand into its fellow-palm, and then held up the
knuckles, which had begun to bleed again.

The girl smiled and nodded, and she made again to take the handkerchief
from her neck to bind it up.

"No, no, no!" cried Pen, laughing and shaking his head.

The girl looked a little annoyed, and smiled again, and pointed to the
provisions she had brought.

"_Queso, pano_," she said.  "_Las uvas_;" and she caught up one of the
bunches of grapes, picked off a few, and placed them in Punch's hand.
Then turning quickly to the door, she stopped to look round.  "_Juan
malo_!" she cried; and the next minute she was out of sight.

"Ah!" said Punch with a sigh, "wish I was a Spaniel and could tell her
what a good little lass she is, or that I was a scholar like you are;
I'd know how you do it.  Why, you quite began to talk her lingo at once.
Think that chap's waiting to begin bullying her again?"

"I hope not, Punch."

"So do I.  Perhaps he won't for fear that she should tell you, and him
have to run up against your fist again."

"It's a bad job, Punch, and I want to go down to the stream to bathe my
hand.  I dare say I should see him if he were hanging about, for the
girl came from that way."

"But you needn't say it's a bad job," said Punch.  "There's nothing to
mind."

"I hope not," said Pen thoughtfully.  "Perhaps there's nothing to mind.
It would have been a deal worse if the French had found out that we were
here."

"Yes, ever so much," said Punch.  "Here, have some of these grapes; they
are fine.  Do you know, that bit of a spurt did me good.  I feel better
now as long as I lie quite still.  Just as if I had been shamming, and
ought to get up, and--and--oh, no I don't," said the poor fellow softly,
as he made an effort to change his position, the slight movement
bringing forth an ejaculation of pain.  "Just like a red-hot bayonet."

"Poor old chap!" said Pen, gently altering the injured lad's position.
"You must be careful, and wait."

"But I don't want to wait," cried the boy peevishly.  "It has made me
feel as weak as a great gal.  I don't believe that one would have made
so much fuss as I do."

"There, there, don't worry about it.  Go on eating the grapes."

"No," said the boy piteously.  "Don't feel to want them now.  The shoot
that went through me turned me quite sick.  I say, comrade, I sha'n't
want to get up and go on to-morrow.  I suppose I must wait another day."

"Yes, Punch," said Pen, laying his uninjured hand upon the boy's
forehead, which felt cold and dank with the perspiration produced by the
pain.

"But, I say, do have some of these grapes."

"Yes, if you will," said Pen, picking up the little bunch that the
wounded boy had let fall upon the bed.  "Try.  They will take off the
feeling of sickness.  Can you eat some of the bread too?"

"No," said Punch, shaking his head; but he did, and by degrees the pain
died out, and he began to chat about the encounter, and how eager he
felt to get out into the open country again.

"I say, comrade," he said at last, "I never liked to tell you before,
but when it's been dark I have been an awful coward and lain coming out
wet with scare, thinking I was going to die and that you would have to
scrape a hole for me somewhere and cover me up with stones.  I didn't
like to tell you before, because I knew you would laugh at me and tell
me it was all nonsense for being such a coward.  D'ye see, that bullet
made a hole in my back and let all the pluck out of me.  But your set-to
with that chap seemed to tell me that it hadn't all gone, for I felt
ready for anything again, and that there was nothing the matter with me,
only being as weak as a rat."

"To be sure!" cried Pen, laying his hand upon the boy's shoulder.  "That
is all that's the matter with you.  You have got to wait till your
strength comes back again, and then, Punch, you and I are going to see
if we can't join the regiment again."

"That's right," cried the boy, with his dull eyes brightening; "and if
we don't find them we will go on our travels till we do.  Why, it will
be fine, won't it, as soon as I get over being such a cripple.  We shall
have 'ventures, sha'n't we?"

"To be sure," replied Pen; "and you want to get strong, don't you?"

"Oh, don't I just!  I should just like to be strong enough to meet that
brown Spaniel chap and chuck my cap at him."

"What for?"

"What for?  Set his monkey up and make him come at me.  I should just
like it.  I have licked chaps as big as he is before now--our chaps, and
one of the Noughty-fourths who was always bragging about and crowing
over me.  I don't mind telling you now, I was a bit afraid of him till
one day when he gave me one on the nose and made it bleed.  That made me
so savage I forgot all about his being big and stronger, and I went in
at him hot and strong, and the next thing I knew was Corporal Grady was
patting me on the back, and there was quite a crowd of our chaps
standing laughing, and the corporal says, `Bedad, Punchard, boy, ye
licked him foine!  Yes, _foine_,' he said, just like that.  `Now, go and
wash your face, and be proud of it,' just like that.  And then I
remember--"

"Yes, but remember that another time," said Pen quietly.  "You are
talking too much," And he laid his hand on the boy's forehead again.

"Oh, but I just want to tell you this."

"Tell me to-morrow, Punch.  You are growing excited and feverish."

"How do you know?  You ain't a doctor."

"No; but I know that your forehead was cold and wet a few minutes ago,
and that it is hot and burning now."

"Well, that only means that it's getting dry."

"No; it means doing yourself harm when you want to get well."

"Well, I must talk," pleaded the boy.

"Yes, a little."

"What am I to do?  I can't be always going to sleep."

"No; but go as much as you can, and you will get well the quicker."

"All right," said Punch sadly.  "'Bey orders; so here goes.  But I do
wish that the chap as gave me this bullet had got it hisself.  I say,
comrade," added the boy, after lying silent for a few minutes.

"What is it?  What do you want?"

"Just unhook that there cord and hang my bugle on that other peg.  Ah,
that's better; I can see it now.  Stop a minute--give us hold."

The boy's eyes brightened as Pen handed him the instrument, and he
looked at it with pride, while directly after, obeying the impulse that
seized him, he placed the mouthpiece to his lips, drew a deep breath,
and with expanding cheeks was about to give forth a blast when Pen
snatched it from his hands.

"Whatcher doing of?" cried the boy angrily.  "Stopping you from bringing
the French down upon us," cried Pen sharply.  "What were you thinking
about?"

"I wasn't thinking at all," said the boy slowly, as his brow wrinkled up
in a puzzled way.  "Well, I was a fool!  Got a sort of idea in my head
that some of our fellows might hear it and come down and find us."

"I wish they would," said Pen sadly; "but I don't think there's a doubt
of it, Punch, we are surrounded by the French.  There, I'm sorry I was
so rough with you, only you were going to make a mistake."

"Sarve me jolly well right," said the boy.  "I must have been quite off
my chump.  There, hang it up.  I won't do it again."

It was quite dark now, and in the silence Pen soon after heard a low,
deep breathing which told him that his wounded companion had once more
sunk asleep, while on his part a busy brain and a smarting hand tended
to reproduce the evening scene, and with it a series of mental questions
as to what would be the result; and so startling were some of the
suggestions that came to trouble the watcher that he placed himself by
the side of the bed farthest from the door and laid his rifle across the
foot ready to hand, as he half-expected to see the dim, oblong square of
the open doorway darkened by an approaching enemy stealing upon them,
knife-armed and silent, ready to take revenge for the blow, urged
thereto by a feeling of jealous hatred against one who had never meant
him the slightest harm.

That night Pen never closed his eyes, and it was with a sigh of relief
that he saw the first pale light of day stealing down into the rocky
vale.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

JUAN'S REVENGE.

"Oh, you have come back again, then," grumbled Punch, as Pen met his
weary eyes and the dismal face that was turned sideways to watch the
door of the hut.  "Thought you had gone for good and forgotten all about
a poor fellow."

"No, you didn't, Punch," said Pen, slowly standing his rifle up in a
corner close at hand, as he sank utterly exhausted upon the foot of the
bed.

"Yes, I did.  I expected that you had come across some place where there
was plenty to eat, and some one was giving you bottles of Spanish wine,
and that you had forgotten all about your poor comrade lying here."

"There, I am too tired to argue with you, Punch," said Pen with a sigh.
"You have drunk all the water, then?"

"Course I have, hours ago, and eat the last of the bread, and I should
have eat that bit of hard, dry cheese, only I let it slip out of my
fingers and it bounced like a bit of wood under the bed.  Well, whatcher
brought for us to eat?"

"Nothing, I am sorry to say."

"Well, but what are we going to do?  We can't starve."

"I am afraid we can, Punch, if things are going on like this."

"But they ain't to go on like this.  I won't lie here and starve.  Nice
thing for a poor fellow tied up here so bad that he couldn't pick up a
bit of wittles again as had tumbled down, and you gone off roaming about
where you liked, leaving your poor wounded comrade to die!  Oh, I do
call it a shame!" cried the lad piteously.

"Yes, it does seem a shame, Punch," said Pen gently; "but I can fetch
some water.  Are you very thirsty?"

"Thirsty?  Course I am!  Burnt up!  It has been like an oven here all
day."

Pen caught up the wooden _seau_ and hurried out through the wood, to
return in a few minutes with the vessel brimful of cold, clear water,
which he set down ready, and then after carefully raising the poor boy
into a sitting position he lifted the well-filled drinking-cup to his
lips and replenished it again twice before the poor fellow would give
up.

"Ah!" he sighed, "that's better!  Which way did you go this time?"

"Out there to the west, where the sun goes down, Punch."

"Well, didn't you find no farmhouses nor cottages where they'd give you
a bit of something to eat?"

"Not one; only rough mountain-land, with a goat here and there."

"Well, why didn't you catch one, or drive your bayonet into it?  If we
couldn't cook it we could have eaten it raw."

"I tried to, Punch, but the two or three I saw had been hunted by the
enemy till they were perfectly wild, and I never got near one."

"But you didn't see no enemy this time, did you?"

"Yes; they are dotted about everywhere, and I have been crawling about
all day through the woods so as not to be seen.  It's worse there than
in any direction I have been this week.  The French are holding the
country wherever I have been."

"Oh, I do call this a nice game," groaned the wounded boy.  "Here, give
us another cup of water.  It does fill one up, and I have been feeling
as hollow as a drum."

Pen handed him the cup once more, and Punch drank with as much avidity
as if it were his first.

"Yes," he sighed, "I do call it a nice game!  I say, though, comrade,
don't you think if you'd waited till it was dark, and then tried, you
could have got through their lines to some place and have begged a bit
of bread?"

"Perhaps, Punch, if I had not been taken."

"Well, then, why didn't you try?"

"Well, we have had that over times enough," said Pen quietly, "and I
think you know."

"Course I do," said the boy, changing his tone; "only this wound, and
being so hungry, do make me such a beast.  If it had been you going on
like this, lying wounded here, and it was me waiting on you, and feeding
you, and tying you up, I should have been sick of it a week ago, and
left you to take your chance."

"No, you wouldn't, Punch, old chap; it isn't in you," said Pen, "so we
won't argue about that.  I only want you to feel that I have done
everything I could."

"'Cept cutting off and leaving me to take my chance.  You haven't done
that."

"No, I haven't done that, Punch."

"And I suppose you ain't going to," said the boy, "and I ought to tell
you you are a fool for your pains."

"But you are not going to do that, Punch."

"No, I suppose not; and I wish I wasn't such a beast--such an ungrateful
brute.  It is all that sore place; and it don't get no better.  But, I
say, why don't you go out straight and find the first lot of Frenchies
you can, and say to them like a man, `Here, I give myself up as a
prisoner'?"

"I told you, Punch, what I believe," replied Pen.

"Yes; you said you were afraid that they wouldn't have me carried away
on account of my wound."

"Well, that's what I do believe, Punch.  I don't want to be hard on the
French, but they are a very rough lot here in this wild mountain-land,
and I don't believe they would burden themselves with wounded."

"Well, it wouldn't matter," said the boy dismally.

"Of course they wouldn't carry me about; but they would put me out of my
misery, and a good job too."

Pen said nothing, but his face wrinkled up with lines which made him
look ten years older, as he laid his hand upon his comrade's fevered
brow.

"Ha!" sighed Punch, "that does a fellow good.  I don't believe any poor
chap ever had such a comrade as you are; and I lie here sometimes
wondering how you can do so much for such an--"

"Will you be quiet, Punch?" cried Pen, snatching away his hand.

"Yes, yes--please don't take it away."

"Then be quiet.  You know how I hate you to talk like this."

"Yes, all right; I have done.  But, I say, do you think it's likely that
gal will come again?  She must know that what she brought wouldn't
last."

"I think, poor lass, she must have got into such trouble with her people
that she daren't come again."

"Her people!" cried the boy.  "It's that ugly black-looking nigger of a
sweetheart of hers.  You had a good sight of him that night when you
took aim with your rifle.  Why didn't you pull the trigger?  A chap like
that's no good in the world."

"Just the same as you would if you had had hold of the rifle yourself,
Punch--eh?"

"There you go again," said the boy sulkily.  "What a chap you are!  You
are always pitching it at me like that.  Why, of course I should have
shot him like a man."

"Would you?" said Pen, smiling.

"Oh, well, I don't know.  Perhaps I shouldn't.  Such a chap as that
makes you feel as you couldn't be too hard on him.  But it wouldn't be
quite the right thing, I suppose.  There, don't bother.  It makes my
sore place ache.  But, oh, shouldn't I like to tell him what I think of
him!  I say, don't you think she may come to-night?"

"No, Punch; I have almost ceased to hope.  Besides, I don't want to
depend on people's charity, though I like to see it I want to be able to
do something for ourselves.  No, I don't think she will come any more."

"I do," said the boy confidently.  "I am beginning to think that she
will come after all.  She is sure to.  She must know how jolly hungry I
should be.  She looked so kind.  A gal like that wouldn't leave us to
starve.  She is a nice, soft-hearted one, she is, though she is Spanish.
I wouldn't take no notice, but I see the tears come in her eyes, and
one of them dropped on my hand when she leaned over me and looked so
sorry because I was in pain.  It's a pity she ain't English and lived
somewhere at home where one might expect to see her again.  It is very
sad and shocking to have to live in a country like this."

"Do you feel so hungry now, Punch?"

"Yes, horrid.  Give us a bit of that cheese to nibble.  Then I must have
another drink, and try and go to sleep.  Feel as though I could now you
have come back.  I was afraid I was never going to see you again."

"I don't believe you thought I had forsaken you, Punch."

"Not me!  You couldn't have done it.  'Tain't in you, comrade, I know.
But I tell you what I did think: that the Frenchies had got hold of you
and made you prisoner.  Then I lay here feeling that I could not move
myself, and trying to work it out as to what you'd do--whether you would
try and make them come and fetch me to be a prisoner too, or whether you
would think it wouldn't be safe, and you would be afraid to speak for
fear they should come and bayonet me.  And so I went on.  Oh, I say,
comrade, it does make a chap feel queer to lie here without being able
to help hisself.  I got to think at last that I wished I was dead and
out of my misery."

"Yes, Punch, lad, I know.  It was very hard to bear, but I couldn't help
being so long.  I was working for you--for both of us--all the time."

"Course you was, comrade!  I know.  And now you've come back, and it's
all right again.  Give us another drink of water.  It's better than
nothing--ever so much better, because there's plenty of it--and I shall
go to sleep and do as I did last night when I was so hungry--get
dreaming away about there being plenty of good things to eat.  I seemed
to see a regular feast--roast-meat and fruit and beautiful white bread;
only it was as rum as rum.  I kept on eating all the time, only nothing
seemed to have any taste in it.  And, hooray!  What did I say!  There
she is!  But," the boy added, his eager tones of delight seeming to die
away in despair, "she ain't brought no basket!"

For, eager and panting with her exertions, her eyes bright with
excitement, the peasant-girl suddenly dashed in through the open door,
caught Pen by the breast with one hand, and pointed with the other in
the direction from which she had come, as she whispered excitedly, "_Los
Franceses_!"

Then, loosening her grasp, she turned quickly to the boy and passed one
hand beneath his neck, signing to Pen to help her raise the wounded lad
from the bed, while Pen hurried to the door to look out.

"Yes," he whispered quickly, as he turned back, "she means the enemy are
coming, and wants me to carry you to a place of safety.--All right, my
lass; I understand.--Here, Punch, I won't hurt you more than I can help.
Clasp your hands round my neck, and I will carry you.--Here, girl, take
my rifle!"

He held out the piece, and the girl caught it in her hand, while Pen
drew his companion into a sitting position, stooped down, and turned his
back to the bed.

"All right; I won't squeak, comrade.  Up with me.  For'ard!"

But the boy could not control his muscles, the contractions in his face
showing plainly enough the agony he felt as with one quick movement Pen
raised himself, pressing the clinging hands to his breast, and swung the
poor fellow upon his back.

The girl nodded sharply, as, rifle in hand, she made for the door,
beckoning to Pen to follow quickly; and then, with a look of despair,
she stopped short, her actions showing plainly enough what she must be
saying, for there was a quick rush among the trees outside, and the
young Spaniard dashed to the front of the hut, made a snatch at the
rifle the girl was bearing, and tore it from her grasp as he drove her
back into the hut and barred the way, uttering a loud hail the while.

"Too late!  We are too late, Punch," said Pen bitterly.  "Here they are!
Prisoners, my lad.  I can do no more."

For, as he spoke, about a dozen of the enemy doubled up to the front of
the hut, and the young Spaniard who had betrayed the two lads stood
before Pen, showing his white teeth in a malignant grin of triumph, as
he held the girl by the wrist.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

PRISONERS.

"Are you in much pain, Punch?" said Pen, as, with his wrists tied
tightly behind him, he knelt beside his comrade, who lay now just
outside the door of the hut, a couple of French chasseurs on guard.

The officer in command of the little party had taken possession of the
hut for temporary bivouac, and his men had lighted a fire, whose flames
picturesquely lit up the surrounding trees, beneath which the new-comers
had stretched themselves and were now partaking of bread, grapes, and
the water a couple of their party had fetched from the stream.

The young Spaniard was seated aloof from the girl, whose back was
half-turned from him as she sat there seeming to have lost all interest
in the scene and those whom she had tried to warn of the danger they
were in.

From time to time the Spanish lad spoke to her, but she only jerked her
head away from him, looking more indifferent than ever.

"Are you in much pain, Punch?" asked Pen again; for the boy had not
replied, and Pen leaned more towards him, to gaze in his face
searchingly.

"Oh, pretty tidy," replied the boy at last; "but it's better now.  You
seemed to wake up my wound, but it's going to sleep again.  I say,
though, I didn't show nothing, did I?"

"No, you bore it bravely."

"Did I?  That's right.  I was afraid, though, that I should have to
howl; but I am all right now.  And I say, comrade, look here; some chaps
miche--you know, sham bad--so as to get into hospital to be fed up and
get off duty, and they do it too, you know."

"Yes, I know," said Pen, watching the lad anxiously.  "But don't talk so
much."

"Must; I want to tell you, I am going to miche--sham, you know--the
other way on."

"What do you mean?" said Pen.

"Why, make-believe I'm all right.  Make these froggies think my wound's
only a scratch.  Then perhaps they will march me off along with you as a
prisoner.  I don't want them to--you know."

"March you off!" said Pen bitterly.  "Why, you know you can't stand."

"Can't!  I've got to.  You'll let me hold tight of your arm.  I've got
to, comrade, and I will.  It means setting one's teeth pretty hard.
Only wish I had got a bullet to bite.  It would come easy then.  Look
here, wait a bit, and then you back up a bit closer to me.  Haven't tied
my hands like yours.  Just you edge close so as I can slip my fingers
into your box.  I want to get out one cartridge for the sake of the
bullet."

"You can't, Punch.  Didn't you see they slipped off the belt, and that
young Spaniard's got it along with my rifle?"

"So he has!  I didn't know.  Now then, wasn't I right when I said you
ought to have fired at him and brought him down?  Well, I must have a
bullet somehow.  I know.  I will try and get the girl to get hold of the
case; only I don't know how it's to be done without knowing what to say.
Can't you put me up to it, comrade?"

"No, Punch."

"But you might give a fellow a bit of advice."

"My advice is to lie still and wait."

"Well, that's pretty advice, that is, comrade.  Wait till they comes and
makes an end of a fellow if he breaks down, for I am beginning to think
that I sha'n't be able to go through with it."

"Let's wait and see what happens, Punch.  We have done our best, and we
can do no more."

Just then Pen's attention was taken up by the young officer, who came to
the door of the hut, yawned, and stood looking about at his men before
slowly sauntering round the bivouac as if to see that all was right, the
sentries drawing themselves up stiffly as he passed on, till he caught
sight of the Spanish girl and the lad seated together in the full light
cast by the fire.

Then turning sharply to one of his men, the young officer pointed at the
Spaniard and gave an order in a low, imperious tone.

Two of his men advanced to the lit-up group, and one of them gave the
lad a sharp clap on the shoulder which made him spring up angrily, while
the other chasseur snatched the English rifle from his hand, the first
chasseur seizing the cartridge-belt and case.

There was a brief struggle, but it was two to one, and the Spaniard, as
Pen watched the encounter eagerly, was sent staggering back, catching
his heel in a bush and falling heavily, but only to rebound on the
instant, springing up knife now in hand and making at the nearest
soldier.

"Ha!" gasped Punch excitedly, as he saw the gleam of the knife; and then
he drew in his breath with a hiss, for it was almost momentary: one of
the two French soldiers who had approached him to obey his officer's
orders and disarm the informer just raised his musket and made a drive
with the butt at the knife-armed Spaniard, who received the metal plate
of the stock full in his temple and rolled over, half-stunned, amongst
the bushes.

Another order rang out from the officer, and before the young Spaniard
could recover himself a couple more of the soldiers had pounced upon
him, and a minute later he was firmly bound, as helpless a prisoner as
the young rifleman who watched the scene.

"Say, comrade," whispered Punch, "that's done me good.  But do you see
that?"

"See it?  Why, of course I saw it.  That's not what he bargained for
when he led the Frenchmen here."

"No, I don't mean that," whispered Punch impatiently.  "I meant the
gal."

"The girl?" said Pen.  "What about her?"

"Where is she?" whispered Punch.

"Why, she was--"

"Yes, _was_," whispered Punch again; "but where is she now?  She went
off like a shot into the woods."

"Ah!" exclaimed Pen, with a look of relief in his eyes.

"Yes, she's gone; and now I want to know what's going to be next.  Here
comes the officer.  What'll be his first order?  To shoot us, and that
young Spaniel too?"

"No," said Pen.  "But don't talk; he's close here."

The officer approached his prisoners now, closely followed by one of his
men, whose _galons_ showed that he was a sergeant.

"Badly wounded, eh?" said the officer in French.

"Yes, sir; too bad to stand."

"The worse for him," said the officer.  "Well, we can't take wounded men
with us; we have enough of our own."

"Yes, sir," said the sergeant; and Pen felt the blood seem to run cold
through his veins.

And then curiously enough there was a feeling of relief in the knowledge
that his wounded comrade could not understand the words he had grasped
at once.

"We shall go back to camp in half an hour," continued the officer; and
then running his eye over Pen as he sat up by Punch's side, "This fellow
all right?"

"Yes, sir."

"See to his fastenings.  I leave him to you."

"But surely, sir," cried Pen, in very good French, "you are not going to
have my poor companion shot in cold blood because he has the misfortune
to be wounded?"

"Eh, do you understand French?"

"Yes, sir; every word you have said."

"But you are not an officer?"

"I have my feelings, sir, and I appeal to you as an officer and a
gentleman to save that poor fellow.  It would be murder, and not the act
of a soldier."

"Humph!" grunted the officer.  "You boys should have stayed at home.--
Here, sergeant, carry the lad into camp.  Find room for him in the
ambulance.--There, sir, are you satisfied now?" he continued to Pen.

"Yes, sir," replied Pen quickly; "satisfied that I am in the presence of
a brave French officer.  God bless you for this!"

The officer nodded and turned away, the sergeant stopping by the
prisoners.

"Here, I say," whispered Punch, "what was all that talking about?"

"Only arranging about how you were to be carried into camp, Punch,"
replied Pen.

"Gammon!  Don't you try and gull me.  I know," panted the boy excitedly.
"I could not understand the lingo; but you were begging him not to have
me shot, and he gave orders to this 'ere sergeant to carry out what he
said.  You are trying to hide it from me so as I shouldn't know.  But
you needn't.  I should like to have gone out like our other chaps have--
shot fair in the field; but if it's to be shot as a prisoner, well, I
mean to take it like a man."

The boy's voice faltered for a few moments as he uttered the last words,
and then he added almost in a whisper, "I mean, if I can, for I'm awful
weak just now.  But you'll stand by me, comrade, and I think I will go
through it as I ought.  And you will tell the lads when you get back
that I didn't show the white feather, but went out just like a fellow
ought?"

"That won't be now, Punch," said Pen, leaning over him.  "I am not
deceiving you.  I appealed to the officer, and he gave orders at once
that you were to be carried by the men to their camp and placed in one
of the ambulance wagons."

"Honour?" cried Punch excitedly.  "Honour bright," replied Pen.  "But
that means taking me away from you," cried the boy, with his voice
breaking.

"Yes; but to go into hospital and be well treated."

"Oh, but I don't want to go like that," cried the boy wildly.  "Can't
you ask the officer--can't you tell him that--oh, here--you--we two
mustn't--mustn't be--" For the sergeant now joined them with a couple of
men carrying a rough litter; and as Punch, almost speechless now, caught
at his wrist and clung to him tightly, he looked down in the prisoner's
wildly appealing eyes.

"Why, what's the matter with the boy?" growled the sergeant roughly.
"Does he think he's going to be shot?"

"He's badly hurt, sir," said Pen quietly, "and can't bear being
separated from me."

"Oh, that's it, is it, sir?" said the sergeant.  "My faith, but you
speak good French!  Tell him that I'll see that he's all right.  What's
his hurt--bayonet?"

"No," said Pen, smiling.  "A French bullet--one of your men aimed too
well."

"Ha, ha!  Yes, we know how to shoot.  Poor fellow!  Why, I have just
such a boy as he.--Lift him up gently, lads.--Humph!  He has fainted."

For poor Punch had held out bravely to the last; but nature was too
strong even for his British pluck.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

IN MISERY.

"I say, Pen, are you there?"

"Yes, I'm here.  What do you want?"

"Want you to turn me round so as I can look out of the door.  What made
you put me like this?"

"It wasn't my doing.  You were put so that you might be more
comfortable."

"But I am not more comfortable, and it's so jolly dark.  I like to be
able to look out of the door if I wake in the night."

"Hush!  Don't talk so loudly."

"Why not?  There's nobody to hear.  But just turn me over first."

"Hush!  There are three or four other people to hear," whispered Pen.
"You are half-asleep yet.  Don't you understand, Punch?"

"Understand--understand what?" said the poor fellow, subduing his voice
in obedience to his companion's words.

"I must tell you, I suppose."

"Tell me?  Why, of course!  Oh, I begin to understand now.  Have I been
off my head a bit?"

"Yes; you were very much upset when the French officer was with us, and
fainted away."

"Phee-ew!" whistled the boy softly.  "Oh, it's all coming back now.  The
French came, and knocked over that Spanish chap, and I thought that they
were going to take me away and shoot me.  Why, they didn't, then!
That's all right.  Yes, I remember now.  My head was all in a muddledum.
I got thinking I was never going to see you any more.  When was it--
just now?"

"No, Punch, it was two nights ago, and the doctor thought--"

"The doctor?  Why, you have been my doctor.  I say--"

"Don't get excited.  Lie quite still, and I will tell you."

"Ah, do.  I am all in a muddle still; only you might turn me round, so
that I can look straight out of the door, and I could breathe the fresh
air then.  I am being quite stuffercated like this."

"Yes, the hut is dreadfully hot," said Pen with a sigh.  "There are six
other poor wounded fellows lying here."

"Six other wounded fellows lying here!  Whatcher talking about?"

"Only this, Punch," said Pen, with his lips close to the boy's ear.
"You were carried to the little camp where those French came from that
made us prisoners, and there you were put in an ambulance wagon with six
more poor fellows, and the mules dragged us right away to a village
where a detachment of the French army was in occupation.  Do you
understand?"

"I think so.  But you said something about doctors."

"Yes.  There are several surgeons in this village, and wounded men in
every hut.  There has been fighting going on, and a good many more
wounded men were brought in yesterday."

"Halt!" said Punch in a quick, short whisper.  "Steady!  Did we win?"

"I don't know, but I think not.  I've seen nothing but wounded men and
the doctors and the French orderlies.  The French officer was very nice,
and let me stay with you in the ambulance; and when we came to a halt
and I helped to carry you and the other wounded into this hut, one of
the doctors ordered me to stop and help, so that I have been able to
attend to you as well as the others."

"Good chap!  That was lucky.  Then this ain't our hut at all?"

"No."

"What's become of that gal, then?"

"She escaped somewhere in the darkness," replied Pen.

"And what about that Spanish beggar?  Ah, I recollect that now.  He
brought the French to take us prisoners."

"I haven't seen any more of him, Punch, since they led him away."

"Serve him right!  And so I've been lying here in this hut ever since?"

"Yes, quite insensible, and I don't think you even knew when the French
surgeon dressed your wound and took out a ragged bit of the cartridge."

"Took out what?"

"A piece of the wad that was driven in, and kept the wound from
healing."

"Well, you have been carrying on nice games without me knowing of it!"
said the boy.  "And it hasn't done me a bit of good."

"The doctor says it has.  He told me yesterday evening that you would
soon get right now."

"And shall I?"

"Yes, I hope so."

"So do I.  But it does seem rum that all this should be done without my
knowing of it."

"Well, you have been quite insensible."

"I suppose so.  But where are we now, then?"

"I don't know, Punch, except that this is a little Spanish village which
the French have been occupying as a sort of hospital."

"But where's all the fighting?"

"I don't know, Punch, much more than you do.  There was some firing last
night.  I heard a good deal of tramping close at hand, as if some more
men were marching in, and then more and more came through the night, and
I heard firing again about a couple of hours ago; but it seemed to be
miles away."

"And you don't know who's beat?"

"I know nothing, I tell you, only that everything has been very quiet
for the last hour or so."

"Perhaps because you have been asleep," said Punch.

"No; I have been quite awake, fetching water from a mountain-stream here
for the poor fellows who keep asking for more and more."

"Do they know we are English?"

"I don't think so.  Poor fellows! their wounds keep them from thinking
about such a thing as that; and, besides, I am just able to understand
what they say, and to say a few words when they ask for drink or to be
moved a little."

"Oh," said Punch, "that comes of being able to talk French.  Wish I
could.  Here, I say, you said the doctor had been doing up my wound
again.  Think I could walk now?"

"I am sure you couldn't."

"I ain't," said the boy.  "Perhaps I could if I tried."

"But why do you ask?" said Pen.  "Because it's so jolly nice and dark;
and, besides, it's all so quiet.  Couldn't we slip off and find the way
to our troops?"

"That's what I've been thinking, Punch, ever since you have been lying
here."

"Of course you would," said the boy in an eager whisper.  "And why not?
I think I could manage it, and I'm game."

"You must wait, Punch, and with me think ourselves lucky that we are
still together.  Wait and get strong enough, and then we will try."

"Oh, all right.  I shall do what you tell me.  But I say, what's become
of your rifle and belt?"

"I don't know.  I saw them once.  They were with some muskets and
bayonets laid in the mule-wagon under the straw on one side.  But I
haven't seen them since."

"That's a pity," sighed the boy faintly; and soon after Pen found, when
he whispered to him, that he was breathing softly and regularly, while
his head felt fairly cool in spite of the stifling air of the crowded
hut.

Punch did not stir till long after sunrise, and when he did it was to
see that, utterly exhausted, his companion had sunk into a deep sleep,
for the rest of that terrible night had been spent in trying to assuage
the agony of first one and then another of the most badly wounded who
were lying around.  Every now and then there had been a piteous appeal
for water to slake the burning thirst, and twice over the lad had to
pass through the terrible experience of holding the hand of some poor
fellow who in the darkness had whispered his last few words as he passed
away.

Later on a couple more wounded men had been borne in by the light of a
lantern, by whose aid a place was found for them in the already too
crowded hut, and it became Pen's duty to hold the dim open lantern and
cast the light so that a busy surgeon, who was already exhausted by his
long and terrible duties, could do his best to bandage and stop some
wound.

It was just at daylight, in the midst of the terrible silence which had
now fallen around, that Pen's head had sunk slowly down till it rested
upon Punch's shoulder; and when the sun rose at last its horizontal rays
lit up the dismal scene, with the elder lad's pallid and besmirched
face, consequent upon the help he had been called upon to render, giving
him the appearance of being one of the wounded men.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

WAR'S HORRORS.

But the morning brought not only the horizontal rays of the great sun
which lit up the hut with its sad tale of death and suffering, but
likewise a renewal of the fight of the previous day, and this time the
tide of battle swept much nearer to the encampment of the wounded.

Punch started out of a state of dreamy calm, and wondered why the noise
he heard had not roused up his sleeping comrade, for from apparently
quite near at hand came the boom of artillery, a sound which for the
moment drowned all others, even the hoarse, harshly uttered words of
command, as large bodies of men swung past the doorway of the hut, and
the fitful bugle-calls which a minute before had fallen on his ear.

"Ah," he muttered, "it's a big fight going on out there.  I wonder if
those are our guns;" and once more the air was rent by the dull, angry
roar of artillery.  "Pen!  Pen!  Oh, I can't let him sleep!  Why doesn't
he wake up?  Here, I say, comrade!"

"Eh, what is it?"  And Pen opened his eyes, to gaze wonderingly at
Punch's excited face.

"Don't you hear?"

"Hear?  Yes, yes," And the dreamy look vanished from the other's eyes.

The two lads waited, listening, and then Punch put his lips close to
Pen's ear.

"I am sure we are winning," he said.  "Hear that?"

"How can I help hearing it?"

"Well, it's English guns, I know."

"Think so?"

"Yes, and they will be here soon."

Pen shook his head.

"Afraid not," he said; "and--Ah, all right.--Punch, lad, I'm wanted."
For just then a man came hurriedly into the hut and made him a sign.

"What does he want?" grumbled Punch.

"It's the surgeon," said Pen, and he hurried away.

For some hours--long, hot, weary hours--Punch saw little of his
fellow-prisoner, the morning wearing on and the atmosphere of the hovel
becoming unbearably close, while all the time outside in the brilliant
sunshine, evidently just on the other side of a stretch of purple hilly
land, a battle was in progress, the rattle of musketry breaking into the
heavy volume of sound made by the field-guns, while every now and again
on the sun-baked, dusty stretch which lay beyond the doorway, where the
shadows were dark, a mounted man galloped past.

"Wish my comrade would come back," he muttered; and it was long ere his
wish was fulfilled.  But the time came at last, and Pen was standing
there before him, holding in his hands a tin drinking-cup and a piece of
bread.

"Take hold," he said hoarsely, looking away.

"Where you been?" said Punch.

"Working in the ambulance.  I--I--" And Pen staggered, and sat down
suddenly on the ground.

"What's the matter?  Not hit?"

"No, no."

"Had anything yourself?"

"Bother!" said Pen.  "Make haste.  Toss off that water.  I want the
cup."

"Had anything yourself?" repeated Punch firmly.

"Well, no."

"Then I sha'n't touch a drop until you have half and take some of that
bread."

"But--"

"It's no good, Pen.  I sha'n't and I won't--so there!"

Pen hesitated.

"Very well," he said; "half."  And he drank some of the water.  "It's
very good--makes one feel better," and he ate a morsel or two of bread.
"I had a job to get it."

"What did that fellow want?" asked Punch as he attacked his share.

"Me to help with the wounded," said Pen huskily.  "So you thought me
long?"

"Course I did.  But the wounded--are there many?"

"Heaps," said Pen.  "But don't talk so loudly."

"Poor chaps," said Punch, "they can't hear what we say.  How are things
going?  There, they are at it again."

"I think the French are giving ground," said Pen in a whisper.

"Hooray!"

"Hush!"

"What, mayn't I say hooray?"

"No, you mayn't.  I have picked up a little since I went away.  I fancy
our men have been coming on to try and take this village, but I couldn't
make out much for the smoke; and, besides, I have been with that surgeon
nearly all the time."

"Yes," said Punch.  "Well, will they do it?"

Pen shook his head.

"Don't think so," he said.  "They have tried it twice.  I heard what was
being done.  Our people were driven back, and--"

He said no more, but turned to the door; and Punch strained his eyes in
the same direction, as from away to the right, beyond a group of
cottages, came a bugle-call, shrill, piercing, then again and again,
while Punch started upright with a cry, catching Pen's arm.

"I say, hear that?  That's our charge.  Don't you hear?  They are coming
on again!"

The effort Punch had made caused a pain so intense that he fell back
with a groan.

"You can leave me, Pen, old chap," he said.

"Don't mind me; don't look.  But--but it's the English charge.  Go to
them.  They are coming--they are, I tell you.  Don't look like that,
and--and--There, listen!"

The two lads were not the only ones in that hut to listen then and to
note that the conflict was drawing nearer and nearer.

Punch, indeed, was right, and a short time after Pen crouched down
closer to his companion, for now, quite close at hand, came volley after
volley, the _zip, zip_ of the ricochetting bullets seeming to clear the
way for the charge.

Then more volleys.

The dust was ploughed up, and Punch started as a bullet came with a soft
_plug_ in the hut-wall, and Pen's heart felt ready to stop beating as
there was a hoarse command outside, and half-a-dozen French infantry
dashed into the building, to fill the doorway, two lying down and their
comrades kneeling and standing.

"Don't speak," whispered Pen, for the boy had wrenched himself round and
was gazing intently at the backs of the soldiers.  "Don't speak."

Silence, before a grim happening.  Then a roar from outside, exultant
and fierce, and in the wide-open space beyond the hut-door the two lads
saw a large body of the enemy in retreat before the serried ranks of
British infantry who came on at the double, their bayonets flashing in
the sun's rays, and cheering as they swept onward.

The muskets in the doorway flashed, and the hut was filled with smoke.

"Pen, I must whisper it--Hooroar!"

There was a long interval then, with distant shouting and scattered
firing, and it was long ere the cloud of smoke was dissipated
sufficiently for the two lads to make out that now the doorway was
untenanted except by a French chasseur who lay athwart the threshold on
his back, his hand still clutching at the sling of his piece.

"Think we have won?" whispered Punch, looking away.

"Don't know," muttered Pen; but the knowledge that was wanted came soon
enough, for an hour later it became evident that the gallant attempt of
the British commander to take the village had been foiled.

The British cheer they had heard still echoed in their ears, but it was
not repeated, and it was speedily apparent that the fight had swept away
to their left; and from scraps of information dropped by the members of
the bearer-party who brought more wounded into the already crowded hut,
and took away the silent figure lying prone in the entrance, Pen made
out that the French had made a stand and had finally succeeded in
driving back their foes.

In obedience to an order from the grim-featured surgeon, he left Punch's
side again soon after, and it was dark ere he returned, to find the boy
fast asleep.  He sank down and listened, feeling now but little fatigue,
starting up, however, once more, every sense on the alert, as there came
a series of sharp commands at the hut-door, and he realised that he must
have dropped off, for it was late in the evening, and outside the soft
moonlight was making the scene look weird and strange.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

ANOTHER BREAKDOWN.

Punch heard the voices too, and he reached out and felt for his
comrade's hand.

"What is it?" he whispered.  "Have they won?  Not going to shoot me, are
they?"

"No, no," said Pen, "but"--and he dropped his voice--"I think we are all
going on."

He was quite right, and all through that night the slow business of
setting a division on the march was under way, and the long, long train
of baggage wagons drawn by the little wiry mules of the country began to
move.

The ambulance train followed, with its terrible burden heavily increased
with the results of the late engagement, while as before--thanks to the
service he had been able to render--Pen was able to accompany the
heavily laden wagon in which Punch lay.

"So we were beaten," said the boy sadly--as the wheels of the lumbering
vehicle creaked loudly, for the route was rough and stony--and Pen
nodded.

"Beaten.  Yes," And his voice was graver than before at the thought of
what he had seen since they had been prisoners.

On, on, on, through the dark hours, with Punch falling off every now and
again into a fitful sleep--a sleep broken by sudden intervals of
half-consciousness, when Pen's heart was wrung by the broken words
uttered by his companion: "Not going to shoot me, are they?  Don't let
them do that, comrade."  While, as the weary procession continued its
way on to the next village, where they were about to halt, Pen had
another distraction, for as he trudged painfully on by the side of the
creaking wagon a hand was suddenly placed on his arm.

He turned sharply.

"Eh, what?" he cried.

"Well?" said a half-familiar voice, and in the dim light he recognised
the features of the young French captain who had listened to his appeal
to save the bugler's life.

"Rough work, sir," said Pen.

"Yes.  Your fellows played a bold game in trying to dislodge us.  Nearly
succeeded, _ma foi_!  But we drove them back."

"Yes," said Pen.

"How's your friend?" asked the captain.

"Better."

"That's well.  And now tell me, where did you learn to speak French so
well?"

"From my tutor," answered Pen.

"Your tutor!  And you a simple soldier!  Well, well!  You English are
full of surprises."

Pen laughed.

"I suppose so," he said; "but we are not alone in that."

The French captain chatted a little longer, and then once more Pen was
alone--alone but for the strange accompaniment of sounds incident to the
night march: the neighing of horses, the scraps of quick talking which
fell on his ear, along with that never-ceasing creak, rumble, and jolt
of the wagons, a creaking and jolting which seemed to the tired brain as
though they would go on for ever and ever.

He was aroused out of a strange waking dream, in which the past and the
present were weirdly blended, by a voice which called him by name, and
he tried to shake himself free from the tangle of confused thought which
hemmed him in.

"Aren't you there?" came the voice again.

"Yes, Punch, yes.  What is it?"

"Ah, that's all right!  I wanted to tell you that I feel such a lot
better."

"Glad to hear it, Punch."

"Yes, I feel as if I could get out of this now."

"You had better not try," said Pen with a forced laugh.  "I think--I
think--" And then the confusion came again.

"What do you think?" said Punch.

"Think?" cried the other.  "I--what do you mean?"

In the darkness of the heavy vehicle, Punch's face betrayed a feeling of
alarm, and he tried to figure it out.  Something in Pen's voice
frightened him.

"He is not the same," he muttered; and his impression was substantiated
when a halt was called just about the time of dawn, for Pen dropped like
a log by the wagon-side; and when Punch, with great pain to himself,
struggled into a sitting position, and then clambered down to his
comrade, he found to his horror that his worst fears were realised.

Pen's forehead was burning, and the poor lad was muttering incoherently,
and not in a condition to pay heed to the words of his companion.

"Gray, Gray!  Can't you hear?  What's wrong?"

The village which was the new headquarters was higher up in the
mountains; and whether it was the fresher air operating beneficially, or
whether the period of natural recovery had arrived, certain it was that
Punch found himself able to move about again; and during the days and
weeks that followed he it was who took the post of nurse and attended to
the wants of Pen--wants, alas! too few, for the sufferer was a victim to
something worse than a mere shot-wound susceptible to efficient
dressing, for the most dangerous, perhaps, of all fevers had laid him
low.

The period passed as in a long dream, and the thought of rejoining the
British column had for a time ceased to animate Punch's brain.

But youth and a strong constitution rose superior in Pen's case to all
the evils of circumstance and environment, and one afternoon the old
clear look came back to his eyes.

"Ah, Punch," he said, "better?"

"Better?" said the boy.  "I--I am well; but you--how are you now?"

"I--have I been ill?"

"Ill!" cried Punch, and he turned and looked at an orderly who was
hurrying past.  "He asks if he has been ill!--Why, Pen, you have had a
fever which has lasted for weeks."

Pen tried to sit up, and he would have dismally failed in the attempt
had not Punch encircled him with his arm.

"Why--why," he said faintly, "I am as weak as weak!"

"Yes, that you are."

"But, Punch, what has been happening?"

"I don't know.  I can't understand what all these people say; but they
let me fetch water for them and attend to you; and to-day there has been
a lot going on--troops marching past."

"Yes," said Pen; "that means there has been another fight."

"No, I don't think so."

"Why not?"

"Because I have heard no firing.  But hadn't you better go to sleep
again?"

Pen smiled, but he took the advice and lay back.

"Perhaps I had," he said faintly; and as Punch watched him he fell into
a restful doze.

So it was during the days that followed, each one bringing back more
strength to the invalid, and likewise each day a further contingent of
the wounded in the battle of a month before being passed as fit for
service again and drafted to the front; while each day, too, Pen found
that the strength that used to be his was returning little by little,
and he listened eagerly one night when Punch bent over him and whispered
something in his ear.

"You know I have been talking about it to you," said the boy, "for
several nights past; and when I wasn't talking about it I was thinking
of it.  But now--now I think the time has come."

"To escape?" cried Pen eagerly.  "You mean it?"

"Yes; I have been watching what has gone on.  We are almost alone here,
with only wounded and surgeons.  The rest have gone; and--and behind
this village there is a forest of those scrubby-barked oak-trees."

"Cork-trees," said Pen.

"Oh, that's it!"  And the boy drew himself up.  "But do you think you
are strong enough yet?"

"Strong enough?  Of course."  And Pen rose, to stand at his companion's
side.  "Do you know the way?"

"Yes," And Punch felt for and took his companion's hand, trying to see
his face in the pitchy darkness.  "It is to the right of the camp."

"Then let's go."

"Wait," said Punch, and he glided off into the blackness, leaving Pen
standing there alone.

But it was not for long.  In a minute or two the boy was back once more,
and this time he held something in his arms.

"Ready?" he asked in a whisper.

"Yes.  What for?"

"Stoop.--That's it.  I watched, and took them--not English ones, but
they will shoot, I expect," And softly he slipped the sling of a musket
over Pen's shoulders, following that by handing him a cartouche-box and
belt.  "I have got a gun for myself too.  Better than a bugle.  There!"
And in the darkness there was the sound of a belt being tightly drawn
through a buckle.  "Are you ready?"

"Yes," said Pen.

"Where's your hand?"

"Here."

"Right!"  And the younger lad gripped his friend's extended palm.  "Now,
it's this way.  I planned it all when you were so ill, and said to
myself that it would be the way when you got better.  Come along."

Softly and silently the two slipped off in the darkness, making for the
belt of forest where the gloomy leafage made only a slight blur against
the black velvet sky.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

HUNTED.

"What's the matter, Punch?  Wound beginning to hurt you again?"

"No," said the boy surlily.

"What is it, then?  What are you thinking about?"

"Thinking about you being so grumpy."

"Grumpy!  Well, isn't it enough to make a fellow feel low-spirited when
he has been ill for weeks, wandering about here on these mountain-sides,
hunted as if we were wild beasts, almost starving, and afraid to go near
any of the people?"

"No," replied Punch with quite a snarl.  "If you had had a bullet in
your back like I did there's something to grumble about.  I don't
believe you ever knew how it hurt."

"Oh yes, I did, Punch," said Pen quietly, "for many a time I have felt
for you when I have seen you wincing and your face twitching with pain."

"Of course you did.  I know.  You couldn't have been nicer than you
were.  But what have you got to grumble about now you're better?"

"Our bad luck in not getting back to some of our people."

"Well, I should like that too, only I don't much mind.  You see, I can't
help feeling as jolly as a sand-boy."

"I don't know that sand-boys have anything much to be jolly about,
Punch," said Pen, brightening up.

"More do I--but it's what people say," said Punch; "only, I do feel
jolly.  To be out here in the sunshine--and the moonshine, too, of a
night--and having a sort of feeling that I can sit down now without my
back aching and smarting, and feeling that I want to run and jump and
shout.  You know what it is to feel better, now, as well as I do.  This
ain't home, of course; but everything looks wonderful nice, and every
morning I wake up it all seems to me as if I was having a regular long
holiday.  I say, do say you are enjoying yourself too."

"I can't, Punch.  There are too many drawbacks."

"Oh, never mind them."

"But I can't help it.  You know I have been dreadfully weak."

"But you shouldn't worry about that.  I don't mind a bit now you are
getting well."

"What, not when we are faint with hunger?"

"No, not a bit.  It makes me laugh.  It seems such a jolly game to think
we have got to hunt for our victuals.  Oh, I think we are having a
regular fine time.  It's a splendid place!  Come on."

"No, no; we had better rest a little more."

"Not me!  Let's get some chestnuts.  Ain't it a shame to grumble when
you get plenty of them as you can eat raw or make a fire and roast them?
Starve, indeed!  Then look at the grapes we have had; and you never
know what we shall find next.  Why, it was only yesterday that woman
gave us some bread, and pointed to the onions, and told us to take more;
leastways she jabbered and kept on pointing again.  Of course, we
haven't done as well as we did in the hut, when the girl brought us
bread and cheese and milk; but I couldn't enjoy it then with all that
stinging in my back.  And everything's good now except when you look so
grumpy."

"Well, Punch, most of my grumpiness has been on your account, and I will
cheer up now.  If I could only meet some one to talk to and understand
us, so that we could find out where our people are, I wouldn't care."

"Well, never mind all that, and don't care.  I don't.  Here we are
having a big holiday in the country.  We have got away from the French,
and we are not prisoners.  I am all alive and kicking again, and I feel
more than ever that I don't care for anything now you are getting more
and more well.  There's only one thing as would make me as grumpy as you
are."

"What's that, Punch?"

"To feel that my wound was getting bad again.  I say, you don't think it
will, do you?"

"No; why should I?  It's all healing up beautifully."

"Then I don't care for anything," cried the boy joyously.  "Yes, I do.
I feel horrid wild sometimes to think they took away my bugle;
leastways, I suppose they did.  I never saw it no more; and it don't
seem natural not to have that to polish up.  I have got a musket,
though; and, I say, why don't we have a day's shooting, and knock over a
kid or a pig?"

"Because it would be somebody's kid or pig, and we should be hunted down
worse than ever, for, instead of the French being after us for escaped
prisoners, we should rouse the people against us for killing their
property."

"Yes, that would be bad," said Punch; "but it would only be because we
are hungry."

"Yes, but the people wouldn't study that."

"Think they would knife us for it?" said the boy thoughtfully.

"I hope not; but they would treat us as enemies, and it would go bad
with us, I feel sure."

"Well, we are rested now," said Punch.  "Let's get on again a bit."

"Which way shall we go?" said Pen.

"I dunno; anywhere so's not to run against the French.  I have had
enough of them.  Let's chance it."

Pen laughed merrily, his comrade's easy-going, reckless way having its
humorous side, and cheering him up at a time when their helpless
condition made him ready to despair.

"Well," he said, "if we are to chance it, Punch, let's get out of this
wood and try to go downhill."

"What for?"

"Easier travelling," said Pen.  "We may reach another pleasant valley,
and find a village where the people will let us beg some bread and
fruit."

"Yes, of course," said Punch, frowning; "but it don't seem nice--
begging."

"Well, we have no money to buy.  What are we to do?"

"Grab," said Punch laconically.

"What--steal?" cried Pen.

"Steal!  Gammon!  Aren't we soldiers?  Soldiers forage.  'Tain't
stealing.  We must live in an enemy's country."

"But the Spaniards are not our enemies."

"There, now you are harguing, and I hate to hargue when you are hungry.
What I say is, we are soldiers and in a strange country, and that we
must take what we want.  It's only foraging; so come on."

"Come along then, Punch," said Pen good-humouredly.  "But you are
spoiling my morals, and--"

"Pst!" whispered Punch.  "Lie down."

He set the example, throwing himself prone amongst the rough growth that
sprang up along the mountain-slope; and Pen followed his example.

"What can you see?" he whispered, as he crept closer to his comrade's
side, noting the while that as he lay upon his chest the boy had made
ready his musket and prepared to take aim.  "You had better not shoot."

"Then tell them that too," whispered Punch.

"Them!  Who?"

"Didn't you see?"

"I saw nothing."

"I did--bayonets, just below yonder.  Soldiers marching."

"Soldiers?" whispered Pen joyfully.  "They may be some of our men."

"That they are not.  They are French."

French they undoubtedly were; for as the lads peered cautiously from
their hiding-place, and listened to the rustling and tramp of many feet,
an order rang out which betrayed the nationality of what seemed to be a
large body of men coming in their direction.

"Keep snug," whispered Punch, "and they won't see us.  It's too close
here."

Pen gripped his companion's arm, and lay trying to catch sight of the
marching men for some minutes with a satisfied feeling that the troops
were bearing away from them.  But his heart sank directly after; a
bugle-call rang out, the men again changed their direction, the line
extended, and it became plain that they would pass right over the ground
where the two lads lay.

"I am afraid they will see us, Punch," whispered Pen.  "What's to be
done?"

"Run for it.  Look here, make straight for that wood up the slope,"
whispered Punch.  "You go first, and I will follow."

"But that's uphill," whispered Pen.

"Bad for them as for us," replied the boy.  "Up with you; right for the
wood.  Once there, we are safe."

Punch had said he hated to argue, and it was no time for argument then
as to the best course.

Pen gazed in the direction of the approaching party, but they were
invisible; and, turning to his comrade, "Now then," he said, "off!"

Springing up, he started at a quick run in and out amongst the bushes
and rocks in the direction of the forest indicated by his companion,
conscious the next minute, as he glanced back in turning a block of
stone, that Punch was imitating his tactics, carrying his musket at the
trail and bending low as he ran.

"Keep your head down, Punch," he said softly, as the boy raced up
alongside.  "We can't see them, so they can't see us."

"Don't talk--run," whispered Punch.  "That's right--round to your left.
Don't mind me if I hang back a bit.  I am short-winded yet.  I shall
follow you."

For answer, Pen slackened pace, and let Punch pass him.

"Whatcher doing?" whispered the boy.

"You go first," replied Pen, "just as fast as you can.  I will keep
close behind you."

Punch uttered a low growl, but he did not stop to argue, and they ran on
and on, getting out of breath but lighter hearted, as they both felt
that every minute carried them nearer to safety, for the risky part
where the slope was all stone and low bush was nearly passed, the dense
patch of forest nearer at hand offering to them shelter so thick that,
once there, their enemies would have hard work to judge which direction
had been taken; and then all at once, when all danger seemed to be past,
there came a shout from behind, and then a shot.

"Stoop!  Stoop, Punch!  More to the left!"

"All right.  Come on," was whispered back; and, as Punch bore in the
direction indicated by his comrade, there came shout after shout, shot
after shot, and the next minute, as the fugitives tore on heedless of
everything but their effort to reach the shelter in advance, it was
perfectly evident to them that the bullets fired were whizzing in their
direction.

Twigs were cut and fell; there was the loud _spat, spat_ of the bullets
striking the rocks; and then, when they were almost within touch of the
dark shadows spread by the trees, there came a scattered volley, and
both lads went down heavily, disappearing from the sight of their
pursuers, who sent up a yell of triumph.

"Punch," panted Pen, "not hurt?"

The answer was a hoarse utterance, as the boy struggled to his feet and
then dropped again on all-fours.

"No, no," he gasped.  "Come on! come on!  We are close there."

Pen was breathing hard as he too followed his comrade's movements just
as if forced thereto by the natural instinct that prompted imitation;
but the moment he reached his feet he dropped down again heavily, and
then began to crawl awkwardly forward so that he might from time to time
catch a glimpse of Punch's retiring form.

"Come on, come on!" kept reaching his ears; and then he felt dizzy and
sick at heart.

It seemed to be growing dark all at once, but he set it down to the
closing-in of the overshadowing trees.  And then minutes passed of
confusion, exertion, and a feeling as of suffocation consequent upon the
difficulty of catching his breath.

Then at last--he could not tell how long after--Punch was whispering in
his ear as they lay side by side so close together that the boy's breath
came hot upon his cheek.

"Oh, how slow you have been!  But this 'ere will do--must do, for we can
get no farther.  Why, you were worse than me.  Hurt yourself when you
went down?"

Pen was about to reply, when a French voice shouted, "Forward!  Right
through the forest!"

There was the trampling of feet, the crackling of dead twigs, and
Punch's hand gripped his companion's arm with painful force, as the two
lads lay breathless, with their faces buried in the thick covering of
past years' dead leaves, till the trampling died away and the fugitives
dared to raise their faces a little in the fight for breath.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

HIDE-AND-SEEK.

"Oh, I say," whispered Punch, in a half-suffocated tone, "my word!  Talk
about near as a toucher!  It's all right, comrade; but if I had held my
breath half a jiffy longer I should have gone off pop.  Don't you call
this a game?  Hide-and-seek and whoop is nothing to it!  Garn with you,
you thick-headed old frog-soup eaters!  Wait till I get my breath.  I
want to laugh.--Can't hear 'em now; can you?"

"No," said Pen faintly.  "Will they come back?"

"Not they," replied Punch chuckling.  "Couldn't find the way again if
they tried.  But we shall have to stay here now till it's dark.  It
don't matter.  I want to cool down and get my wind.  I say, though,
catch your foot on a stone?"

"No," replied Pen, breathing hard.

"Thought you did.  You did go down--quelch!  What you breathing like
that for?  You did get out of breath!  Turn over on your back.  There's
nobody to see us now.  I say, isn't it nice and shady!  Talk about a
hiding-place!  Look at the beautiful great, long green leaves.  Hooray!
Chestnuts.  We have dropped just into the right place for foraging.
Wait a bit and we will creep right into the forest and make a little
fire, and have a roast.  What?  Oh, it's all right.  They have gone
straight on and can't hear me.  Here!  I say: why, comrade, you did hurt
yourself when you went down.  Here, what is it?  Oh, I am sorry!  Ain't
broke anything, have you?"

"My leg, Punch--my leg," said Pen faintly.

"Broke your leg, comrade?" cried the boy.

"No, no," said Pen faintly; "not so bad as that.  One of the bullets, I
think, scraped my leg when they fired."

"Shot!" cried Punch in an excited voice full of agony.  "Oh, comrade,
not you!  Don't say that!"

The lad talked fast, but he was acting all the time.  Leaving his musket
amongst the leaves, he had crept to Pen's side, and was eagerly
examining his comrade's now helpless leg.

"Can't help it," he whispered, as he searched for and drew out his
knife.  "I will rip it down the seam, and we will sew it up again some
time."  And then muttering to himself, "Scraped!  It's a bad wound!  We
must get the bullet out.  No--no bullet here."  And then, making use of
the little knowledge he had picked up, Punch tore off strips of cotton
from his own and his companion's garments, and tightly bandaged the
bleeding wound.

"It's a bad job, comrade," he said cheerily; "but it might have been
worse if the Frenchies could shoot.  There's no bones broke, and you are
not going to grumble; but I'd have given anything if it hadn't been your
turn now.  Hurt much."

"Quite enough, Punch," said Pen with a rather piteous smile.  "It's
quite right; my turn now; but don't stop.  You've stopped the bleeding,
so get on."

"What say?"

"Go on now," said Pen, "while there's a chance to escape.  Those fellows
will be sure to come back this way, and you will lose your opportunity
if you wait."

"Poor chap!" said Punch, as if speaking to himself, and he laid a hand
on Pen's wet forehead.  "Look at that now!  I have made a nasty mark;
but I couldn't help it, for there was no water here for a wash.  But,
poor chap, he won't know.  He's worse than I thought, though; talking
like that--quite off his head."

"I am not, Punch, but you will send me off it if you go on like that.
Do as I tell you, boy.  Escape while there's a chance."

"He's quite queer," said Punch, "and getting worse; but I suppose I
can't do anything more."

"No; you can do no more, so don't waste your chance of escape.  It will
be horrible for you to be made prisoner again, so off with you while the
coast's clear.  Do you hear me?"

"Hear you!  Yes, you needn't shout and tell the Johnnies that we are
hiding here."

"No, no, of course not; it was very foolish, but the pain of the wound
and your obstinacy made me excited.  Now then, shake hands, and, there's
a good fellow, go."

"Likely!" said Punch, wiping the pain-drops from Pen's face.

"What do you mean by that?" said Pen angrily.

"What do I mean by what?  You are a bit cracked like, or else you
wouldn't talk like this."

"Not tell you to run while there's a chance?"

"Not tell me to run like this when there's a chance!" replied Punch.
"Jigger the chance!  So you just hold your tongue and lie quiet.
Sha'n't go!  There."

"But, Punch, don't be foolish, there's a good fellow."

"No, I won't; and don't you be foolish.  Pst!  Hear that?  They are
coming back."

"There's time still," said Pen, lowering his voice.

"Oh, is there?  You just look here.  Here they are, coming nearer and
nearer.  Do you want them to come and take us both?"

"No, no, no," whispered Pen.

"Then just you hold your tongue," said Punch, nestling down close to his
comrade's side, for the rustle and tramp of many feet began to grow
nearer again; and as Punch lay upon his back with his eyes turned in the
direction of the approaching sound he soon after caught a glimpse or two
of sunlight flashed from the barrels of muskets far down the forest
aisles, as their bearers seemed to be coming right for where they lay.

"Look here," said Punch softly, "they look as if they are coming
straight here; but there's a chance for us yet, so let's take it, and if
they don't find us--Mind, I didn't want you to be hit; but as you are,
and I suppose was to be, I am jolly glad of it, for it gives a fellow a
chance.  And what's the good of me talking?" said the boy to himself
now.  "He's gone right off, swoonded, as they call it.  Poor old chap!
It does seem queer.  But it might have been worse, as I said before.
Wanted me to run away, did you?  Likely, wasn't it?  Why, if I had run
it would have served me jolly well right if somebody had shot me down
again.  Not likely, comrade!  I mayn't be a man, but my father was a
British soldier, and that's what's the matter with me."

Punch lay talking to himself, but not loudly enough to startle a bird
which came flitting from tree to tree in advance of the approaching
soldiers, and checked its flight in one of the low branches of a great
overhanging chestnut, and then kept on changing its position as it
peered down at the two recumbent figures, its movements startling the
bugler, who now began in a whisper to address the bird.

"Here," he said, "what game do you call that?  You don't mean to say you
have come here like this to show the Johnny Crapauds where we are, so
that they may take us prisoners?  No, I thought not.  It wouldn't be
fair, and I don't suppose they have even seen you; but it did look like
it.  Here they come, though, and in another minute they will see us,
and--Oh, poor Gray!  It will be bad for him, poor chap; and--No, they
don't.  They are wheeling off to the left; but if they look this way
they must see us, and if they had been English lads that's just what
they would have done.  Why, they couldn't help seeing us--a set of
bat-eyed bull-frogs; that's what I call them.  Yah!  Go on home!  I
don't think much of you.  Now then, they are not coming here, and I
don't care where they go as long as they don't find us.  Now, what's
next to be done?  What I want is another goat-herd's hut, so as I can
carry my poor old comrade into shelter.  Now, where is it to be found?
I don't know, but it's got to be done; and ain't it rum that my poor old
mate here should have his dose, and me have to play the nurse twice
over!"



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

"UNLUCKY BEGGARS."

"If one wasn't in such trouble," said Punch to himself, as he lay in the
growing darkness beneath the great chestnut-tree, "one would have time
to think what a beautiful country this is.  But of all the unlucky
beggars that ever lived, Private Pen Gray and Bugler Bob Punchard is
about the two worst.  Only think of it: we had just got out of all that
trouble with my wound and Gray's fever, then he gets hit and I got to
nurse him all over again.  Well, that's all clear enough.--How are you
now, comrade?" he said aloud, as after cautiously gazing round in search
of danger, he raised his head and bent over his wounded companion.

There was no reply, and Punch went on softly, "It's my turn now to say
what you said to me.  Sleepy, are you?  Well, go on, and have plenty of
it.  It's the best thing for you.  What did you say?  Nature sets to
work to mend you again?  No, he didn't.  I forget now, but that's what
he meant.  Now, I wonder whether it's safe for me to go away and leave
him.  No, of course it isn't, for I may tumble up against the French,
who will make me a prisoner, and I sha'n't be able to make them
understand that my comrade is lying wounded under this tree, and if I
could I don't want to.  That's one thing.  Another is that if I start
off and leave him here I sha'n't be able to find him again.  Then, what
am I going for?  To try and find water, for my throat's like sand, and
something to eat better than these chestnuts, for I don't believe they
are anything like ripe.  Oh dear!  This is a rum start altogether.  I
don't know what to do.  This is coming to the wars, and no mistake!
There never was really such unlucky chaps as we are.  It will be dark
before long.  Then I shall seem to be quite alone.  To be all alone here
in a great wood like this is enough to make any fellow feel scared.
It's just the sort of place where the wolves will be.  Well, if they do
come, we have got two muskets, and if it isn't too dark I will have two
wolves, and that will keep the others off as long as they have got the
ones I shot to eat.--Did you speak, comrade?" he whispered, as he once
more bent over Pen.  "No, he's fast asleep.  Wish I was, so as to forget
all about it, for the sun's quite down now, and I don't know how I am to
get through such a night as this.  However, here goes to try.  Ugh!  How
cold it is turning!"

The boy shivered as the wind that came down from the mountains seemed
bitterly cold to one who had been drenched in perspiration by the
exertion and excitement that he had passed through.

"Poor old Private Gray!" he muttered.  "He will be feeling it worse than
me if he don't turn feverish."

The boy hesitated for a few moments, and then, stripping off his jacket,
he crept as close to his wounded companion as he could, and then
carefully spread the ragged uniform coat over their breasts.

"Ought to have got his off too," he muttered, "but I mustn't.  Must make
the best of it and try and go to sleep, keeping him warm.  But no fellow
could go to sleep at a time like this."

It was a rash assertion, for many minutes had not passed before the boy
was sleeping soundly the sleep of utter weariness and exhaustion; and
the next time he unclosed his eyes as he lay there upon his back, not
having moved since he lay down, it was to gaze wonderingly at the
beautiful play of morning light upon the long, glossy, dark-green leaves
over his head; for the sun had just risen and was bronzing the leaves
with ruddy gold.

The birds were singing somewhere at the edge of the forest, and all
seemed so wonderful and strange that the boy muttered to himself as he
asked the question, "Where am I?"

So deep had been his sleep that it seemed to be one great puzzle.

He knew it was cold, and he wondered at that, for now and then he felt a
faint glow of warm sunshine.  Then, like a flash, recollection came
back, and he turned his head to gaze at his companion, but only to
wrench himself away and roll over and over a yard or two, before sitting
up quickly, trembling violently.  For he was chilled with horror by the
thought that his companion had passed away during the night.

It was some minutes before he dared speak.  "Pen!" he whispered, at
last.  "Gray!"  He waited, with the horror deepening, for there his
companion lay upon his back motionless, and though he strained his neck
towards him he could detect no movement of his breath, while his own
staring eyes began to grow dim, and the outstretched figure before him
looked misty and strange.

"He's dead!  He's dead!" groaned the poor fellow.  "And me lying
sleeping there, never taking any notice of him when he called for help--
for he must have called--and me pretending to be his comrade all the
time!  'Tain't how he treated me.  Oh, Pen!  Pen Gray, old chap!  Speak
to me, if it's only just one word!  Oh, if I had not laid down!  I ought
to have stood up and watched him; but I did think it was to keep him
warm.  No, you didn't!" he cried angrily, addressing himself.  "You did
it to warm yourself."

At last, recovering his nerve somewhat, the boy began to crawl on hands
and knees towards the motionless figure, till he was near enough to lay
his hand upon his companion's breast.  Then twice over he stretched it
out slowly and cautiously, but only to snatch it back, till a feeling of
rage at his cowardice ran through him, and he softly lowered it down,
let it rest there for a few moments, and then with a thrill of joy he
exclaimed, "Why, it's all fancy!  He is alive."

"Yes, what?  Who spoke?"

"I did," cried Punch, springing to his feet.  "Hooray, comrade!  It's
all right.  I woke up, and began to think--Pst! pst!" he whispered, as
he dropped down upon hands and knees again.  For there was a rush of
feet, and a patch of undergrowth a short distance beyond the spread of
the great chestnut boughs was violently agitated.

"Why, it's only goats," muttered Punch angrily.  "I scared them by
jumping up.  Wish I had got one of their young uns here."

"What is it?  Who's that?  You, Punch?"

"Yes, comrade; it's all right.  But how are you?  All right?"

"Yes--no.  I have been asleep and dreaming.  What does it all mean,
Punch?  What's the matter with my leg?"

"Can't you recollect, comrade?"

Pen was silent for a few moments, and then: "Yes," he said softly, "I
understand now.  I was hurt.  Why, it's morning!  I haven't been to
sleep all the night, have I?"

"Yes, comrade, and,"--Punch hesitated for a moment, and then with an
effort--"so have I."

"I am glad of it," sighed Pen.

Then he winced, for he had made an effort to rise, but sank back again,
feeling faint.

"Help me, Punch," he said.

"Whatcher want?"

"To sit up with my back against the tree."

Punch hesitated, and then obeyed.

"Ah, that's better," sighed Pen.  "I am not much hurt."

"Oh yes, you are," said Punch, shaking his head.

"Nonsense!  I recollect all about it now.  Can you get me some water?"

"I'll try," was the reply; "but can you really sit up like that?"

"Yes, of course.  We shall be able to go on again soon."

"Wha-at!" cried Punch.  "Oh yes, I dare say!  You can't go on.  But I
know what I am going to do.  If the French are gone I am going to hunt
round till I find one of them cottages.  There must be one somewhere
about, because I just started some goats.  And look there!  Why, of
course there must be some people living near here."  And the boy pointed
to a dozen or so of pigs busily rooting about amongst the dead leaves of
the forest, evidently searching for chestnuts and last year's acorns
shed by the evergreen oaks.

"Now, look here," continued the boy.  "Soon as I am sure that you can
sit up and wait, I am just off to look out for some place where I can
carry you."

"I can sit up," replied Pen.  "I have got a nasty wound that will take
some time to heal; but it's nothing to mind, Punch, for it's the sort of
thing that will get well without a doctor.  But you must find shelter or
beg shelter for us till I can tramp again."

"But I can carry yer, comrade."

"A little way perhaps.  There, don't stop to talk.  Go and do the best
you can."

"But is it safe to leave you?" protested Punch.

"Yes; there is nothing to mind, unless some of the French fellows find
me."

"That does it, then," said Punch sturdily.  "I sha'n't go."

"You must, I tell you."

"I don't care; I ain't going to leave you."

"Do you want me to starve, or perish with cold in the night."

"Course I don't!"

"Then do as I tell you."

"But suppose the French come?"

"Well, if they do we must chance it; but if you are careful in going and
coming I don't think they will find me; and I don't suppose you will be
long."

"That I won't," cried the boy confidently.  "Here goes, then--I am to do
it?"

"Yes."

"Then here's off."

"No, don't do that," cried Pen.

"Why not?  Hadn't I better take the muskets?"

"No.  You are more likely to get help for me if you go without arms;
and, besides, Punch," added Pen, with a faint smile, "I might want the
muskets to defend myself against the wolves."

"All right," replied the boy, replacing the two clumsy French pieces by
his comrade's side.  "Keep up your spirits, old chap; I won't be long."

The next minute the boy had plunged into the thicket-like outskirts of
the forest, where he stopped short to look back and mentally mark the
great chestnut-tree.

"I shall know that," he said, "from ever so far off.  It is easy to
'member by the trunk, which goes up twisted like a screw.  Now then,
which way had I better go?"

Punch had a look round as far as the density of the foliage would allow
him, and then gave his head a scratch.

"Oh dear!" he muttered, "who's to know which way to go?  It's regular
blind-man's buff.  How many horses has your father got?  Shut your eyes,
comrade.  Now then.  Three!  What colour?  Black, white, and grey.  Turn
round three times and catch who you may."

The boy, with his eyes tightly closed and his arms spread out on either
side, turned round the three times of the game, and then opened his eyes
and strode right away.

"There can't be no better way than chancing it," he said.  "But hold
hard!  Where's my tree?"

He was standing close to a beautifully shaped ilex, and for a few
moments he could not make out the great spiral-barked chestnut, till,
just as he began to fancy that he had lost his way at once, he caught
sight of its glossy bronzed leaves behind the greyish green ilex.

"That's all right," he said.  "Now then, here's luck."

It was a bitter fight with grim giant despair as the boy tramped on, and
time after time, faint with hunger, suffering from misery, he was about
to throw himself down upon the earth, utterly broken in spirit, but he
fought on bravely.

"I never saw such a country!" he muttered.  "There ought to be plenty of
towns and villages and people, but it's all desert and stones and
scrubby trees.  Any one would think that you couldn't walk anywhere
without finding something to eat, and there's nothing but the goats and
pigs, and as soon as they catch sight of you away they go."

Over and over again he climbed hillsides to reach spots where he could
look down, in the full expectation of seeing some village or cluster of
huts.  But it was all the same, there was nothing to be seen; till,
growing alarmed lest he should find that he had lost touch with his
landmarks, he began to retrace his steps in utter despair, but only to
drop down on his knees at last and bury his face in his hands, to give
way to the emotion that for a few moments he could not master.

"There," he muttered, recovering himself, "I could not help it, but
there was no one to see.  Just like a silly great gal.  It is being
hungry, I suppose, and weak with my wound; and, my word, it does sting!
But there's some one at last!"

The boy looked sharply round.

"Why, you idgit!" he gasped, "you've lost him again.  No, it's all
right," he cried, and he started off at a trot in the direction of a
short, plump-looking figure in rusty black, who, bent of head and book
in hand, was slowly descending a slope away to his right.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

THE USE OF LATIN.

"There!  Ahoy!" shouted Punch, and the black figure slowly raised his
head and began to look round till he was gazing in quite the opposite
direction to where the boy was hurrying towards him, and Punch had a
full view of the stranger's back and a ruddy-brown roll of fat flesh
which seemed to be supporting a curious old hat, looking like a rusty
old stove-pipe, perched horizontally upon the wearer's head.

"Hi!  Not that way!  Look this!" cried Punch as he closed up.  "Here, I
say, where's the nearest village?"

The stove-pipe turned slowly round, and Punch found himself face to face
with a plump-looking little man who slowly closed the book he carried
and tucked it inside his shabby gown.

"Morning!" said Punch.

The little man bowed slowly and with some show of dignity, and then
gazed sternly in the boy's face and waited.

"I said good-morning, sir," said the boy; and then to himself, "what a
rum-looking little chap!--Can you tell me--"

Punch got no further, for the little stranger shook his head, frowned
more sternly, and shrugged his shoulders as he made as if to take out
his book again.

"I ain't a beggar, sir," cried the boy.  "I only want you to--Oh, he
can't understand me!" he groaned.  "Look here, can you understand this?"
And he commenced in dumb motions to give the stranger a difficult
problem to solve.

But it proved to be not too difficult, for the little man smiled, nodded
his head, and imitated Punch's suggestive pantomime of eating and
drinking.  Then, laying one hand upon the boy's shoulder, he pointed
with the other down the slope and tried to guide him in that direction.

"All right," said Punch, nodding, "I understand.  That's where you live;
but not yet.  Come this way."  And, catching the little stranger by the
arm, Punch pointed towards the forest and tried to draw his companion in
that direction.

The plump little man shook his head and suggested that they should go in
the other direction.

"Oh, a mercy me!" cried Punch excitedly.  "Why, don't you understand?
Look here, sir, I can see what you are.  You are a priest.  I have seen
folks like you more than once.  Now, just look here."

The little man shrugged his shoulders again, shook his head, and then
looked compassionately at the boy.

"That's better," said Punch.  "Now, sir, do try and understand, there's
a good fellow.  Just look here!"

The boy tapped him on the shoulder now, and pointed towards the wood.

"Now, look here, sir; it's like this."

Punch made-believe to present a musket, after giving a sharp _click,
click_ with his tongue in imitation of the cocking of the piece, cried
_Bang_! and then gave a jump, clapped his hand to his right leg,
staggered, threw himself down, and then struggled up into a sitting
position, to sit up nursing his leg, which he made-believe to bind up
with a bandage.  Then, holding out his hand to the little priest, he
caught hold of him, dragged himself up, but let himself fall back,
rolled over, and lay looking at him helplessly.

"Understand that?" he cried, as he sprang to his feet again.  "You must
be jolly stupid if you can't.  Now then, look here, sir," he continued,
pointing and gesticulating with great energy, "my poor comrade is lying
over yonder under a tree, wounded and starving.  Come and help me to
fetch him, there's a good old chap."

The priest looked at him fixedly, and then, taking his cue from the boy,
he pointed in the direction Punch had indicated, nodded, clapped the boy
on the shoulder, and began to walk by his side.

"There, I thought I could make you understand," cried Punch eagerly.
"But you might say something.  Ain't deaf and dumb, are you?"

The little priest shook his head, muttered to himself, and then, bending
down, he tapped his own leg, and looking questioningly in his would-be
guide's face, he began to limp.

"Yes, yes, yes!" cried Punch excitedly.  And, imitating his companion,
he bent down, tapped his own leg, then limped as if walking with the
greatest of difficulty and made-believe to sink down helplessly.

"Good!  I understand," said the little priest in Spanish.  "Wounded.
Lead on."

Punch held out his hand, which the little stranger took, and suffered
himself to be led in the direction of the great chestnut, shaking his
head and looking questioningly more than once at the boy, as Punch
hesitated and seemed to be in doubt, and ran here and there trying to
make out his bearings, successfully as it happened, for he caught sight
at last of the object of his search, hurried back to the little priest's
side, to stand panting and faint, passing his hand over his dripping
face, utterly exhausted.

"Can't help it, sir," he said piteously.  "I have been wounded.  Just
let me get my breath, and then we will go on again.  I am sure now.  Oh,
I do wish I could make you understand better!" added the boy piteously.
"There's my poor comrade yonder, perhaps dying by this time, and me
turning like this!"

For just then he reeled and would have fallen if the little priest had
not caught him by the arms and lowered him slowly down.

"Thank you, sir," said Punch, with a sob half-choking his utterance.
"It's all on account of my wound, sir.  There, I'm better now.  Come
on."

He tried to struggle up, but the little priest shook his head and
pressed him back.

"Thank you, sir.  It's very good of you; but I want to get on.  He's
getting tired of waiting, you know."  And Punch pointed excitedly in the
direction of the tree.

The journey was continued soon after, with Punch's arm locked in that of
his new-found friend; and in due time Punch staggered through the trees
to where Pen lay, now meeting his gaze with a wild look of misery and
despair.

"It's all right, comrade," cried Punch.  "I have found somebody at last.
He must live somewhere near here, but I can't make him understand
anything, only that you were lying wounded.  Did you think I had
forgotten you?"

"No," said Pen faintly, "I never thought that."

"Look here," said Punch, "say something to him in French.  Tell him I
want to get you to a cottage, and say we are starving."

Pen obeyed, and faintly muttered a few words in French; but the priest
shook his head.

"_Frances_?" he said.

"No, no," replied Pen.  "_Ingles_."

"Ah, _Ingles_!" said the priest, smiling; and he went down on one knee
to softly touch the rough bandage that was about the wounded leg.

Then, to the surprise of both boys, he carefully raised Pen into a
sitting position, signed to Punch to hold him up, and then taking off
his curiously fashioned hat and hanging it upon a broken branch of the
tree, the boys saw that Nature had furnished him with the tonsure of the
priest without the barber's aid, and they had the opportunity now of
seeing that it was a pleasantly wrinkled rosy face, with a pair of
good-humoured-looking eyes that gazed up in theirs.

"What's he going to do?" said Punch in a whisper.

He comprehended the next minute, and eagerly lent his aid, for the
little priest, twisting up his gown and securing it round his waist,
began to prove himself a worthy descendant of the Good Samaritan, though
wanting in the ability to set the wounded traveller upon his own ass.

Going down, though, upon one knee, he took hold of first one hand and
then the other, and, with Punch's assistance to his own natural
strength, he got Pen upon his back, hitching him up a little, and then a
little more, till he had drawn the wounded lad's arms across his chest.

This done, he knelt there on one knee, panting, before drawing a deep
breath prior to rising with his burden.  Then he tried to stand up, but
without success.

He waited, then tried again; but once more without success, for the
weight was greater than he had anticipated.

"Can't you manage it, sir?" said Punch.  "Here, let me try."

The little priest shook his head, but released one of Pen's hands and
caught hold of Punch by the shoulder.

"Yes, I know, sir," cried Punch, and after waiting till their new friend
was ready, the boy brought his strength to bear as well, and the little
priest stood up, gave his load a hitch or two to balance it well upon
his shoulders, and then looked sharply at Punch and then at his hat.

"Carry your hat, sir?" cried Punch excitedly, "of course I will.  It
will be all right."

The priest shook his head.

"What?  Oh, you mean stick it on, sir?  All right, sir; I understand.
What, is that wrong?  Oh, t'other side first!  There you are, then, sir.
Will that do?"

The priest shook his head, bent a little forward so as to well balance
his load, and then, setting one hand at liberty, he put his hat on
correctly, grasped both Pen's hands once more, and then began to march
out of the forest.

"I'm blessed!" muttered Punch.  "Didn't know they carried pickaback in
Spain.  The little chap's as strong as a horse--pony, I mean.--Does it
hurt you much, comrade?"

"Not much, Punch.  Don't talk to me, though; only, thank goodness that
we have found a friend!"  The little priest trudged sturdily on with his
load, taking a direction along the edge of the forest, which Punch noted
was different from any that he had traversed during his search, while at
the same time it became plain to him that their new friend was finding
his load rather hard work to carry, for first a little dew began to
appear; this dew gradually grew into tiny beads, the tiny beads ran into
drops, and the drops gathered together till they began to trickle and
run.

At this point the little priest stopped short by the side of a rugged,
gnarled tree, and, bending a little lower, rested his hands upon a
horizontal branch.

"Look here, sir," said Punch, "let me have a try now.  I ain't up to it
much, but it would give you a rest."

The priest shook his head, drew a deep breath, and trudged on again,
proving his strength to be greater than could have been imagined to
exist in such a little, plump, almost dwarf-like form, for with an
occasional rest he tramped on for the best part of an hour, till at last
he paused just at the edge of a deep slope, and struck off a little way
to his left to where a beaten track led to a good-sized cottage.

"Why couldn't I find all this?" thought Punch, as he gazed down into a
valley dotted with huts, evidently a village fairly well inhabited.
"Why, it was as easy as easy, only I didn't know the way."

"Ah!" ejaculated the priest, as he thrust open the door, stepped into a
very humbly furnished room, crossed at once to a rough pallet, and
gently lowered his burden upon the simple bed.  "The saints be praised!"
he said in Latin; and the words and the new position had such a reviving
effect upon the wounded rifleman that he caught at one of the priest's
hands and held to it firmly.

"God bless you for this!" he said, for unconsciously the priest's words
had been the opening of the door of communication between him and those
he had brought to his home; for though the words possessed a
pronunciation that was unfamiliar, the old Latin tongue recalled to Pen
years of study in the past, and he snatched at the opportunity of saying
a few words that the old man could understand.

A pleasant smile beamed on the utterly wearied out old fellow's
countenance as he bent over Pen and patted him gently on the shoulder.

"Good, good!" he said in Latin; and he set himself about the task of
supplying them with food.

This was simple enough, consisting as it did of bread and herbs--just
such a repast as might have been expected from some ascetic holy man
dwelling in the mountains; but the herbs in this case were silvery-brown
skinned Spanish onions with salt.

Then taking up a small earthen jar, he passed out of the dark room into
the sunshine; and as soon as the boys were alone Punch turned eagerly to
his companion.

"Not worse, are you, comrade?" he said anxiously.

"No, Punch, not worse.  But has he gone to fetch water?"

"Yes, I think so.  But just you tell me: does your leg hurt you much?"

"Quite enough," replied Pen, breaking off a portion of the bread and
placing a few fragments between his lips.  "But don't talk to me now.  I
am starving."

"Yes, I know that," cried Punch; "and call this 'ere bread!  It's all
solid crust, when it ought to be crumb for a chap like you.  Look here,
you could eat one of these onions, couldn't you?"

"No, no; not now.  Go on; never mind me."

"But I do mind you," cried the boy.  "And how can I go on eating without
you?  I say, though, what a chap you are!  What was that you said to
him?"

"Bless you for this!"

"Yes, I guessed that was it; but how did you say it so as to make him
understand?  I talked to him enough, but he couldn't make out a word of
what I said.  Was that there Spanish?"

"No, Punch; Latin."

"Ah, you seem to know everything."

At that moment a shadow fell athwart the door, and the speaker made a
dash at one of the muskets he had stood up against the wall on entering
the priest's cottage.

"Oh, I beg your pardon, sir!" he cried hastily.  "I didn't know it was
you."

The old man smiled, and entered with the dripping jar which he had just
filled from a neighbouring spring, and held it towards the boy.

"Me drink, sir?  Thank ye, sir," cried Punch; and, taking the jar, he
was raising it towards his parched mouth, but before it was half-way
there he recollected himself, and carried it to the priest's pallet,
where he went down on his knees and held it to Pen's lips, so that the
poor fellow, who was burning with feverish pain, was able to drink long
and deeply.

Pen was still drinking when Punch started and spilt a few drops of the
water as he turned hastily to look up at their host, who had laid a soft
brown hand upon his head, and was looking down at him with a pleasant
smile.

"What did he do that for, comrade?"

"I don't know," said Pen, drawing a deep breath, as he withdrew his lips
from the water.  "Yes, I do," he added quickly.  "He meant that he was
pleased because you let me drink first."

"Course I did.  I don't see anything to be pleased about in that.  But
have a drop more, comrade.  Quick, look sharp, before I go mad and
snatches it away from you, for I never felt like this before."

"Go on then now, Punch."

"But--"

"Go on then now; I can wait."

"Ah, then!" ejaculated the boy, with a deep sigh that was almost a
groan; and with trembling hands he held the jar to his lips and drank,
and recovered his breath and drank again as if it was impossible to
satisfy his burning thirst.

Then recovering himself, he held the jar against Pen's lips.

"Talk about wine," he said; "why, it ain't in it!  I don't wonder that
he looks so fat and happy, though he is dressed up like an old
scarecrow.  Fancy living here with a pump of water like this close at
hand!--Had enough now?--That's right.  Now you go on breaking off bits
of that bread and dipping it in the water while I cuts up one of these."

He took his knife from his pocket and began to peel one of the onions,
when their host placed the little vessel of salt close to his hand.

"Thank you, sir," cried Punch.  "You are a real gentleman."

The priest smiled and nodded, and watched the two lads as Pen took an
earthenware bowl that their host placed close to his hand after
half-filling it with water so that he could steep the bread, while Punch
deftly peeled one of the onions, not scrupling about littering the
floor, and then proceeded to quarter it and then divide the segments
again, dipping one in the salt and placing it between his wounded
companion's lips.

"Good! good!" said the priest again, smiling with satisfaction, and
laying his hand once more upon Punch's head.  "_Bonum! bonum_!"

"Bone 'em!" said Punch.  "Why, he give it to me!"

"He means it was good, Punch," said Pen, smiling.

"Good!  Yes," cried the boy, crunching up one of the savoury pieces of
vegetable.  "That's what he means, is it?  Thought he meant I had stolen
it.--_Bonum_, eh, sir?  I should just think it is!  Wants a bit more
salt; but my word, it's fine!  Have a bit more, comrade.  You eat while
there's a chance.  Never mind me.  I can keep both of us going.  Talk
about a dinner or a supper; I could keep on till dark!  Only wish,
though, I'd got one of their Spanish shillings to pay for it; but those
French beggars took care of them for me.  I can give him my knife,
though; and I will too, as soon as I have done with it.  How do you feel
now, comrade?"

"Better, Punch, better," replied Pen.  "Thank you," he continued, as his
companion broke off more bread for him and then began to peel another
onion.  "But you are paying more attention to me than you are to
yourself."

"Course I am, comrade.  Didn't you pay more attention to me when I was
wounded?"

Then turning to the priest, he pointed to the bread with his knife, and
then tapped the onion he had begun to quarter with the blade.

"Splendid, sir," he said, smiling.  "_Bonum! bonum_!"

The priest nodded, and then rose from where he had been seated watching
the boys and walked through the open door, to stand just outside
sweeping the scattered houses of the little village with his eyes, and
remaining there, so as to leave his two guests to themselves.

"You are beginning to get a bit better, comrade?" asked Punch anxiously.

"Yes, Punch, yes," was the reply.

"So am I.  Feel as if I am growing as strong as a horse again.  Why,
comrade, it was worth getting as hungry, thirsty, and tired as that, so
as to enjoy such a meal.  I don't mean speaking for you, because I know
you must be feeling that gnaw, gnaw, grinding pain in your wound.  But
do go on eating, and when you have had enough you shut-up shop and go
off to sleep.  Then I will ask that old chap to give me a bit of rag and
let me wash and tie up your wound.  I say, comrade, I hope he didn't see
me laugh at him.  Did you?"

"See you laugh at him?  No.  Did you?"

"Yes; couldn't help it, when he was carrying you, bent down like he was,
with that queer shako of his.  When I was behind he looked something
like a bear, and I couldn't help having a good grin.  Mum, though; here
he comes."

The old priest now came slowly in and stood watching the two lads, who
hurriedly finished their meal.

"Stand up, Punch," said Pen.

"What for?  I was just going to clear away."

"Stand up, I tell you!"

"All right;" and the boy rose immediately, staring hard at his
companion, as Pen, with a quiver of emotion in his utterance, laid his
hand over the remains of the black-bread, and said, gazing hard at the
old priest the while, "_Benedictus, benedicat_.  Amen."

"Ah!" said the priest, with a long-drawn breath of satisfaction;
"_Benedictus, benedicat_ Amen."

Then, taking a step towards them, he laid his hand upon the heads of his
two guests in turn and said a few words in an undertone.  Next, pointing
to the rough pallet-bed, he signed to Punch that he should lie down
beside his companion.

"What, take a snooze there, sir?" said Punch.  "Thank you, sir.  But not
yet.--You tell him in your Latin stuff, comrade, that I want to do a bit
of doctoring first."

"I'll try," said Pen wearily, already half-asleep; when, to the surprise
of both, the old man went outside and returned with a little wooden tub
of water which he brought to the bedside, and then, in spite of a
half-hearted protestation on the part of Punch, he proceeded to
carefully attend to the wound.

"Well, it's very good of you, sir," said the boy at last, after doing
his best to help, "and I wish I could make you understand what I say.
But you have done it a deal better than I could have done, and I am sure
if my comrade could have kept himself awake he would be ready enough to
say something in Latin that would mean you are a trump, and he's very
much obliged.  But, you see, all I know, sir, about Latin--"

"Latin!" said the old priest, beaming upon him with wondering eyes.

"Yes, sir--Latin, sir, as I learnt of him;" and then, pointing to the
carefully bandaged limb, "_bonum_, sir; _bonum_!"

The priest nodded, as he pointed to the pallet, where there was room for
Punch to lie down by his sleeping companion; but the boy shook his head.

"No, sir," he said, "that's your roost; I do know that," And, before his
host could interfere, the boy placed one musket within reach of Pen's
hand, the other beside the door, across which he stretched himself.

It was now nearly dark, and after placing his little home in something
like order, the old man turned to where Punch had been resting upon one
arm a few minutes before, watching his movements, but was now prone upon
the beaten-earth floor fast asleep, with a look of restfulness upon his
young, sunburnt countenance.

The old man stepped carefully across him, to stand outside peering
through the evening gloom down into the silent village before, satisfied
and content, he turned back into the hut, closing the door carefully
after him, placing across it a heavy oaken bar, before stepping back
across Punch, to stand in the middle of the floor deep in thought.

Then his hand began to move, from force of habit, searching for and
bringing out from beneath his gown a little, worn snuff-box, which
squeaked faintly as he turned the lid and refreshed himself with two
pinches of its brown contents.

This was done very slowly and deliberately in the semi-darkness, and
finally the box was replaced and a few grains of the dust flicked away.

"Ah!" ejaculated the old man with a long-drawn sigh, as he looked from
one to the other of his guests.  "English," he muttered.  "Soldiers, but
friends and defenders against the French.  English--heretics!  But," he
added softly, as if recalling something that had passed, "_Benedictus,
benedicat_.  Amen!"

Then, crossing softly to one corner of the room, he drew open what
seemed to be the door of a cupboard; but it was too dark to show that in
place of staircase there was a broad step-ladder.

This the old man ascended, and directly after the ill-fitting boards
which formed the ceiling of his humble living-room creaked as he stepped
upon them, and then there was a faint rustling as if he were removing
leaves and stems of the Indian corn that was laid in company with other
stores in what was undoubtedly a little loft, whose air was heavy with
various odours suggesting the presence of vegetables and fruit.

The oaken boards creaked once more as if the old man was stretching
himself upon them with a sigh of weariness and satisfaction.

"Amen!" he said softly, and directly after a ray of light shot across
the place, coming through the wooden bars in the gable of the sloping
roof, for the moon had just risen over the shoulder of the mountain to
light up the valley beneath, where the priest's hut clung to its rocky
wall; to light up, too, the little loft and its contents, and, above
all, the features of the sleeping man, gentle-looking in their repose.
And could the lads he had befriended have gazed upon him then they would
have seen nothing that appeared grotesque.



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

THROUGH A KNOT-HOLE.

"Yes, what is it?" cried Pen, starting up on the bed at a touch from his
companion, who had laid his hand gently on the sleeping lad's forehead,
and then sinking back again with a faint ejaculation of pain.

"Don't be scared, comrade; it's only me.  Does it hurt you?"

"Yes, my leg's horribly stiff and painful."

"Poor chap!  Never mind.  I will bathe it and dress it by-and-by if that
old priest don't do it.  When you jumped up like that I thought you
fancied it was the French coming."

"I did, Punch," said Pen with a faint smile.  "I seem to have been
dreaming all night that they were after us, and I could not get away
because my leg hurt me so."

"Then lie down again," said Punch.  "Things ain't so bad as that.  But,
I say, comrade, I can't help it; I am as bad as ever again."

"Bad!  Your wound?"

"No, no; that's getting all right.  But that old chap seems to have shut
us up here and gone.  Didn't happen to see, did you, where he put the
bread and onions?  I am quite hollow inside."

"No, Punch.  I fell asleep, and I can't recollect how or when."

"That's a pity, 'cause I know we should be welcome, and I can't make out
where he put the forage when he cleared away."

It was the sunrise of a bright morning, and the sounds of bleating goats
came plainly to the listeners' ears as the nimble animals were making
their way up the valley-side to their pasture.

Then all at once came the sharp creak of a board, and Punch dashed at
his musket, caught it up, cocked it, and stood ready to use it in
defence of his companion.

There was another creak or two, evidently from overhead, and as Punch
stood there on the alert, his brows knit and teeth clenched, Pen softly
stole his hand in the direction of his own musket and raised himself up
on the bed ready to help.

Again there came a creak or two, a rustling in the corner of the room as
of some one descending from above, and, though invisible, the muzzles of
the two pieces were slowly lowered in the direction of the noise, till
with a crack the door in the corner was thrust inward and the little old
priest stood looking wonderingly from one to the other as he raised his
hand.

It was as if this were a signal to disarm, when the two muskets were
hurriedly replaced, and Punch advanced towards the corner of the room,
offering to shake hands.

The priest smiled, took the boy's fingers, and then, thrusting to the
door, he crossed to the bed, felt Pen's forehead, and afterwards pointed
to the wounded leg.

The next minute he went to the door, removed the great bar, and admitted
the bright light and fresh air of the morning in company with the louder
bleating of the goats, which animals evidently came trotting up to the
old man as he stepped back to look searchingly round.  Then, after
speaking kindly to them, he drove them away, returned into the room
directly after with water, and proceeded to busily attend to Pen's
wound.

"That's good of him," said Punch petulantly, "and I am glad to see him
do it, comrade; but I wish he'd thought to attend to my wound too--I
mean, give me the chance to dress it myself with bread and onion
poultice.  I don't know when I felt so hollow inside."

But he had not long to wait, for, evidently well satisfied with the
state of Pen's injury, the priest finished attending to him as tenderly
as if his touch were that of a woman, and then Punch was at rest, for
the old man placed the last night's simple fare before them, signed to
them to eat, and, leaving them to themselves, went outside again, to
sweep the valley below with a long and scrutinising gaze.

Twice over during the next two days Pen made an effort to rise, telling
his companion when they were alone that if he had a stick he thought he
could manage to limp along a short distance at a time, for it was very
evident that the old man, their host, was uneasy in his own mind about
their presence.

"He evidently wants to get rid of us, Punch."

"Think so?" said the boy.

"Yes.  See how he keeps fidgeting in and out to go on looking round to
see if anybody's coming."

"Yes, I have noticed that," said Punch.  "He thinks the French are
coming after us, and that he will get into trouble for keeping us here."

"Yes; it's plain enough, so let's go."

"But you can't, comrade."

"Yes, I can."

"Not without making your wound worse.  That's what you would have said
to me."

"Then I must make it worse," said Pen angrily.  "Next time he comes in
I'll try to make him explain which way we ought to go to find some of
our people."

"Well, we can only try," replied Punch, "for 'tain't nice living on
anybody when you can't pay, and I do feel ashamed to eat as I do without
being able to find money for it.  'Tain't as if he was an enemy.  I'd
let him see then."

"Go and open the door, Punch, and let the fresh air in.  The sun does
make this place so hot!"

"Can't, comrade."

"Why not?"

"I did try while you was asleep; but he's locked us in."

"Nonsense!  He fastens the door with that big bar, and there it is
standing up by the side."

"Yes, but there's another one outside somewhere, for I tried, and the
door won't move.  I think he's gone to tell somebody we are here, and he
has shut us up so that we sha'n't get away while he's gone."

"No, no," said Pen impatiently.  "The old man means well to us; I am
sure of that."

"That's what I keep thinking, comrade; but then I keep thinking, too,
that he's going to get something given him for taking two prisoners to
give up to the French."

"Nonsense!  It is cowardly and ungenerous to think so."

"Then what's he been gone such a long time for?  It's hours since he
went away and shut us in."

"Hours?"

"Yes; you don't know, because you sleep so much."

"Well, I don't believe he'd betray us.  The old man's too good and
generous for that."

"Then, why has he made prisoners of us?" said Punch sourly.  "Why has he
shut us up?"

"To keep anybody else from coming in," said Pen decisively.  "What time
can it be now?"

"Getting on towards sunset.  Pst!  Here he comes--or somebody else."

All doubts as to who it was were put an end to the next minute, for the
familiar step of the old priest approached the door.  They plainly heard
what seemed to be another bar removed, and the old man stood before them
with a big basket on his arm, and remained looking back as if to see
whether he had been followed.

Then, apparently satisfied, he came in, closed the door, and smilingly
placed the contents of the basket before them.

He had evidently been some distance, and looked hot and weary; but he
was quite ready to listen to Pen's lame efforts to make known his
desires that they should now say good-bye, and, with his help as to
direction, continue their journey.

The little man stood up smiling before Pen, listening patiently to the
lad's blundering Latin, probably not understanding half, and only
replying with a word or two from time to time, these words from their
pronunciation puzzling Pen in turn; but it was evident to Punch, the
listener, that on the whole a mutual understanding was arrived at, for
all at once the priest offered Pen his arm, and as the lad took it he
helped him to walk across the room and back to the pallet, where he
pressed him back so that he sat down in spite of himself, when the old
man patted him on the shoulder, smiling gently, and then going down on
one knee passed his hand softly over the wound, and, looking up, shook
his head sadly.

"What does he mean by that, Punch?" said Pen excitedly, as he sat,
looking pinched of face and half-wild with excitement.

"It means, comrade, that you ain't fit to go on the march.  That's what
he means; I can make him out.  He is saying as you must give it up, and
I don't think now as he means any harm.--I say, you don't, do you, old
chap?" he continued, turning sharply on the priest.

It seemed as if their host comprehended the boy's words, for he patted
Punch on the shoulder, smiling, and pointed to the basket, which he
opened and displayed its contents.

Punch only caught a glimpse thereof; but he saw that there were bread
and onions and goat's-milk cheese before he turned sharply round,
startled by a quick tapping at the closed door.

It was not only he who was startled, for the priest turned sharply and
hurried to the door.

"Oh, comrade," cried Punch in an excited whisper, "don't say that he's
against us after all!"

But with the sturdy boy it was a word and a blow, for he made for his
loaded musket and caught it up.

"Hist!" ejaculated the priest, turning upon him and raising one hand.

"Oh, I don't care for that," whispered Punch, "and I don't mind what you
are.  If you sold us to the enemy you shall have the first shot."

The priest shook his hand at him as if to bid him be silent; and then,
placing his lips close to the door, he said something in Spanish, and
listened to a reply that came in a hurried voice.

"Ah!" ejaculated the priest; and then he whispered again.

The next minute he was busy barring the closed door; and this done, he
turned to the boys, to cross the room and open wide the cupboard-like
door in the corner.  Then, returning to Pen, he helped him to rise
again, guided his halting steps, and half-carrying him to the step-like
ladder urged him with a word or two to climb up.

"What does he mean, comrade?" whispered Punch.

"He means there's somebody coming, and we are to go upstairs."

"Let's stop here, comrade, and fight it out."

"No, he means well," replied Pen; and, making a brave effort, he began
to climb the ladder, pulling himself up, but panting heavily the while
and drawing his breath with pain.

As soon as the old man saw that he was being obeyed he turned to Punch,
caught up Pen's musket, and signed to the boy to follow him.

"Well, you can't mean to give us up," said Punch excitedly, "or you
wouldn't want me to keep my gun and his."

Disposition to resist passed away the next moment, for the old man
pressed the second musket into his hand and urged him towards the door.

"Can you get up, comrade?" whispered Punch, who was now all excited
action.

"Yes," came in a hoarse whisper, and a loud creak came from the ceiling.

"Ketch hold of these guns then.  He wants me to bring the
forage-basket.--Got 'em?" he continued, as he placed the two pieces
together and held them up against the ladder.

"_Bonum_!" ejaculated the priest, who stood close up, as the two muskets
were drawn upwards and disappeared.

"Right, sir," said Punch in answer, and he took hold of the basket,
raised it above his head, took a step or two, then whispered, "Basket!
Got it, comrade?"

"Yes," And it was drawn up after the muskets, the boards overhead
creaking loudly the while.

"Anything else, master?--What, take this 'ere jar of water?  Right!  Of
course!  Here, comrade, you must look out now.  Lean down and catch hold
of the jar; and take care as you don't slop it over."

"_Presto_!" whispered the priest.

"Hi, presto!" muttered Punch.  "That's what the conjuror said," he
continued to himself, "and it means, `Look sharp!'  Got it, comrade?"

"Yes," came in Pen's eager whisper.

"Oh, I say," muttered Punch, "I don't want my face washed!"

"_Bonum!  Presto_!" whispered the priest, as Punch shrank back with his
face dripping; and, pressing the boy into the opening, he closed the
door upon him and then hurried to the cottage entrance, took down the
bar, throw the door wide, and then began slowly to strike a light, after
placing a lamp upon the rough table.

By this time Punch had reached the little loft-like chamber, where Pen
was lying beside the water-vessel.

"What game's this, comrade?" he whispered, breathless with his
exertions.

"Hist!  Hist!" came from below.

"It's all very fine," muttered Punch to himself; and he changed his
position, with the result that the boards upon which he knelt creaked
once more.

"Hist!  Hist!" came again from below.

"Oh, all right then.  I hear you," muttered the boy; and he cautiously
drew himself to where he could place his eye to a large hole from which
a knot in the plank had fallen out, so that he could now see what was
going on below.

"Here, this caps me," he said to himself.  "I don't want to think he's a
bad un, but he's took down the bar and shoved the door wide-open.  It
don't mean, do it, that he's sent for some one to come and take us?  No,
or he wouldn't have given us our guns."

_Nick, nick, nick, nick_, went the flint against the steel; and the boy
watched the sparks flying till one of them seemed to settle lightly in
the priest's tinder-box, and the next minute that single spark began to
glow as the old man deliberately breathed upon it till the tinder grew
plain before the watcher's eyes, and the shape of the old man's bald
head, with its roll of fat across the back of the neck, stood out like a
silhouette.

Then there was a rustling sound, and the boy saw the point of a match
applied, and marked that that point was formed of pale yellow brimstone,
which began to turn of a lambent blue as it melted and quivered, and
anon grew a flame-colour as the burning mineral fired the match.

A deep, heavy breath as of relief rose now through the floor as the old
man applied the burning match to the wick of his oil-lamp, and Punch
drew back from the knot-hole, for the loft was dimly lit up by the rays
which came through the cracks of the badly laid floor, so that it seemed
to him as if this could be no hiding-place, for any one in the room
below must for certain be aware of the presence of any one in the loft.

In spite of himself, Punch started and extended his hand to catch at his
comrade's arm, for he could see him plainly, though dimly, lying with
the muskets on one side, the basket and jar of water upon the other,
while half-behind him, where he himself lay, there was the black
trap-like opening through which he had climbed.

The boy's was a very slight movement, but it was sufficient to make a
board creak, and a warning "Hist!" came once more from below; while, as
he looked downward, the boy found that he could see what the old man was
doing, as he drew his lamp across the rough table and bent over a little
open book, while he began muttering softly, half-aloud, as he read from
his Book of Hours.

Punch softly pressed his comrade's arm, and then there was a slight
movement and the pressure was returned.

"Wonder whether he can see too," thought Punch; and then in spite of
himself he started, and his breath seemed to come thick and short, for
plainly from a short distance off came the unmistakable tramp of
marching men.

"Then he has sold us after all," thought the boy, and by slow degrees he
strained himself over so that he could look through the knot-hole again.
To his great surprise the priest had not stirred, but was bending over
his book, and his muttered words rose softly to the boy's ear, while the
old man seemed to be in profound ignorance of the approaching steps.



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

IN THE NIGHT.

Nearer and nearer came the sound of marching, and it was all Punch could
do to keep from rising to his knees and changing his position; but he
mastered himself into a state of content by sending and receiving
signals with his companion, each giving and taking a long, firm
pressure, as at last the invisible body of approaching men reached the
cottage door, and an authoritative voice uttered the sharp command,
"_Halte_!"

Punch's eye was now glued to the hole.  He felt that if anybody looked
up he would be sure to see it glittering in the lamplight; but the
fascination to learn what was to be their fate was too strong to be
resisted.

From his coign of vantage he could command the doorway and the legs of a
small detachment of men, two of whom separated themselves and came full
into sight, one being an officer, from the sword he bore, the other a
rough, clumsy-looking peasant.  And now for the first time the little
priest appeared to be aware of the presence of strangers, for he slowly
lowered the hand which held the book, raised his head, and seemed to be
looking wonderingly at his visitors.

"Ah!" he said, as if just awakened from his studies; and he uttered some
words, which sounded like a question, to the peasant, who made a rough
obeisance and replied in apologetic tones, as if making an excuse for
his presence there.

And now the officer uttered an impatient ejaculation and took another
step into the room, saying in French, "I am sorry to interrupt your
devotions, father; but this fellow tells me that he saw a couple of our
English prisoners take refuge here."

"I do not speak French, my son," replied the old man calmly.

"Bah!  I forgot," ejaculated the officer; and then in a halting way he
stumbled through the same sentence in a very bad translation as he
rendered it into Spanish.

"Ah!" said the old man, rising slowly; and Punch saw him look as if
wonderingly at the rough peasant, who seemed to shrink back,
half-startled, from the priest's stern gaze.

There was a few moments' silence, during which the two fugitives
clutched each other's hands so tightly that Punch's nerves literally
quivered as he listened for the sharp cracking of the boards, which he
seemed to know must betray them to their pursuers.

But no sound came; and, as the perspiration stood out in big drops upon
his face in the close heat of the little loft, both he and his companion
could feel the horrible tickling sensation of the beads joining together
and trickling down their necks.

Then after what seemed to be quite an interval, the old man's voice
arose in deep, stern tones, as he exclaimed, "What lie is this, my son,
that you have uttered to these strangers?"

"I--I, father--" faltered the man, shrinking back a step and dropping
the soft cap he was turning in his hands upon the beaten floor, and then
stooping hastily to snatch it up again--"I--father--I--"

"I say, what lie is this you have told these strangers for the sake of
gaining a few accursed pieces of silver?  Go, before I--Ah!"  For there
was a quick movement on the part of the peasant, and he dashed out of
the door.

"_Halte_!" yelled the French officer, following the peasant outside; and
then, giving a sharp command, the scattered reports of some half-dozen
muskets rang out on the night-air, the two fugitives starting as at each
shot the flash of the musket lit up the loft where they lay.  Then a
short question or two, and their replies came through the open doorway,
and it became evident to the listeners that the peasant had escaped.

"Bah!" ejaculated the officer, as Punch saw him stride through the
doorway into the room again.  "Look here, father," he said in his bad
Spanish, "I paid this scoundrel to guide me to the place where he said
two Englishmen were in hiding; but he did not tell me it was with his
priest.  As he has brought us here I must search."

"For the escaped prisoners?" the old man said, drawing himself up with
dignity.  "I do not speak your language, sir, but I think that is what
you mean.  Can you repeat your words in Latin?  You might make your
wishes more plain."

"Latin?  No, I have forgotten all that," said the officer impatiently in
more clumsy Spanish than before.  "The English prisoners--my men must
search," And the fugitives, unable though they were to comprehend the
words, naturally grasped their meaning and held their breath till they
felt they must draw it again with a sound that would betray their
presence.

Then, with a slight laugh, the old priest laid his book upon the table
and took up the smoky oil-lamp.  As he did so, Punch could see his face
plainly, for it was lit up by the lamp, and the boy could perceive the
mocking mirth in his eyes as he raised it above his head with his left
hand, and walked slowly towards the door which covered the ladder-like
staircase; and then as Punch felt that all was over, the old man slowly
passed the light across and moved to the rough fireplace, and so on all
round the room, before raising the light above his head once more, and
with a comprehensive movement waving his right hand slowly round the
place as if to say, "You see there are no prisoners here."

"Bah!" ejaculated the French officer, and, turning angrily, he marched
out through the open doorway.

Punch was beginning to breathe again, but to his horror the officer
marched back into the room, for he had recollected himself.  He was the
French gentleman still.

"_Pardon, mon pere_!" he said sharply, keeping now to his own tongue.
"_Bon soir_!"

Then, marching out again, he gave a short command, and, from where
Punch's eye was still glued to the opening, he saw the soldiers turn
rightabout face, disappear through the open doorway, and then, _beat,
beat, beat_, the sound of marching began again, this time to die slowly
away, and he looked and listened till the pressure of Pen's hand upon
his arm grew almost painful.  But he did not wince, till a movement on
the part of the priest drew his attention to what was passing beneath;
and he saw him set down the lamp and cross to the door, which he closed
and barred, and then dropped upon his knees, as his head sank down upon
his clasped-together hands.



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

CONTRABANDISTAS.

"Think they have gone, comrade?" whispered Punch, after they had
listened for some minutes, and the tramp of the French soldiers had
quite died away.

"Yes; but speak low.  He will come and tell us when he thinks it is
safe."

"All right, I'll whisper; but I must talk.  I can't bear it any longer,
I do feel so savage with myself."

"Why, what about?"

"To think about that old chap.  I wanted to trust him, but I kept on
feeling that he was going to sell us; and all the time he's been doing
everything he could for us.  But, I say, it was comic to see him
carrying you.  Here, I mustn't talk about it, or I shall be bursting out
laughing."

"Hush!  Don't!" whispered Pen.

"All right.  But, I say, don't you think we might have a go at the prog?
There's all sorts of good things in that basket; and I want a drink of
water too.  But you needn't have poured a lot of it down my back.  I
know you couldn't help it, but it was horrid wet all the same."

"Don't touch anything, Punch; and be quiet.  He will be coming up soon,
I dare say."

"Wish he'd come, then," said the boy wearily.  "I say, how's your leg?"

"Hurts," said Pen curtly.

"Poor old chap!  Can't you turn yourself round?"

"No.  It's worse when I try to move it."

"That's bad; but, I say, you see now we couldn't have gone away unless I
carried you."

"But it seems so unfair to be staying here," said Pen bitterly.  "I
believe now I could limp along very slowly."

"I don't," said Punch.  "You see, those Frenchies have made up their
minds to catch us, and I believe if they caught sight of us creeping
along now they would let go at us again; and as we have had a bullet
apiece, we don't want any more."

"Hist!" whispered Pen; "they think we are here still, and they are
coming back."

"Nonsense!  Fancy!"

"Listen."

"Oh, murder!" whispered Punch.  "This is hard!"  For he could distinctly
hear hurried steps approaching the cottage, and he placed his eye to the
knot-hole again to see what effect it was having upon the old man.  But
he was so still as he crouched there in the lamplight that it seemed as
if he had dropped asleep, worn out by his efforts, till all at once the
footsteps ceased and there was a sharp tapping on the door, given in a
peculiar way, first a rap, then a pause, then two raps close together,
another pause, and then _rap, rap, rap_, quickly.

The old man sprang to his feet, unbarred the door, and seized it to
throw it open.

"It's all over, comrade," whispered Punch.  "Well, let's fill our
pockets with the prog.  I don't want to starve any more."

He placed his eye to the knot-hole again, and then turned his head to
whisper to his companion.

"'Tain't the Frenchmen," he said.  "It's one of the Spanish chaps with a
red handkercher tied round his head, and him and the old priest is
friends, for they are a hugging one another.  This chap has got a short
gun, and now he's lighting a cigarette at the lamp.  Can you hear me?"

"Yes; go on."

"There's four more of them outside the door, and they have all got short
guns.  One of them's holding one of them horse-donkeys.  Oh, I say,
comrade!" continued the boy, as a quick whispering went on and the
aromatic, pungent odour of tobacco floated up between the boards.

"What is it, Punch?  Oh, go on--tell me!  You can see, and I'm lying
here on my back and can make out nothing.  What does it all mean?"

"Well, I don't like to tell you, comrade?" whispered the boy huskily.

"Oh yes; tell me.  I can bear it."

"Well, it seems to me, comrade, as we have got out of the frying-pan
into the fire."

"Why, what do you mean?"

"That we thought the old chap was going to sell us to the French when
all the time it was to some of those Spanish thieves, and it's them as
has come now to take us away.--Here, wait a minute."

"I can't, Punch.  I can't bear it."

"I'm afraid you will have to, comrade--both on us--like Englishmen.  But
if we are to be shot for furriners I should like it to have been as
soldiers, and by soldiers who know how to use their guns, and not by
Spanish what-do-you-call-'ems--robbers and thieves--with little short
blunderbusters."

There was a few moments' pause, during which hurried talking went on.
Then a couple more fierce-looking Spaniards came in, saluted the priest,
lit cigarettes at the lamp, and propped the short carbines they carried
against the cottage-wall before joining in the conversation.

"What are they doing now, Punch?"

"Talking about shooting or something," whispered the boy, "and that old
ruffian's laughing and pointing up at the ceiling to tell them he has
got us safe.  Oh, murder in Irish!" continued the boy.  "He's took up
the lamp and he's showing them the way.  Here, Private Gray, try and
pull yourself together and let's make a fight for it, if we only have a
shot apiece.  They are coming up to fetch us now."

Pen stretched out his hand in the dim loft to seize his musket, but he
could not reach it, while in his excitement the boy did not notice his
comrade's helplessness, but seized his own weapon and stood up ready as
the light and shadows danced in the gloomy loft, and prepared to give
the armed strangers a warm reception.

And now the door at the foot of the ladder creaked and the light of the
lamp struck up as the old man began to ascend the few steps till he
could reach up, thrusting the lamp he carried before him, and placing it
upon the floor, pushing it farther along towards the two boys; and then,
drawing himself up, he lifted the light and held it so that those who
followed him could see their way.

At that moment he caught sight of Punch's attitude, and a smile broke
out across his face.

"No, no!" he said eagerly.  "_Amigos!  Contrabandistas_."

"What does he mean by that, Pen?"

"That they are friends."

And the head of the first friend now appeared above the trap in the
shape of the first-comer, a handsome, swarthy-looking Spaniard, whose
dark eyes flashed as his face was lit up by the priest's lamp, which
shot the scarlet silk handkerchief about his head with hues of orange.

"_Buenos Ingles, amigos_," he cried, as he noted the presented musket;
and then volubly he asked if either of them spoke French.

"Yes," cried Pen eagerly; and the rest was easy, for the man went on in
that tongue:

"My friend the priest tells me that you have had a narrow escape from
the French soldiers who had shot you down.  But you are safe now.  We
are friends to the English.  Do you want to join your people?"

"Yes, yes," cried Pen eagerly.  "Can you help us?  Are any of our
regiments near?"

"Not very," replied the Spanish smuggler, "for the French are holding
nearly all the passes; but we will help you and get you up into the
mountains, where you will be safe with us.  But our good friend the
_padre_ tells me that one of you is badly hurt, and he wants me to look
at your wound."

"Oh, it's not very bad," said Pen warmly.

"Ah, I must see," said the man, who had seated himself at the edge of
the opening up which he had come, and proceeded to light a fresh
cigarette.

The next moment, as he began puffing away, he seemed to recollect
himself, and drew out a cigar, which he offered with a polite gesture to
the old priest.

The old man set down the lamp which he had held for his visitor to light
his cigarette, and smiled as he shook his head.  Then, thrusting a hand
into his gown, he took out his snuff-box, made the lid squeak loudly,
and proceeded to help himself to a bounteous pinch.

"It is you who have the wound," continued the smuggler.  "You are, I
suppose, an officer and a gentleman?"

"No," said Pen, "only a common English soldier."

"But you speak French like a gentleman.  Ah, well, no matter.  You are
wounded--fighting for my country against the brigand French, and we are
friends and brothers.  I have had many a fight with them, my friend, and
I know what their bullets do, so that I perhaps can dress your wound
better than the _padre_--brave old man!  He can cure our souls--eh,
father?" he added, in Spanish--"but I can cure bodies better than he,
sometimes, when the French bullets have not been too bad.--Now, father,"
he added, "hold the lamp and let us see."

The priest nodded as he took up the lamp again in answer to the request
made to him in his own tongue; and he now spoke a few words to the
smuggler which resulted in the picturesque-looking man shaking his head.

"The good father," he said to Pen, "asks me if I think the French
soldiers will come back; but I think not.  If they do we shall have
warning from my men, who are watching them, for we are expecting friends
to meet us here--friends who may come to-night, perhaps many nights
hence--for us to guide them through the passes."

Then, drawing up his legs, he stepped into the loft and called down the
stairway to the men below.

There was a short reply, and steps were heard as if the two men had
stepped out into the open.

"Now, my friend," said the smuggler, as he went down on one knee and
leaned over Pen, whose hand he took, afterwards feeling his temples and
looking keenly into his eyes as the priest threw the light full in the
wounded lad's face.

"Why," he said, "you are suffering from something else besides your
wound.  My men will bring some wine.  I see you have water here.  You
are faint.  There, let me place you more comfortably.--That's better.
I'll see to your wound soon.--And you, my friend," he continued, turning
to Punch, who started and shook his head.

"No parly Frenchy," he said.

"Never mind," continued the smuggler.  "Your friend can.--Tell him to
eat some of the bread and fruit, and I will give him some of our grape
medicine as soon as my men bring the skin.--A good hearty draught would
do you good too, father," he added, turning to the old man and laying
his hand with an affectionate gesture upon the priest's arm.  "You have
been working too hard, and must have had quite a scare.  I am very glad
we have come."

A deep-toned voice came now from the room below, the smuggler replied,
and there was a sound of ascending steps; then another of the smugglers
appeared at the opening in the floor, thrusting something so peculiar
and strange through the aperture that, as it subsided upon the edge in
the full light cast by the smoky lamp, Punch whispered:

"Why, it's a raw kid, comrade, and I don't believe it's dead!"

Pen laughed, and Punch's eyes dilated as he saw the smuggler, who was
standing with his head and shoulders in the opening, take what looked
like a drinking-horn from his breast and place it upon the floor; and
then it seemed to the boy that he untied a thong that was about one of
the kid's legs, and the next moment it appeared as if the animal had
begun to bleed, its vital juice trickling softly into the horn cup, for
it was his first acquaintance with a skin of rich Spanish wine.

"There, my friend," said the smuggler, taking up the half-filled cup,
"they say this is bad for fever, but I never knew it do harm to a man
whose lifeblood had been drained.  Drink: it will put some spirit in you
before I perhaps put you to a good deal of pain."  And the next moment
he was holding the wine-cup to the wounded lad's lips.

"There," said the smuggler at last, as he finished his self-imposed
task, "I think you have borne it bravely."

"Oh, nonsense," said Pen quietly.  "Surely a soldier should be able to
bear a little pain."

"I suppose so," said his new surgeon; "but I am afraid that some of my
countrymen would have shouted aloud at what I have done to you.  I know
some of my men have when I have tied them up after they have been
unlucky enough to get one of the French Guards' bullets in them.  There
now, the best thing you can do is to go to sleep;" and, having
improvised a pillow for him with one of his follower's cloaks, the
Spaniard descended to the priest's room, where several of his men were
assembled; and after the priest had seen that Punch had been supplied
from the basket, he followed his friend to where the men were gathered,
leaving the boys in the semi-darkness, for he took down the lamp, whose
rays once more shone up through the knot-hole and between the
ill-fitting boards.

"Feel better, comrade?" asked Punch.  But there was no reply.  "I say,
you aren't gone to sleep already, are you?"

Still no answer, and, creeping closer, Punch passed his hand gently over
Pen's arm and touched his face; but this evoked no movement, only the
drawing and expiration of a deep breath which came warmly to the boy's
hand as he whispered:

"Well, he must be better or he wouldn't have gone to sleep like that.
Don't think I could.  And, my word, that chap did serve him out!"

The low sound of voices from below now attracted the boy's attention;
and, turning to the knot-hole, he looked down into the priest's room to
see that it was nearly full of the dark, fierce-looking Spaniards, who
were listening to the old padre, whose face shone with animation, lit up
as it was by the lamp, while he talked earnestly to those who bent
forward to listen to his words.

It was a picturesque scene, for the moon was now shining brightly, its
rays striking in through the open door and throwing up the figures of
several of the _contrabandistas_ for whom there was no room within the
cottage, but who pressed forward as if to listen to the priest's words.

"Why, he must be preaching to them," said Punch to himself at last, "but
I can't understand a word.  This Spanish seems queer stuff.  What does
_el rey_ mean, I wonder.  Dunno," he muttered, as he yawned drowsily.
"Seems queer that eating and drinking should make you sleepy.  Well, I
ain't obliged to listen to what that old fellow says.  Wonder whether
Private Gray knows what _el rey_ means?  Better not ask him, though, now
he's asleep.  Phew!  It is hot up here!  _Buzz, buzz, buzz_!  What is he
talking about?  Seems to make me sleepier to listen to him.--I say, not
awake, are you, comrade?"

There was no reply, and soon after Punch's heavy breathing was heard in
addition to the low murmur of the priest's voice, for the boy too, worn
out with what he had gone through during the past hours, was fast
asleep.



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

THE NEW FRIEND.

Punch woke up with a start to find that it was broad daylight, for the
sun was up, the goats on the valley-side were bleating, and a loud
musical bell was giving forth its constantly iterated sounds.

Punch looked down the knot-hole through which the bright morning rays
were streaming up as well as between the ill-fitting boards; but as far
as he could make out there was no one below, and he remained peering
down for some minutes, recalling all that had taken place overnight,
till, turning slightly, he caught sight of the basket of provisions.

"It makes one feel hungry again," muttered the boy, and his hand was
stretched out to draw the basket to his side.  "No, no," he continued,
pulling back his hand; "let's have fair-play.--Awake, comrade?--Fast
asleep.  That looks well.  My word, how I slept after that supper!  Wish
he would wake up, though.  Be no harm in filling up with water," And,
creeping softly to where the jar had been placed for safety, he took a
long, deep draught.  "Ah!" he ejaculated, "that will keep the hungries
quiet for a bit;" and then he chuckled to himself as his eye wandered
about the loft, and he noted how the priest used it for a storeroom, one
of his chief stores being onions.  "And so the French are holding the
country everywhere, are they?  And we are to lie snug here for a bit,
and then that Spanish chap is going to show us the way to get to our
regiment again.  Well, we have tumbled among friends at last; but I hope
we sha'n't have to lie here till all the fighting's done, for my comrade
and me owe the Frenchies something, and we should both like to get a
chance to pay it.--Here, I say, Private Gray, you might wake up now.
Water's only water, after all, and I want my breakfast.  I shouldn't
mind if there was none, but it's aggravating to your inside to see it
lying there.--Hallo!  There's somebody coming," for he heard voices from
somewhere outside.  "That's the old father," muttered the boy.  "Yes,
and that's that big Spanish chap.  Didn't he look fine with his silk
handkercher round his head and his pistols in his scarf?  I suppose he's
captain of the band.  What did Gray say they were--smugglers?  Why, they
couldn't be.  Smugglers have vessels by the seaside.  I do know that.
There's no seaside here up in the mountains.  What have they got to
smuggle?"

"Punch, you there?" came in a sharp whisper.

"Yes," whispered back the boy.  "All right.  Wake up.  Here's your
doctor coming to see to your wound."

The next minute the voices sounded from the room below, and the
smuggler's voice was raised and he called up in French:

"Are you awake there, my friends?"  And upon receiving an answer in the
affirmative he began to ascend the step-ladder cautiously, and
apparently quite at home.  As soon as he stood stooping in the loft he
drew back a rough shutter and admitted a little of the sunshine.

"Good-morning!" he said.  "How's the wound?  Kept you awake all night?"

Pen explained that he had only just woke up.

"Well, that means you are getting better," said the smuggler; and the
boys scanned the speaker's handsome, manly-looking face.

Just then fresh steps were heard upon the ladder, and the
pleasant-countenanced priest appeared, carefully bearing a large bowl of
water, and with a long strip of coarse linen hanging over his arm.

He smilingly nodded at the two lads, and then knelt by the side of the
bowl and watched attentively while Pen's wound was dressed and carefully
bandaged with the coarse strip of linen, after which a few words passed
in Spanish between the priest and the smuggler, who directly after
addressed Pen.

"He was asking me about getting you down to breakfast, but I tell him
that you will be better if you lie quite still for a bit, perhaps for a
few days, I don't think the French will come here again.  They are more
likely to forget all about you, for they are always on the move; but you
could do no good if you came down, and I shall not stir for some days
yet, unless my friends come, and I don't expect they will.  It would be
too risky.  So you lie here patiently and give your wound a chance to
get well before I try to take you through the pass.  Besides, your
friends are a long way off, and they will be sure to come nearer before
long.  You can make yourself very comfortable here, can't you, and eat
and drink and sleep?"

"But it is not fair to the father," said Pen, "and we have no money to
pay him for our lodging."

"You Englishmen are brave fellows," said the smuggler with a merry
laugh.  "You like to pay your way, while those French thieves plunder
and steal and ill-use every one they come near.  Don't you make yourself
uncomfortable about that, my lad.  As you hinted just now, the holy
father is poor, and it may seem to you hard that you should live upon
him; but you English are our friends, and so is the father.  Make
yourselves quite comfortable.  You are very welcome, and we are glad to
have you as our guests.--Eh, _padre mio_!" he continued, relapsing into
his own tongue.  "They are quite welcome, are they not?"

The priest nodded and smiled as he bent down and patted both the lads on
the shoulder, Punch contenting himself with what he did not understand,
for it seemed very friendly, while Pen took the hand that rested on his
shoulder and raised it to his lips.

Then the old man slowly descended, and the smuggler turned and continued
talking pleasantly to Pen.

"I have told him," he said, "that I am going to have breakfast with you
here, as my men have gone up to the mountains with the mules, and I
don't want to show myself and get a shot sent after me, for some of the
Frenchmen are down in the village still.  Be quiet for a day or two, and
if my friends come before you are able to march we will get you on one
of my mules.  Hallo!" he added, "the father's making a fire to cook us
some breakfast.  I shouldn't wonder if he bakes us a cake and makes us a
cup of good fragrant coffee.  He generally contents himself with bread
and herbs and a glass of water; but he knows my weaknesses--and I know
his," added the smuggler, laughing.  "He never objects to a glass of
good wine."

The smuggler's surmises were right, for before very long the old man
paid several visits to the loft, and ended by seating himself with the
others and partaking of a roughly prepared but excellent breakfast,
which included newly made cake, fried bacon and eggs, with a capital
bowl of coffee and goat's-milk.

"Well, my friend," said the smuggler, turning to Punch, "have you made a
good meal?"

Punch looked uncomfortable, gave his head a scratch, and frowned.

"Tell him, comrade, I can't jabber French," he said.

"He asks if you have made a good breakfast, Punch."

"Tell him it's splendid."

The wounded lad interpreted between them; while the smuggler now
addressed himself to his patient.

"And you?" he said.  "I suppose I may tell the father that his breakfast
was capital, and that you can make yourself happy here till you get
better?"

"Yes; and tell him, please, that our only regret is that we cannot show
our gratitude more."

"Tut, tut!  There is no need.  The father has helped you because you are
brave young Englishmen who are over here risking your lives for our
countrymen in trying to drive out the French invaders who have come down
like a swarm of locusts upon our land.  You understand very well, I
suppose,"--continued the Spaniard, rolling up a cigarette and offering
it to Pen, who took it and waited while the smuggler rolled up another
for Punch and again another for himself before turning and taking a
smouldering brand of wood from the priest, who had fetched it from the
hearth below--"you understand very well why the French are here?"

"Not very well," said Pen.  "I am an English soldier here with my people
to fight against the French, who have placed a French king in your
country."

"Yes," said the Spaniard, frowning, as he sent a curl of fragrant smoke
eddying towards the shutter-opening in the sloping roof, where as it
rose soft and grey it began to glow with gold as it reached the sunshine
that streamed across the little square; "they have thrust upon us
another of the usurper's kin, and this Napoleon has imprisoned our
lawful ruler in Valencay."

"I didn't know all this," replied Pen; "but I like to hear."

"Good!" said the smuggler, nodding and speaking eagerly.  "And you are
an Englishman and fighting on our side.  I know all this, and that your
Wellesley is a brave general who is only waiting his time to sweep our
enemies back to their own country.  You are a friend who has suffered in
our cause, and I can confide in you.  You will be glad to hear that the
prisoner has escaped."

"Yes," said Pen, forgetting the pain of his wound for the time in the
interest of what he heard, while Punch yawned and did not seem happy
with his cigarette.  "But what prisoner?"

"The King, Ferdinand."

Pen had never heard of any Ferdinand except one that he had read of in
Shakespeare; but he said softly, "I am glad."

"Yes," said the smuggler, "and I and my friends are glad--glad that,
poor smugglers though we are, and no soldiers, we can be of service to
his Majesty.  He has escaped from the French prison and is on his way to
the Pyrenees, where we can help him onward to Madrid.  For we as
_contrabandistas_ know all the passes through the frontier; and I and my
followers are waiting till he reaches the appointed spot, where some of
our brothers will bring him on to meet us, who will be ready to guide
him and his friends farther on their way to the capital, or place them
in safety in one of our hiding-places, our stores, of which we have many
here in the mountains.  He is long in coming, but he is on his way, and
the last news I heard is that he is hidden by my friends at one of our
_caches_ a score or so of leagues away.  He may be here to-night if the
pass seems clear.  It may be many nights; but he will come, and if the
French arrive--well, they will have to fight," said the smuggler, with a
smile; and he lightly tapped the butt of one of his pistols.  "It is
hard for a king to have to steal away and hide; but every league he
passes through the mountains here he will find more friends; and we
shall try, some of us, to guide your English generals to where they can
strike at our French foes.  Yes, my young friend," continued the
captain, rolling up a fresh cigarette, "and we shall serve our King well
in all this, and if some of us fall--well, it will be in a good cause,
and better than spending our lives in carrying smuggled goods--silks and
laces, _eau de vie_, cigars and tobacco duty free across these hills.
There, we are _contrabandistas_, and we are used to risking our lives,
for on either side of the mountains the Governments shoot us down.  But
we are patriots all the same, and we are risking our lives for our King
just as if we were of the best.  So get well, you two brave soldier
lads.  I see you have your guns, and maybe, as we have helped you, we
may ask you to help us.  You need not mind, for you will be fighting
against your enemies the French.  Come, light up your cigarette again.
You must be tired of my long story."

"Tired!  No," said Pen.  "I am glad to hear it, for I have often thought
and wondered why we English had come here to fight, and all I knew was
that Napoleon was conquering everywhere and trying to master the world."

"Which he will never do," said the smuggler, laughing.  "Strong as he
is, and masterful, he will never succeed, and you know why?"

"No, I can't say that," replied Pen, wincing.

"Then I will tell you.  Because the more he conquers the more enemies he
makes, and nowhere friends.  There, you are growing weary."

"Oh no," cried Pen.  "I shrank because I felt my wound a little more.  I
am glad to hear all this."

"But your friend--no?" said the _contrabandista_.

"That's because he cannot understand what you say; but I shall tell him
all that you have said when we are alone, and then he will be as much
your friend as I am, and quite as ready to fight in your cause, though
he is a boy."

"Good!" said the Spaniard.  "And some day I shall put you both to the
proof."



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

PUNCH PROVES STURDY.

"Thank you," said Punch.  "I didn't want to bother you, you know,
comrade, only you see I ain't like you--I don't know a dozen languages,
French and Latin, and all the rest of them; and when you get on talking
to that _contrabando_ chap it worries me.  Seems as if you are saying
all sorts of things about me.  He will keep looking at me all the time
he's talking.  I've got to know a bit now that it's meant for you, but
he will keep fixing his eyes like a pair of gimlets, and screwing them
into me; and then he goes on talking, and it makes you feel
uncomfortable like.  Now, you see, there was the other day, a week--no,
it was nine days--ago, when you said when he was telling you all about
the Spanish King coming here--"

"Nine days ago, Punch!  Nonsense!  We can't have been here nine days."

"Oh yes, we can.  It's ten, because there was the day before, when he
came first and doctored your leg."

"Well, you seem very sure about it; but I think you are wrong."

"I ain't," said Punch sturdily.  "Lookye here," and he thrust his hand
into his pocket and brought it out again full of little pebbles.

"Well, what have they got to do with it?"

"Everything.  I puts a fresh one into my pocket every day we stops."

"What for?"

"To count up with.  Each of those means two shillings that we owe the
old gentleman for our prog.  Knowing what a gentleman you are in your
ideas, I says to myself you will want to pay him some day--a shilling
apiece a day; that's what I put it at, and that means we owe him a
pound; and if we are going to stop here much longer I must try another
dodge, especially if we are going on the march, for I don't want to go
tramping along with half a hundredweight of stones in my pocket."

"You're a rum fellow, Punch," said Pen, smiling.

"That's what my mother used to say; and I am glad of it.  It does a
fellow good to see you burst out laughing.  Why, I haven't seen you grin
like that not since the day when I went down with the bullet in my back.
Here, I know what I'll do.  I'll chuck all these stones, and make a
scratch for every day on the stock of my musket.  'Tain't as if it was a
Bri'sh rifle and the sergeant coming round and giving you hooroar for
not keeping your arms in order.  That would be a good way, wouldn't it,
because the musket-stock wouldn't weigh any heavier when you had done
than when you had begun."

"Well, are you satisfied now, Punch, that he isn't talking about you?"

"Well, you say he ain't, and that's enough; but I want to know, all the
same, why that there Spanish King don't come."

"So does he.  You saw how earnest he was yesterday when he came and
talked to me, after seeing to my leg, and telling me that he shouldn't
do any more to it."

"Telled you that, did he?  I am glad.  And that means it's nearly well."

"It means it's so far well that I am to exercise it all I can."

"Glad of it.  But you ought to have telled me.  That is good news.  But
how are you going to exercise it if we are under orders not to go
outside this place for fear of the people seeing us and splitting upon
the father?"

"Yes, that is awkward, Punch."

"Awkward!  I call it more than awkward, for we did nearly get the poor
old chap into a bad scrape that first night.  Tell you what, though.
You ask Mr Contrabando to come some night and show us the way."

"Show us the way where?"

"Anywhere.  Up into the passes, as he calls them, right up in the
mountains, so that we shall know which way to go when we want to join
the Bri'sh army."

"It would be hardly fair to him, Punch," said Pen.

"Never mind that.  It would be fair to us, and it would be exercising
your leg.  Pretty muddle we should be in when the order comes to march
and your poor old leg won't go."

"Ah, well, we shall see, Punch," said Pen.

"Ah, I would; and soon.  It strikes me sometimes that he's getting
rather tired of his job, him and all his chaps too.  I've watched them
when they come here of an evening to ask questions of the father and lay
their heads together; and I can't understand their jibber-jabber, but
it's plain enough to see that they are grumpy and don't like it, and the
way they goes on screwing up those bits of paper and lighting up and
smoking away is enough to make you ill to watch them.  'Tain't as if
they were good honest pipes.  Why, they must smoke as much paper as they
do 'bacco.  Think their captain is going to give it up as a bad job?"

"No, Punch."

"Well, anyhow, I think you might ask him to take us out with him a bit.
If you don't like to do it on account of yourself, because, as you say,
he might think it ungrateful, you put it all on to me.  Look here.  You
says, if you can put it into French, as you wouldn't mind it a bit.  You
says as it's your comrade as wants to stretch his legs awful bad.  Yes,
and you tell him this too, that I keeps on worrying you about having
pins and needles in my back."

"Stuff, Punch!"

"That it ain't, honour bright.  It's lying on my back so much up there
in that there cock-loft.  It all goes dead-like where the bullet went
in.  It's just as if it lay there still, and swelled up nearly as big as
a cannon ball, and that lump goes all dead and dumb in needles and pins
like for ever so long.  There, you try it on him that way.  You say I'm
so sick of it as never was."

"And it was only yesterday, Punch, you told me that you were thoroughly
happy and contented here, and the country was so beautiful and we were
living so well that you didn't mind if we stayed here for months."

"'Twaren't yesterday.  It was the day before the day before that.  You
have got all the time mixed up.  I don't know where you would have been
if I hadn't counted up."

"Well, never mind when it was.  You can't deny that you said something
like that."

"Ah, but I wasn't so tired then.  I am all right again now, and so are
you, and I want to be at it.  Who's going to be contented shut-up here
like a prisoner?"

"Not bad sort of imprisonment, Punch."

"Oh no, that's all right enough, comrade; but I want to get back to our
chaps.  They'll be crossing us off as killed and wounded, and your
people at home will be thinking you are dead.  I want to get back to the
fighting again.  Why, if we go on like this, one of these days they will
be sarving out the promotions, and then where do we come in?  I say, the
captain didn't come to see us last week.  Think he will to-night?"

"I hope so, and bring us news."

"So do I.  But isn't it about time that Mr Padre came back?"

"Must be very near," said Pen.

"Quite," said Punch.  "He gets all the fun, going out for his walks,
a-roving up and down amongst the trees with his book in his hand.  Here,
if he don't volunteer to take us for a walk--something more than a bit
of a tramp up and down in the darkness--I shall vote that we run away.
There, if you don't talk to him I shall."

"Don't, Punch."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't want us to seem ungrateful."

"Oh, all right then.--I say, here he comes!" cried Punch the next
minute; and the old man trudged up to the door with the basket he had
taken away empty evidently well-filled again.

The priest looked tired as he came in, and according to his custom
looked questioningly at the boys, who could only respond with a shake of
the head; and this made the old man sigh.

"_Paz_!" he said sadly; and, smiling cheerfully, he displayed the
contents of his basket, stored the provisions he had brought in, and
then according to his wont proceeded to set out the evening meal up in
the loft.

This meal seemed to have lost its zest to the weary fugitives, and quite
late in the evening, when the lads, after sitting talking together in
whispers so as not to awaken the priest, who, evidently tired out by his
afternoon expedition, had lain down upon the pallet and was sleeping
heavily, were about to follow his example for want of something better
to do, he suddenly sprang up, ascended to the loft, and told Punch that
he was going out again on the watch to see if the friends expected were
coming along the pass, and ended by telling them that they had better
lie down to rest.

"That's settled it for me," said Punch, as the old man went out and
closed the door.  "I can't sleep now.  I want to follow him and stretch
my legs."

"But you can't do that, Punch."

"Ho!  Couldn't I?  Why, I could set off and run like I haven't done
since I was shot down."

"But you can't, Punch," said Pen gravely.  "It's quite possible that the
captain may come and ask where the father is.  I think we ought to
stay."

"Oh, very well, then, we will stop; but I don't call this half living.
I want to go and attack somebody or have them attack us.  Why, it's like
being dead, going on this round--yes, dead, and just as if they had
forgot to bury us because they've got too much to do.  Are you going to
lie down to sleep?"

"No," said Pen, "I feel as wakeful as you are."

"I say, look at that now!  Of course we can't go to sleep.  Well, we
might have a walk up and down outside in the dark.  No one could see us,
and it would make us sleepy again."

"Very well; only we mustn't go out of sight of the door, in case the
captain should come."

"Yah!  He won't come," grumbled Punch; and he descended to the lower
room, scraped the faintly glowing wood-ashes together, and then went to
the door, peered out, and listened, and afterwards, followed by his
comrade, he began to tramp up and down the shelf-like ledge upon which
the priest's cottage was built.

It was very dark, for the sky was so overcast that not a star was
visible; and, as if feeling depressed by the silence, neither was
disposed for talk, and the consequence was that at the end of about half
an hour Pen caught his companion by the arm and stopped short.  His
reason was plain enough, for Punch uttered a faint "Hist!" and led the
way to the cottage door, where they both stopped and listened to a sound
which had grown plainer--that of steps coming swiftly towards them.
They hardly had time to softly close the door and climb up to the loft
before the door was thrown open, there was a quick step below, and a
soft whistle which they well knew now was uttered at the foot of the
steps.

Pen replied in the way he had learned, and directly after came the
question, "Where's the father?"

"He went out an hour ago," Pen replied.

"Which way?"

"By the upper pass," replied Pen.

There was a sharp ejaculation, expressive of impatience, the steps
crossed the room again, the door creaked as it was shut to, and then the
steps died away.

"There, Punch, you see I was right," said Pen.

"Who's to see anybody's right when it's as black as your hat?" replied
the boy impatiently.

"Well, I think it's right if you don't.  What shall we do--go to sleep
now?"

"Go to sleep?" growled the boy irritably.  "Go to wake you mean!  I tell
you what I am just fit for."

"Well, what?" said Pen good-humouredly.

"Sentry-go.  No fear of anybody catching me asleep who came on his
rounds.  I used to think that was the very worst part of being a
soldier, but I could just enjoy it now.  'Tis miserable work, though,
isn't it?"

"No," replied Pen thoughtfully.

"But you get very sleepy over it, don't you?"

"I never did," said Pen gravely, as they both settled themselves upon
the floor of the loft, and the bundles of straw and dried-fern litter
which the priest had added for their comfort rustled loudly while they
placed themselves in restful postures.  "I used to find it a capital
time to think, Punch."

"What about?"

"The old days when I was a boy at school, and the troubles I had had.
Then I used to question myself."

"How did you do that?"

"How did I do that?  Why, I used to ask myself questions as to whether I
hadn't done a very foolish thing in enlisting for a soldier."

"And then of course you used to say no," cried Punch.  "Anybody could
answer that question.  Why didn't you ask yourself some good tough
questions that you couldn't answer--regular puzzlers?"

"I always found that puzzle enough, Punch," said Pen gravely; "and I
have never been able to answer it yet."

"Well, that's a rum un," said Punch, with a sort of laugh.  "You have
often called me a queer fellow.  You do puzzle me.  Why, of course you
did right.  You are not down-hearted because we have had a bit of a
venture or two?  It's all experience, and you like it as much as I do,
even if I do grumble a bit sometimes because it's so dull.  Something's
sure to turn up before long, and--What did you do that for?"

"Pst!" whispered Pen; and Punch was silence itself, for he too caught
the hurrying of many feet, and low voices in eager converse coming
nearer and nearer; and the next minute there was the heavy thump as of a
fist upon the door, which was thrust open so roughly that it banged
against the wall.

And then midst the sounds of heavy breathing and the scuffling of feet
as of men bearing in a heavy burden, the room below seemed to be rapidly
filling up, and the door was closed and barred.



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

THE ROYAL VISITOR.

The two lads grasped hands as they listened in the intense darkness to
what seemed to be a scene of extreme excitement, the actors in it having
evidently been hurrying to reach the cottage, which they had gained in a
state of exhaustion; for those who spoke gave utterance to their words
as if panting and breathless with their exertions, while from their
whispering it seemed evident that they were afraid of being overheard.

The two listeners dared not stir, for the least movement would have
betrayed them to those below, and before many minutes had elapsed they
felt certain that the present invaders of the cottage were strangers.

All at once some one gave vent to a piteous sigh and an ejaculation or
two as if of pain; and this was followed by what sounded to be words
that were full of pity and compassion, mingled with great deference,
towards the sufferer.

Pen could make out nothing more in the hurried and whispered
conversation than that it was in Spanish, and for the time being he felt
somewhat dazed as to who the new-comers were.  He was too much startled
to try and puzzle out matters calmly, and for a while he devoted himself
to the preservation of utter silence.

At last, though, a few more utterances below, spoken in a deferential
tone, followed by a sharp, angry command or two, sent a flash through
his brain, and he pressed Punch's arm with greater energy in an effort
to try and convey to his companion the thought that he knew who the
fresh-comers must be.

"If they would only strike a light," he thought to himself, "I might get
a peep through the knot-hole"--which was always carefully kept clear for
inspection of what took place below--"and I could see then at a glance
whether this was the expected King with his followers."

But the darkness remained profound.

"If it is the escaped Spanish King," he said to himself, "it will be
plain to see.  It must be, and they have been pursued by the French, or
they wouldn't be afraid to speak aloud."

Then he began to doubt again, for the Spanish King and his followers,
who needed a guide to lead them through the intricate passes of the
mountains, would not have known their way to the cottage.

"Nonsense!" he thought to himself, as fresh doubts arose.  "The old
priest or the captain must have met them and brought them here."

Then all was silent for a time, till it was evident that some one was
moving by the fireplace; and then there was the sound of some one
blowing.

This was followed by a faint glow of light; the blowing sound increased,
and it was evident that the wood-ashes possessed sufficient life to be
fanned into flame, which increased as the embers were evidently being
drawn together by a piece of metal; and before another minute had
elapsed Pen made out through the knot-hole that the instrument used for
reviving the fire was the blade of a sword.

Then some one sighed deeply and uttered a few words in an imperious tone
whose effect was to set some one fanning the fire with more energy, when
the cracks in the boarded floor began to show, and the watcher above
began to get glimpses of those below him.

A few minutes later the embers began to crackle, the members of the
party below grew more visible, and some one uttered a few words in an
eager tone--words which evoked an ejaculation or two of satisfaction,
followed by an eager conversation that sounded like a dispute.

This was followed by an angry, imperious command, and this again by what
sounded to Pen like a word or two of protest.  Then the sharp,
commanding voice beat down the respectful objection, one of the flaming
brands seemed to rise from the hearth, and directly after the smoky wick
of the _padre's_ lamp flamed up.

And now Pen had a view of the crowded room which completely dashed his
belief in the party being the Spanish King and his followers, for he was
looking down upon the heads of a gathering of rough-looking, unshorn,
peasant-like men, for the most part in cloaks.  Some wore the regular
handkerchief tied round their heads and had their sombrero hats held in
hand or laid by their sides.  All, too, were well armed, wearing swords
and rough scarves or belts which contained pistols.

This scene was enough to sweep away all thought of this being a king and
his courtiers, for nothing could have been less suggestive thereof, and
the lad looked in vain for one of them who might have been wounded or so
wearied out that he had been carried in.

Then for a moment Pen let his thoughts run in another direction, but
only for a few moments.  These were evidently not any of the smuggler's
men.  He had seen too many of them during his sojourn at the priest's
hut not to know what they were like--that is to say, men accustomed to
the mountains; for they were all in their way jaunty of mien.  Their
arms, too, were different, and once more the thought began to gain
entrance that his former surmise was right, and that these bearers of
swords who had spoken in such deferential tones to one of their party
were after all faithful followers or courtiers who had assumed disguises
that would enable them to pass over the mountains unnoticed.  Which then
was the King?

"If some of them would speak," said Pen to himself, "it would be easier
to tell."

But the silence, save for a faint crack or two from the burning wood,
remained profound.

At last the watcher was beginning to come to a conclusion and settle in
his own mind that one of the party who was bending forward towards the
fire with his cloak drawn about his face might be the King; and his
belief grew stronger as a flickering flame from the tiny fire played
upon this man's high boots, one of which displayed a rusty spur.

The next minute all doubt was at an end, for one of the men nearest the
door uttered a sharp ejaculation which resulted in the occupants of the
_padre's_ dwelling springing to their feet.  Swords leapt from their
scabbards, and some of the men drew their cloaks about their left arms,
while others snatched pistols from their belts, and there followed the
sharp clicking of their locks.

It was evident they were on the alert for anticipated danger, and Pen's
eyes glistened, for he could hear no sound.  But he noted one thing, and
that was that the booted and spurred individual in the cloak did not
stir from where he was seated upon the priest's stool by the fire.

Then, with a gesture of impatience, Pen saw him throw back his cloak and
put his hand to his belt to draw forth a pistol which refused to come.
Then with an angry word he gave a fierce tug, with the result that the
weapon came out so suddenly that its holder's arm flew up, the pistol
exploded with a loud crash, the bullet with which it was loaded passed
upward through the boarded ceiling, and Pen started and made a snatch at
the spot where his musket was propped up against the wall, while Punch
leaped from where he had crouched and came down again upon the
ill-fitting boards, which cracked loudly as if the boy were going
through.



CHAPTER THIRTY.

AN AWKWARD POSITION.

There was a burst of excitement, hurried ejaculations, and half-a-dozen
pistols were rapidly discharged by their holders at the ceiling; while
directly after, in obedience to a command uttered by one of the party, a
dash was made for the corner door, which was dragged open, and, sword in
hand, several of the men climbed to the loft.  The boards creaked, there
was a hurried scuffle, and first Punch and then Pen were compelled to
descend into the room below, dragged before the leader, forced upon
their knees, and surrounded by a circle of sword-points, whose bearers
gazed at their leader, awaiting his command to strike.

The leader sank back in his seat, nursing the pistol he had accidentally
discharged.  Then with his eyes half-closed he slowly raised it to take
aim at Pen, who gazed at him firmly and without seeming to blench, while
Punch uttered a low, growling ejaculation full of rage as he made a
struggle to escape, but was forced back upon his knees, to start and
wince as he felt the point of a sword touch his neck.  Then he cried
aloud, "Never mind, comrade!  Let 'em see we are Bri'sh soldiers and
mean to die game."

Pen did not withdraw his eyes from the man who held his life in hand,
and reached out behind him to grasp Punch's arm; but his effort was
vain.

Just then the seated man seemed to recollect himself, for he threw the
empty pistol upon the floor and tugged another from his belt, cocked it,
and then swung himself round, directing the pistol at the door, which
was dashed open by the old priest, who ran in and stood, panting hard,
between the prisoners and the holder of the pistol.

He was too breathless to speak, but he gesticulated violently before
grasping Pen's shoulder with one hand and waving the other round as if
to drive back those who held the prisoners upon their knees.

He tried to speak, but the words would not come; and then there was
another diversion, for a fresh-comer dashed in through the open door,
and, regardless of the swords directed at him, forced his way to where
the prisoners were awaiting their fate.

He, too, was breathless with running, for he sank quickly on one knee,
caught at the hand which held the pistol and raised it quickly to his
lips, as he exclaimed in French:

"No, no, your Majesty!  Not that!"

"They are spies," shouted the tired-looking Spaniard who had given the
command which had sent his followers to make the seizure in the loft.

"No spies," cried the _contrabandista_.  "Our and his Majesty's
friends--wounded English soldiers who had been fighting upon our side."

There was a burst of ejaculations; swords were sheathed, and the
dethroned Spanish monarch uncocked his pistol and thrust it back into
his belt.

"They have had a narrow escape," he said bitterly.  "Why were you not
here with the friends you promised?"

"They are outside awaiting my orders, your Majesty," said the smuggler
bluntly.  "May I remind you that you are not to your time, neither have
you come by the pass I promised you to watch."

"Bah!  How could I, when I was driven by these wretched French, who are
ten times our number?  We had to reach the trysting-place how we could,
and it was natural that these boys should be looked upon as spies.  Now
then, where are you going to take us?  The French soldiers cannot be far
behind."

"No, sire; they are very near."

"And your men--where are they?"

"Out yonder, sire, between you and your pursuers."

"Then are we to continue our flight to-night?"

"I cannot tell yet, sire.  Not if my men can hold the enemy at bay.  It
may be that they will fall back here, but I cannot say yet.  I did
intend to lead you through the forest and along a path I know by the
mountain-side; but it is possible that the French are there before us."

"And are these your plans of which you boasted?" cried the King
bitterly.

"No, sire," replied the _contrabandista_ bluntly.  "Your Majesty's delay
has upset all those."

The King made an angry gesticulation.

"How could I help it?" he said bitterly.  "Man, we have been hemmed in
on all sides.  There, I spoke hastily.  You are a tried friend.  Act as
you think best.  You must not withdraw your help."

"Your Majesty trusts me, then, again?"

"Trust you?  Of course," said the King, holding out his hand, which the
smuggler took reverently and raised to his lips.

Then dropping it he turned sharply to the priest and the two prisoners.

"All a mistake, my friends.  There," he added, with a smile, "I see you
are not afraid;" and noting Punch's questioning look, he patted him on
the shoulder before turning to Pen again.  "Where are your guns?" he
said.

Pen pointed up to the loft.

"Get them, then, quickly.  We shall have to leave here now."

He had hardly spoken before a murmur arose and swords were drawn, for
there was a quick step outside, a voice cried "_El rey_!" and one of the
smuggler's followers pressed through to whisper a few words.

"Ah!" cried the recipient, who turned and said a few words in Spanish to
the King, who rose to his feet, drew his rough cloak around him, and
stood as if prepared for anything that might come.

Just then Pen's voice was heard, and, quite free now, Punch stepped to
the door and took the two muskets that were passed down to him.  Then
Pen descended with the cartouche-boxes and belts, and handed one to
Punch in exchange for a musket, and the two lads stood ready.

The smuggler smiled approval as he saw his young friends' prompt action,
and nodded his head.

"Can you walk?" he said.

Pen nodded.

"And can you fire a few shots on our behalf?"

"Try us," replied Pen.  "But it rather goes against the grain after what
we have received.  You only came in time."

"Yes, I know," replied the smuggler.  "But there are many mistakes in
war, and we are all friends now."

The _contrabandista_ turned from him sharply and hurried to the door,
where another of his followers appeared, who whispered a few words to
him, received an order, and stepped back, while his leader turned to the
father and said something, which resulted in the old man joining the two
lads and pressing their hands, looking at them sadly.

The next minute the smuggler signed to them to join his follower who was
waiting by the door, while he stepped to the King, spoke to him firmly
for a few minutes, and then led the way out into the darkness, with the
two English lads, who were conscious that they were being followed by
the royal fugitive and his men, out along the shelf in the direction of
the forest-path, which they had just gained when a distant shot rang
out, to be repeated by the echoes and followed by another and another,
ample indication that there was danger very near at hand.

The captain said a few words to his follower, and then turned to Pen.

"Keep with this man," he said, "when I am not here.  I must go back and
see what is going on."

The lads heard his steps for a minute amongst the crackling husks of the
past year's chestnuts and parched twigs.  Then they were merged with
those of the party following.

"I say," whispered Punch, "how's your leg?"

"I had almost forgotten it," replied Pen in a whisper.

"That's good, comrade.  But, I say, all that set a fellow thinking."

"Yes; don't talk about it," replied Pen.

"All right.  But I say, isn't this lovely--on the march again with a
loaded gun over your shoulder?  If I had got my bugle back, and one's
officer alongside, I should be just happy.  Think we shall have a chance
of a shot or two?"

The smuggler, who was leading the way, stopped short and turned upon
Punch with a deep, low growl.

"Eh?" replied Punch.  "It's no good, comrade; I can't understand a
word."

The man growled again, and laid his hand sharply upon the boy's lips.

"Here, don't do that!" cried Punch.  "How do I know when you washed that
last?"

"Be quiet, Punch.  The man means we may be nearing the enemy."

"Why don't he say so, then?" grumbled Punch; and their guide grunted as
if satisfied with the effect of Pen's words, and led on again in and out
a rugged, winding path, sometimes ascending, sometimes descending, but
never at fault in spite of the darkness.

Sometimes he stopped short to listen as if to find out how near the
King's party were behind, and when satisfied he led on again, giving the
two lads a friendly tap or two upon the shoulder after finding that any
attempt at other communication was in vain.

At last after what must have been about a couple of hours' tramp along
the extremely rugged path, made profoundly dark by the overhanging low,
gnarled trees, he stopped short again and laid his hand in turn upon the
lips of the boys, and then touched Pen's musket, which he made him
ground, took hold of his hands in turn and laid them on the muzzle, and
then stood still.

"What's he up to now?" whispered Punch, with his lips close to his
comrade's ear.

"I think he means we are to halt and keep guard."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" muttered Punch; and he stood fast, while the
smuggler patted him on the shoulder and went off quickly, leaving the
boys alone, with Punch muttering and fuming in his intense desire to
speak.  But he mastered himself and stood firm, listening as the steps
of the party behind came nearer and nearer till they were close at hand.
This was too much for Punch.

"Lookye here," he whispered; "they will be ready to march over us
directly.  How are we going to tell them to halt?"

"Be silent.  Perhaps they will have the sense to see that they ought to
stop.  Most likely there are some amongst them who understand French."

Pen proved to be right in his surmise, for directly after a portion of
the following party were close to them, and the foremost asked a
question in Spanish.  "_Halte_!" said Pen sharply, and at a venture; but
it proved sufficient.  And as he stood in the dim, shadowy, overhung
path the word was passed along to the rear, and the dull sound of
footsteps died out.  "Bravo!" whispered Punch.  "They are beginning to
understand English after all.  I say, ain't that our chaps coming back?"

Pen heard nothing for a few moments.  Then there was the faint crack of
a twig breaking beneath some one's feet, and the smuggler who was acting
as their guide rejoined them.

"_Los Franceses_," said the man, in a whisper; and he dropped the
carbine he carried with its butt upon the stony earth, rested his hands
upon the muzzle, and stood in silence gazing right away, and evidently
listening and keenly on the alert, for he turned sharply upon Punch, who
could not keep his tongue quiet.

"Oh, bother!  All right," growled the boy.  "Here, comrade," he
whispered to Pen; "aren't these 'ere cork-trees?"

"Perhaps.  I'm not sure," whispered his companion impatiently.  "Why do
you ask?  What does it matter now?"

"Lots.  Just you cut one of them.  Cut a good big bung off and stuff it
into my mouth; for I can't help it, I feel as if I must talk."

"Urrrrrrr!" growled the guide; and then, "Hist! hist!" for there was a
whispering behind, and directly after the _contrabandista_ captain
joined them, to ask a low question in Spanish.

"The enemy are in front.  They are before us," said the smuggler in
French to Pen.

Then he spoke to his follower, who immediately began to retrace his
steps, while the leader followed him with the two lads, who were led
back to where the King was waiting in the midst of his followers; and
now a short colloquy took place which resulted in all facing round and
following the two smugglers, who retraced their path for the next
half-hour, and then suddenly struck off along a rugged track whose
difficulty was such that it was quite plain to the two lads that they
were striking off right up into the mountains.

It was a wearisome route that was only followed with great difficulty,
and now it was that Pen's wounded leg began to give him such intense
pain that there were moments when he felt that he must break down.

But it came to an end at last, just before daybreak, in the midst of
what seemed to be an amphitheatre of stones, or what might have been
some quarry or place where prospecting had taken place in search of some
one or other of the minerals which abounded in parts of the sterile
land.

And now a halt was made, the smuggler picking out a spot which was rough
with bushes; and here he signed to the two lads to lie down and rest, a
silent command so welcome that Pen sank at full length at once, the
rugged couch seeming to him so welcome that it felt to him like down.

A few specks of orange light high up in the sky told that sunrise was
very near at hand, and for a few minutes Pen gazed upwards, rapt in
wonder by the beauty of the sight.  But as he lay and listened to the
low murmur of voices, these gradually grew fainter and apparently more
distant, while the ruddy specks of light paled and there seemed to be
nothing more, for pain and exhaustion had had their way.  Thoughts of
Spaniards, officers and men, and the _contrabandistas_ with their arms
of knife and carbine, were quite as naught, danger non-existent, and for
the time being sleep was lord of all.



CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

A DREAM OF A RAMROD.

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?"

"Good."

"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?"



CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

A CAVERNOUS BREAKFAST.

"I say, comrade," whispered Punch; "are we going to begin soon?"

The boys were seated upon a huge block of stone watching the coming and
going of the _contrabandistas_, several of whom formed a group in a nook
of the natural amphitheatre-like chasm in which they had made their
halt.

This seemed to be the entrance to a gully, down which, as they waited,
the lads had seen the smuggler-leader pass to and fro several times
over, and as far as they could make out away to their left lay the track
by which they had approached during the night; but they could not be
sure.

That which had led them to this idea was the fact that it seemed as if
sentries had been stationed somewhere down there, one of whom had come
hurriedly into the amphitheatre as if in search of his chief.

"I say, comrade," said Punch, repeating his question rather impatiently,
"aren't we going to begin soon?  I feel just like old O'Grady."

"How's that, Punch?"

"What he calls `spoiling for a fight, me boy.'"

"Oh, you needn't feel like that, Punch," said Pen, smiling.

"Well, don't you?"

"No.  I never do.  I never want to kill anybody."

"You don't?  That ain't being a good soldier."

"I can't help that, Punch.  Of course, when one's in for it I fire away
like the rest; but when I'm cool I somehow don't like the feeling that
one has killed or wounded some brave man."

"Oh, get out," cried the boy, "with your `killed or wounded some brave
man!'  They ain't brave men--only Frenchies."

"Why, Punch, there are as brave men amongst the French as amongst the
English."

"Get out!  I don't believe that," said the boy.  "There can't be.  If
there were, how could our General with his little bit of an army drive
the big army of Frenchies about as he does?  Ask any of our fellows, and
they will tell you that one Englishman is worth a dozen Frenchies.  Why,
you must have heard them say so."

"Oh yes, I have, Punch," said Pen, laughing, as he nursed his leg, which
reminded him of his wound from time to time.  "But I don't believe it.
It's only bluster and brag, of which I think our fellows ought to be
ashamed.  Why, you've more than once seen the French soldiers drive our
men back."

"Well, yes," said Punch grudgingly.  "But that's when there have been
more of them."

"Not always, Punch."

"Why is it, then?"

"Oh, when they have had better positions and our officers have been
outflanked."

"Now you are dodging away from what we were talking about," said Punch.
"You were saying that you didn't like shooting the men."

"Well, I don't."

"That's because you don't understand things," cried the boy
triumphantly.  "You see, although I am only a boy, and younger than you
are, I am an older soldier."

"Are you, Punch?" said Pen, smiling.

"Course I am!  Why, you've only been about a year in the regiment."

"Yes, about a year."

"Well," cried the boy triumphantly, "I was born in it, so I'm just as
old a soldier as I am years old.  You needn't mind shooting as many of
them as you can.  They are the King's enemies, and it is your duty to.
Don't the song say, `God save the King?'  Well, every British soldier
has got to help and kill as many enemies as he can.  But I say, we are
going to fight for the Spanish King, then?  Well, all right; he's our
King's friend.  But where is he now?  I haven't seen anything of him
this morning.  I hope he hasn't run away and left us to do the
fighting."

"Oh no," said Pen, "I don't think so.  Our smuggler friend said we were
surrounded by the French."

"Surrounded, eh?" cried Punch.  "So much the better!  Won't matter which
way we fire then, we shall be sure to bring some one down.  Glad you
think the Spanish King ain't run away though.  If I was a king I know
what I should do, comrade," continued Punch, nursing his musket and
giving it an affectionate rub and pat here and there.  "Leg hurt you,
comrade?"

"No, only now and then," said Pen, smiling.  "But what would you do if
you were a king?"

"Lead my army like a man."

"Nonsense!  What are the generals for?"

"Oh, you would want your generals, of course, and the more brave
generals the King has--like Sir Arthur Wellesley--the better.  I say,
he's an Irishman, isn't he?"

"Yes, I believe so," replied Pen.

"Yes," continued Punch after a minute.  "They are splendid fellows to
fight.  I wonder whether he's spoiling for one now.  Old O'Grady would
say he was.  You should hear him sometimes when he's on the talk.  How
he let go, my boy, about the Oirish!  Well, they are good soldiers, and
I wish, my boy, old O was here to help.  O, O, and it's O with me, I am
so hungry!  Ain't they going to give us anything to eat?"

"Perhaps not, Punch, for it's very doubtful whether our friends keep
their provisions here."

"Oh, I say!" cried the boy, with his face resembling that of the brave
man in _Chevy Chase_ who was in doleful dump, "that's a thing I'd see to
if I was a king and led my army.  I would have my men get a good feed
before they advanced.  They would fight ever so much better.  Yes, if I
was a king I'd lead my own men.  They'd like seeing him, and fight for
him all the better.  Of course I wouldn't have him do all the dirty
work, but--Look there, comrade; there's Mr Contrabando making signals
to you.  We are going to begin.  Come on!"

The boy sprang to his feet, and the companions marched sharply towards
the opening where the group of smugglers were gathered.

"Bah!" ejaculated Punch contemptuously.  "What a pity it is!  I don't
believe that they will do much good with dumpy tools like them;" and the
boy literally glared at the short carbines the smugglers had slung
across their shoulders.  "Of course a rifle would be best, but a good
musket and bayonet is worth a dozen of those blunderbusters.  What do
they call them?  Bell-mouthed?  Why, they are just like so many
trumpet-things out of the band stuck upon a stick.  Why, it stands to
reason that they can't go bang.  It will only be a sort of a _pooh_!"
And the boy pursed up his lips and held his hand to his mouth as if it
were his lost bugle, and emitted a soft, low note--_poooooh_!

"_Dejeuner, mes amis_!" said the smuggler, as the boys advanced; and he
led the way past a group of his followers along the narrow passage-like
opening to where it became a hewn-out tunnel which showed the marks of
picks, and on into a rock-chamber of great extent, in one corner of
which a fire was blazing cheerfully, with the smoke rising to an outlet
in the roof.  Directly after the aromatic scent of hot coffee smote the
nostrils of the hungry lads, as well as the aroma of newly fried ham,
while away at one side to the right they caught sight of the strangers
of the past night, Pen recognising at once the now uncloaked leader who
had presented a pistol at his head.

"Here, I say," whispered Punch excitedly, "hold me up, comrade, or I
shall faint."

"What's the matter?" said Pen anxiously.  "You feel that dreadful pain
again?  Is it your wound?"

"Pain?  Yes," whispered Punch; "but it ain't there;" and he thrust his
hand into his pocket to feel for his knife.

It was a rough meal, roughly served, but so abundant that it was evident
that the smugglers were adepts in looking after the commissariat
department.  In one part of the cavern-like place the King and his
followers were being amply supplied, while right on the other side--
partly hidden by a couple of stacks piled-up in the centre of the great
chamber, and formed in the one case of spirit-kegs, in the other of
carefully bound up bales that might have been of silk or velvet--were
grouped together near the fire some scores of the _contrabandistas_ who
seemed to be always coming and going--coming to receive portions of
food, and going to make place for others of the band.

And it was beyond these stacks of smuggled goods that their
_contrabandista_ friend signed to the lads to seat themselves.  One of
the men brought them coffee and freshly fried ham and cake, which the
captain shared with them and joined heartily in the meal.

"I say, Pen," whispered Punch, "do tell him in `parlyvoo' that I say
he's a trump!  Fight for him and the King!  I should just think we will!
D'ye 'ear?  Tell him."

"No," said Pen.  "Let him know what we feel towards him by what we do,
Punch, not what we say."

"All right.  Have it your own way," said the boy.  "But, I say, I do
like this ham.  I suppose it's made of some of them little pigs we see
running about in the woods.  Talk about that goat's mutton!  Why,
'tain't half so good as ours made of sheep, even though they do serve it
out and call it kid.  Why, when we have had it sometimes for rations,
you couldn't get your teeth into it.  Kid, indeed!  Grandfather kid!
I'm sure of that.  I say, pass the coffee, comrade.  Only fancy!  Milk
and sugar too!  Oh no, go on; drink first.  Age before honesty.  I
wonder whether this was smuggled.--What's the matter now?"

For in answer to a shrill whistle that rang loudly in echoes from the
roof, every _contrabandista_ in the place sprang up and seized his
carbine, their captain setting the example.

"No, no," he said, turning to the two lads.  "Finish your breakfast, and
eat well, boys.  It may be a long time before you get another chance.
There's plenty of time before the firing begins, and I will come back
for you and station you where you can fight for Spain."

He walked quickly across to where the King's followers had started up
and stood sword in hand, their chief remaining seated upon an upturned
keg, looking calm and stern; but at the same time his eyes wandered
proudly over the roughly disguised devoted little band who were ready to
defend him to the last.

Pen watched the _contrabandista_ as he advanced and saluted the
dethroned monarch without a trace of anything servile; the Spanish
gentleman spoke as he addressed his sovereign in a low tone, but his
words were not audible to the young rifleman.  Still the latter could
interpret them to himself by the Spaniard's gestures.

"What's he a-saying of?" whispered Punch; and as he spoke the boy
surreptitiously cut open a cake, turned it into a sandwich, and thrust
it into his haversack.

"I can't hear, Punch," replied Pen; "and if I could I shouldn't
understand, for he's speaking in Spanish.  But he's evidently telling
him that his people may finish their breakfast in peace, for, like us,
they are not wanted yet."

As Pen spoke the officers sheathed their swords, and two or three of
them replaced pistols in their sashes.  Then the _contrabandista_ turned
and walked sharply across the cavern-like chamber to overtake his men,
and as he disappeared, distant but sharp and echoing _rap, rap, rap_,
came the reports of firearms, and Punch looked sharply at his companion.

"Muskets, ain't they?" he said excitedly.

"I think so," replied Pen.

"Must be, comrade.  Those blunderbusters--_trabookoos_ don't they call
them?--couldn't go off with a bang like that.  All right; we are ready.
But, I say, a soldier should always make his hay when the sun shines.
Fill your pockets and haversack, comrade.--There they go again!  I am
glad.  It's like the old days once more.  It will be `Forward!'
directly--a skirmishing advance.  Oh, bad luck, as old O'Grady says, to
the spalpeen who stole my bugle!  The game's begun."



CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

AT BAY.

The King's party remained perfectly still during the first few shots,
and then, unable to contain themselves, they seemed to the lads to be
preparing for immediate action.  The tall, stern-looking Spaniard who
had seemed to be their leader the previous night, and who had given the
orders which resulted in the boys being dragged down into the priest's
room, now with a due show of deference approached the King, who remained
seated, and seemed to be begging his Sovereign to go in the direction he
pointed, where a dark passage evidently led onward right into the inner
portions of the cavern or deserted mine.

The conversation, which was carried on in Spanish, would not have been
comprehended by the two lads even if they had understood that tongue;
but in spite of the Spaniard going even so far as to follow up his
request and persuasion by catching at the King's arm and trying to draw
him in the direction he indicated, that refugee shook his head
violently, wrested his wrist away, drew his sword, placed himself in
front of his followers, and signed to them to advance towards the
entrance.

"Well done!" whispered Punch.  "He is something like a king after all.
He means fighting, he does!"

"Hush," whispered back Pen, "or you will be heard."

"Not us," replied Punch, who began busying himself most unnecessarily
with his musket, placing the butt between his feet, pulling out the
ramrod and running it down the barrel to tap the end of the cartridge as
if to make sure that it was well driven home.

Satisfied with this, he drew the iron rod again, thrust it into the
loops, threw the piece muzzle forward, opened the pan to see that it was
full of powder, shut it down again, and made a careful examination of
the flint.  For these were the days long prior to the birth of the
copper percussion-cap, and plenty of preliminaries had to be gone
through before the musket could be fired.

Satisfied now that everything possible had been done, he whispered a
suggestion to his companion that he too should make an examination.

"I did," replied Pen, "a few minutes ago."

"But hadn't you better look again?" whispered Punch.

"No, no," cried his companion impatiently.  "Look at them; they are all
advancing to the entrance, and we oughtn't to be left behind."

"We ain't a-going to be," said the boy through his set teeth.  "Come
on."

"No," replied Pen.

"Come on, I say," cried the boy again.  "We have only got muskets, but
we are riflemen all the same, and our dooty is to go right in front
skirmishing to clear the way."

"Our orders were," said Pen, "to wait here till our captain fetched us
to the front and did what he told us."

"But he ain't come," protested Punch.

"Not yet," replied Pen.  "Do you want him to come and find that we have
broken faith with him and are not here?"

"Course I don't," cried the boy, speaking now excitedly.  "But suppose
he ain't coming?  How do we know that he aren't got a bullet in him and
has gone down?  He can't come then."  Pen was silent.

"And look here," continued Punch; "when he gave us those orders he told
that other lot--the Spaniel reserve, you may call them--to stop yonder
till he come.  Well, that's the King, ain't it?  He's ordered an
advance, and he's leading it hisself.  Where's his cloud of riflemen
feeling the way for him?  Are we to stop in the rear?  I thought you did
know better than that, comrade.  I do.  This comes of you only being a
year in the regiment and me going on learning for years and years.  I
say our place is in the front; so come on."

"Yes, Punch; you must be right," said Pen unwillingly, "Forwards then.
Double!"

"That's your sort!"  And falling into step and carrying their muskets at
the trail, the two lads ran forward, their steps drowned for the moment
by the heavy firing going on away beyond the entrance; and they were
nearly close up to the little Spanish party before their advance was
observed, and then one of the Spaniards shouted a command which resulted
in his fellows of the King's bodyguard of friends turning suddenly upon
them to form a _chevaux-de-frise_ of sword-blades for the protection of
their Sovereign.

For the moment, in the excitement, the two lads' lives were in peril;
but Pen did not flinch, and, though suffering acute pain from his wound,
ran on, his left arm almost brushing the little hedge of sword-points,
and only slackening his speed when he was a dozen yards in front and
came right upon the smuggler-leader, pistol in one hand, long Spanish
knife in the other.

Instead of angrily denouncing them for their disobedience to his order,
he signed to them to stop, and ran on to meet the King's party, holding
up his hand; and then, taking the lead, he turned off a little way to
his left toward a huge pile of stones and mine-refuse, where he placed
them, as it were, behind a bank which would act as a defence if a rush
upon them were made from the front.

The two lads watched him, panting the while with excitement, listening
as they watched to the fierce burst of firing that was now being
sustained.

The King gave way at once to the smuggler's orders, planting himself
with his followers ready for an anticipated assault; and, apparently
satisfied, the smuggler waved the hand that grasped his knife and ran
forward again with the two young Englishmen.

This time it was the pistol that he waved to them as if bidding them
follow, and he ran on some forty or fifty yards to where the entrance
widened out and another heap of mine-rubbish offered itself upon the
other side as a rough earthwork for defence, and where the two lads
could find a temporary parapet which commanded the entry for nearly a
hundred yards.

Here he bade the two lads kneel where, perfectly safe themselves, they
could do something to protect their Spanish friends behind on their
left.

"Do your best," he said hoarsely.  "They are driving my men back fast;
but if you can keep up a steady fire, little as it will be, it will act
as a surprise and maybe check their advance.  But take care and mind not
to injure any of my men."

He said no more, but ran forward again along the still unoccupied way,
till a curve of the great rift hid him from their sight.

"What did he say?" whispered Punch excitedly, as Pen now looked round
and diagonally across the way to the great chamber, and could see the
other rough stonework, above which appeared a little line of swords.

"Said we were to be careful not to hurt him and his friends if they were
beaten back."

"No fear," said Punch; "we can tell them by their red handkerchiefs
round their heads and their little footy guns.  We've got nothing to do,
then, yet."

"For a while, Punch; but they are coming on fast.  Hark at them!"  For
the firing grew louder and louder, and was evidently coming nearer.

"And only two of us as a covering-party!" muttered Punch.  "Oh, don't I
wish all our chaps were here!"

"Or half of them," said Pen.

"Yes, or half of them, comrade.  Why, I'd say thank ye if it was only
old O'Grady, me boy.  He can load and fire faster than any chap in our
company.  Here, look at that!"  For the sunlight shone plainly upon the
red silk handkerchief of a Spaniard who suddenly ran into sight, stopped
short, and turned to discharge his carbine as if at some invisible
pursuers, and then dropped his piece, threw up his hands, and fell
heavily across the way, which was now tenanted by a Spanish defender of
the King.

"Only wounded perhaps," panted Punch; and Pen watched the fallen man
hopefully in the expectation of seeing him make an effort to crawl out
of the line of fire; but the two lads now became fully conscious of the
fact that bullets were pattering faster and faster right into the
gully-like passage and striking the walls, some to bury themselves,
others to flatten and fall down, bringing with them fragments of stone
and dust.

The musketry of the attacking party and the replies of pistol and
carbine blended now in a regular roll, but it was evident that the
defenders were stubbornly holding their own; while the muskets that
rested on the stones in front of the two lads remained silent, and Punch
uttered an impatient ejaculation as he looked sharply round at Pen.

"Oh, do give us a chance," he cried.  "Here, comrade, oughtn't we two to
run to cover a little way in advance?"

"No," said Pen excitedly.  "Now then, look out!  Here they come!"

As the words left his lips, first one and then another, and directly
after three more, of the _contrabandistas_ ran round the curve well into
sight and divided, some to one side, some to the other, seeking the
shelter of the rocky wall, and fired back apparently at their pursuing
enemy before beginning to reload.

They were nearly a hundred yards from the two boys, who crouched,
trembling with excitement, waiting impatiently to afford the little help
they could by bringing their muskets to bear.  Then, as the firing went
on, there was another little rush of retiring men, half-a-dozen coming
one by one into sight, to turn, seek the cover of the wall, and fire
back as if in the hope of checking pursuit.  But a couple of these went
down, and it soon became evident from the firing that the advance was
steadily continued.

Another ten minutes of wild excitement followed, and then there was a
rush of the Spaniards, who continued their predecessors' tactics, firing
back and sheltering themselves; but the enemy were still hidden from the
two lads.

"Let's--oh, do let's cross over to the other side," cried Punch.
"There's two places there where we could get shelter;" and he pointed to
a couple of heaps of stone that diagonally were about forty yards in
advance.

But as he spoke there was another rush of their friends round the curve,
with the same tactics, while those who had come before now dashed across
the great passage and occupied the two rough stoneworks themselves.

"Too late!" muttered Punch amidst the roar of musketry which now seemed
to have increased in a vast degree, multiplied as the shots were by
echoing repetitions as they crossed and recrossed from wall to wall.

"No!" shouted Pen.  "Fire!"  For half-a-dozen French chasseurs suddenly
came running into sight in pursuit of the last little party of the
Spaniards, dropped upon one knee, and, rapidly taking aim, fired at and
brought down a couple more of the retreating men.

There was a sharp flash from Punch's piece, and a report from Pen's
which sounded like an echo from the first, and two of the half-dozen
chasseurs rolled over in the dust, while their comrades turned on the
instant and ran back out of sight, followed by a tremendous yell of
triumph from the Spaniards, who had now manned the two heaps of stones
on the other side.

There was another yell, and another which seemed to fill the entry to
the old mine with a hundred echoes, while as the boys were busily
reloading a figure they did not recognise came running towards their
coign of vantage at the top of his speed.

"Quick, Punch!  An enemy!  Bayonets!" cried Pen.

"Tain't," grumbled Punch.  "Nearly ready.  It's Contrabando."

The next minute the Spaniard was behind them, slapping each on the back.

"Bravo!  Bravissimo!" he shouted, making his voice heard above the
enemy's firing, for his men now were making no reply.  "_Continuez!
Continuez_!" he cried, and then dashed off forward again and, heedless
of the flying bullets, crossed to where his men were lying down behind
the two farther heaps of stones, evidently encouraging some of them to
occupy better places ready for the enemy when they made their attack in
force.



CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.

KEEPING THE BRIDGE.

Slight as was the check--two shots only--the sight of a couple of their
men going down was sufficient to stop the advance of the attacking party
for a few minutes; but the firing continued in the blind, unreasoning
way of excited soldiery until the leaders had forced it upon the notice
of their eager men that they were firing down a wide gully-like spot
where, consequent on the curve, none of those they sought to shoot down
were in sight.

But this state of excitement lasted only a few minutes, and then, headed
by an officer, about a dozen of the enemy dashed into view.

"Now then," whispered Punch; but it was not necessary, for the two
muskets the lads had laid ready went off almost as one, and a couple of
the French chasseurs stumbled forward and fell headlong almost within
touch of their dead or wounded comrades.

Once more that was enough to make the others turn tail and dash back,
leaving their leader behind shaking his sword after them as they ran;
and then, in contempt and rage, he stopped short and bent down over each
of the poor fellows who had fallen.

Pen could see him lay his hand upon their breasts before coolly
sheathing his sword and stopping in bravado to take out a cigarette,
light it, and then, calmly smoking, turn his back upon his enemies and
walk round the curve and disappear.

"There, Punch," said Pen, finishing the loading of his musket; "don't
you tell me again that the French have no brave men amongst them."

"Well," said the boy slowly, "after that I won't.  Do you know, it made
me feel queer."

"It made me feel I don't know how," said Pen--"half-choking in the
throat."

"Oh, it didn't make me feel like that," said Punch thoughtfully.  "I had
finished reloading before he had felt all his fellows to see if they
were dead, and I could have brought him down as easy as kiss my hand,
but somehow I felt as if it would be a shame, like hitting a chap when
he's down, and so I didn't fire.  Then I looked at you, and I could see
you hadn't opened your pan through looking at him.  You don't think I
ought to have fired, do you?"

"You know I don't, Punch," said Pen shortly.  "It would have been
cowardly to have fired at a man like that."

"But I say," said Punch, "wasn't it cheek!  It was as good as telling us
that he didn't care a button for us."

"I don't believe he does," said Pen thoughtfully; "but, I say, Punch, I
shouldn't like to be one of his men."

"What, them two as we brought down?  Of course not!"

"No, no; I mean those who ran away and left him in the lurch.  He's just
the sort of captain who would be ready to lay about him with the flat of
his sword."

"And serve the cowardly beggars right," cried Punch.  "Think they will
come on again?"

"Come on again, with such a prize as the Spanish King to be made a
prisoner?  Yes, and before long too.  There, be ready.  There'll be
another rush directly."

There was, and almost before the words were out of Pen's lips.  This
time, though, another officer, as far as the lads could make out, was
leading the little detachment, which was about twice as strong as the
last, and the lads fired once more, with the result that two of the
attacking party went down; but instead of the rest turning tail in panic
and rushing back, they followed their officer a dozen yards farther.
Then they began to waver, checked their pace, and stood hesitating;
while, in spite of their officer excitedly shouting and waving his sword
to make them advance, they came to a stand, with the brave fellow some
distance in front, where the lads could hear him shout and rage before
making a dash back at the leading files, evidently with the intention of
flogging them into following him.

But, damped by the fate of their fellows, it only wanted the appearance
of flight, as they judged the officer's movement, to set them in motion,
and they began to run back in panic, followed by the jeering yells of
the _contrabandistas_, who hurried their pace by sending a scattered
volley from their carbines, not a bullet from which took effect.

"Look at that, Punch; there's another brave fellow!"

"Yes," cried the boy, finishing loading.  "There, go on, load away, I
don't want you to shoot him.  Yes, he's another plucky un.  But, my
word, look at him!  He must be a-cussing and a-swearing like hooray.
But I call that stupid.  He needn't have done that.  My word, ain't he
in a jolly rage!"

Much to the surprise of Pen, the officer did not imitate his fellow who
paused to light a cigarette, but took the point of his sword in his left
hand, stooped down with his back to his enemies, broke the blade in half
across his knee, dashed the pieces to the ground, and then slowly walked
back.

"Poor fellow!" said Pen thoughtfully.

"Yes, and poor sword," said Punch.  "I suppose he will have to pay for
that out of his own pocket, or have it stopped out of his pay.  Oh no;
he's an officer, and finds his own swords.  But he was a stupid.  Won't
he be sorry for it when he cools down!"

They were not long kept in suspense as to what would occur next, for
just before he disappeared the lookers-on saw the officer suddenly turn
aside to close up to the natural wail of the little ravine, giving place
to the passage of the stronger party still who came on cheering and
yelling as if to disconcert the sharpshooters who were committing such
havoc in their little detachments.  But their effort was in vain, for at
a short interval the two young riflemen once more fired at the dense
little party, which it was impossible to miss.  Two men in the front
went down, three or four of their fellows leaped over their prostrate
forms, and then several of those who followed stumbled and fell, panic
ensued, and once more the company was in full flight, followed slowly by
a couple of despondent-looking officers, one of whom turned while the
carbine bullets were flying around him to shake his sword at his
enemies, his fellow taking his cue from this act to contemptuously raise
his _kepi_ in a mocking salute.

"Here, I won't say anything about the Frenchmen any more," said Punch.
"Why, those officers are splendid!  They are just laughing at the
contra-what-you-may-call-'ems, and telling them they can't shoot a bit.
It's just what I thought," he continued, finishing his loading; "those
little dumpy blunderbuss things are no good at all.  I suppose that will
about sicken them, won't it?"

Pen shook his head as he closed the pan of his musket with a sharp
click.

"The officers will not be satisfied till they have put a stop to our
shooting, Punch."

"Oh, but they can't," said the boy, with a laugh.  "But, I say, I never
thought I could shoot so well as this.  Ain't it easy!"

"No," said Pen quietly.  "I think we shot well at first, but here with
our muskets resting steady on the stones in front, and with so many men
to shoot at, we can't help hitting some of them.  Hallo!  Here comes our
friend."

For now that the little gorge before them lay open the _contrabandista_
joined them, to begin addressing his words of eulogy to Pen.

"Tell your comrade too," he continued, "how proud I am of the way in
which you are holding the enemy in check.  I have just come from the
King, and he sends a message to you--a message, he says, to the two
brave young Englishmen, and he wants to know how he can reward you for
all that you have done."

"Oh, we don't want rewarding," said Pen quietly.  "But tell me, is there
any way by which the enemy can take us in the rear?"

"No," said the smuggler quietly.  "But it would be bad for you--and us--
if they could climb up to the top there and throw pieces of rock down.
But they would want ladders to do that.  I am afraid, though--no," he
added; "there's nothing to be afraid of--that they will be coming on
again, and you must keep up your firing till they are so sick of their
losses that they will not be able to get any more of their men to
advance."

"And what then?" said Pen.

"Why, then," said the smuggler, "we shall have to wait till it's dark
and see if we can't steal by them and thread our way through the lower
pass, leaving them to watch our empty _cache_."

Quite a quarter of an hour passed now, and it seemed as if the spirits
of the French chasseurs were too much damped for their officers to get
them to advance again.

Then there was another rush, with much the same result as before, and
again another and another, and this was kept up at intervals for hours,
till Pen grew faint and heart-sick, his comrade dull and stubborn; and
both were faint too, for the sun had been beating down with torrid
violence so that the heated rocks grew too hot to touch, and the burning
thirst caused by the want of air made the ravine seem to swim before
Pen's eyes.

But they kept on, and with terrible repetition the scenes of the morning
followed, until, as the two lads reloaded, they rested the hot
musket-barrels before them upon the heated rock and looked full in each
other's eyes.

"Well, Punch," said Pen hoarsely, "what are you thinking?"

The boy was silent for a few moments, and then in the horrible stillness
which was repeated between each attack he said slowly, "Just the same as
you are, comrade."

"That your old wound throbs and burns just the same as mine does?"

"Oh, it does," said Punch, "and has for ever so long; but I wasn't
thinking that."

"Then you were thinking, the same as I was, that you were glad that this
horrible business was nearly over, and that these Spanish fellows, who
have done nothing to help us, must now finish it themselves?"

"Well, not azackly," replied the boy.  "What I was thinking was that
it's all over now--as soon as we have had another shot apiece."

"Yes," said Pen; "one more shot apiece, and we have fired our last
cartridges."

"But look here," said Punch, "couldn't we manage with powder and shot
from their blunderbusters?"

"I don't know," said Pen wearily.  "I only know this, that I shall be
too heart-sick and tired out to try."



CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.

FOR THE KING.

As the evening drew near, it was to the two young riflemen as if Nature
had joined hands with the enemy and had seemed to bid them stand back
and rest while she took up their work and finished it to the bitter end.

"It's just as if Nature were fighting against us," said Pen.

"Nature!  Who's she?  What's she got to do with it?" grumbled Punch.
"Phew!  Just feel here!  The sun's as low down as that, and here's my
musket-barrel so hot you can hardly touch it.  But I don't know what you
mean."

"Well, it doesn't matter," said Pen bitterly.  "I only meant that, now
the enemy are not coming on, it's growing hotter and hotter, and one's
so thirsty one feels ready to choke."

"Oh, I see now.  It's just the same here.  But why don't they come on.
Must be half an hour since they made their last charge, and if they
don't come soon my gun will go off all of itself, and then if they come
I sha'n't have a shot for them.  Think they will come now?"

"Yes," said Pen; "but I believe they are waiting till it's dark and we
sha'n't be able to see to shoot."

"Why, the cowards!" cried Punch angrily.  "The cowardly, mean beggars!
Perhaps you are right; but, I say, comrade, they wouldn't stop till it's
dark if they knew that we had only got one cartridge apiece, and that we
were so stupid and giddy that I am sure I couldn't hit.  Why, last time
when they came on they seemed to me to be swimming round and round."

"Yes, it was horrible," said Pen thoughtfully, as he tried to recollect
the varied incidents of the last charge, and gave up in despair.  "I
wish it was all over, Punch!"

"Well, don't be in such a hurry about that," said the boy.  "I wish the
fighting was over, but to wish it was _all_ over sounds ugly.  You see,
they must be precious savage with us for shooting as we have, and if
they charge home, as you call it, and find that we haven't got a shot, I
want to know what we are going to do then."

"I don't feel as if it matters now," said Pen despondently.

"Oh, don't you!  But I do, comrade.  It's bad enough to be wounded and a
prisoner; that's all in the regular work; but these Frenchies must be
horribly wild now, and when we can't help ourselves it seems to me that
we sha'n't be safe.  You are tired, and your wound bothers you, and no
wonder.  It's that makes you talk so grumpy.  But it seems to me as if
it does matter.  Course soldiers have to take their chance, even if they
are only buglers, and I took mine, and got it.  Now my wound's better, I
don't feel like giving up.  I feel as if I hadn't half had my innings.
I haven't even got to be what you are--full private.  But, I say, it
ain't getting dark yet, is it?"

"No, Punch.  But I feel so giddy I can hardly see."

"Look out, then!" cried the boy excitedly.  "Here they come; and you are
all wrong."

For the boy had caught sight of another rush being made, with the enemy
scattered wildly; and catching up his musket, Punch fired, while it was
as if mechanically and hardly knowing what he was about that Pen raised
his piece and followed his companion's example.

What ensued seemed to be part of a nightmare-like dream, during which
Pen once more followed his comrade's example; and, grasping his musket
by the heated barrel he clubbed it and struck out wildly for a few
minutes before he felt that he was borne down, trampled upon, and then
lay half-conscious of what was going on.

He was in no pain, but felt as if he were listening to something that
was taking place at a distance.  There were defiant shouts, there was
the rushing of feet, there was firing.  Orders were being given in
French; but what it all meant he could not grasp, till all at once it
seemed to him that it was very dark, and a hot, wet hand was laid upon
his forehead.

Then a voice came--a familiar voice; but this too seemed to be from far
away, and it did not seem natural that he should be feeling the touch
upon his forehead while the voice came from a distance.

"I say, they haven't done for you, have they, comrade?  Oh, do try to
speak.  Tell me where it hurts."

"Hurts!  That you, Punch?"

"Course it is.  Hooray!  Where's your wound?  Speak up, or I can't make
it out in all this row.  Where have you got it?"

"Got what?"

"Why, I telled you.  The wound."

"My wound?" said Pen dreamily.  Why, you know--in my leg.  But it's
better now.  So am I.  But what does it all mean?  Did something hit me
on the head?

"I didn't half see; but you went down a horrid kelch, and must have hit
your head against the rocks."

"Yes, yes, I am beginning to understand now.  But where are we?  What's
going on?  Fighting?"

"Fighting?  I should just think there is!  Can't you hear?"

"I can hear the shouting, but I don't quite understand yet."

"Never mind, then.  I was afraid you were done for."

"Done for!  What, killed?"

"Something of the kind," grumbled Punch; "but don't bother about it
now."

"I must," said Pen, with what was passing around seeming to lighten up.
"Here, tell me, are my arms fastened behind me?"

"Yes, and mine too.  But I just wriggled one hand out so as to feel for
you.  We are prisoners, lad, and the Frenchies have chivied right back
to where the King and his men have been making a bit of a stand.  I
can't tell you all azackly, but that's something like it, and I think
they are fighting now--bad luck to them, as O'Grady would say!--right in
yonder where we had our braxfas'.  I say, it's better than I thought,
comrade."

"In what way, Punch?"

"Why, I had made up my mind, though I didn't like to tell you, that
they'd give us both the bay'net.  But they haven't.  Perhaps, though,
they are keeping us to shoot through the head because they caught us
along with the smugglers.  That's what they always do with them."

"Well,"--began Pen drearily.

"No, 'tain't.  'Tain't well, nor anything like it."

The boy ceased speaking, for the fight that had been raging in the
interior of the cavern seemed to be growing fiercer; in fact, it soon
became plain to the listeners that the tide of warfare was setting in
their direction; the French, who had been driving the _contrabandista's_
followers backward into the cavern, and apparently carrying all before
them, had met with a sudden check.  For a fairly brief space they had
felt that the day was their own, and eager to make up for the long check
they had suffered, principally through the keen firing of the two boys,
they had pressed on recklessly, while the undrilled _contrabandistas_,
losing heart in turn, were beginning, in spite of the daring of their
leader, who seemed to be in every part of their front at once, to drop
back into the cavern, giving way more and more, till at last they had
shrunk some distance into the old mine, bearing back with them the royal
party, who had struggled to restrain them in vain.

The part of the old workings to which they had retreated was almost in
utter darkness, and just when the French were having their own way and
the Spanish party were giving up in despair, their enemies came to a
stand, the French officers hesitating to continue the pursuit, fearing a
trap, or that they might be led into so dangerous a position that they
might meet with another reverse.

They felt that where they were they thoroughly commanded the exit, and
after a brief colloquy it was decided to give their men breathing-time
while a party went back into the great cave, where the fire was still
burning, and did what they could to contrive a supply of firebrands or
torches before they made another advance.

Fortunately for the Spanish party, the cessation of the attack on the
part of the French gave the former breathing-time as well; and, wearied
out though he was, and rather badly wounded, the _contrabandista_
hurriedly gathered his men together, and though ready to upbraid them
bitterly for the way in which they had yielded to the French attack, he
busied himself instead in trying to prepare them for a more stubborn
resistance when the encounter was resumed.

He had the advantage of his enemies in this, that they were all
thoroughly well acquainted with the ramifications of the old mine, and
it would be in his power, he felt, to lead the enemy on by giving way
strategically and guiding them where, while they were meeting with great
difficulties in tracing their flying foes, these latter would be able to
escape through one of the old adits and carry with them the King and his
followers.

The _contrabandista_, too, had this further advantage--that he could
easily refresh his exhausted men, who were now suffering cruelly from
hunger and thirst.  To this end he gave his orders quickly to several,
who hurried away, to return at the end of a short time bearing a couple
of skins of wine and bread from their regular store.  These refreshments
were hurriedly distributed, the King and his party not being forgotten;
and after all partook most hastily, the men's leader busied himself in
seeing to the worst of the wounded, sending several of these latter into
hiding in a long vault where the mules of the party were stabled ready
to resume their loads when the next raid was made across the passes.

"Now, my lads," he said, addressing his men, "I am not going to upbraid
you with the want of courage you have shown, only to tell you that when
the French come on again it will most likely be with lights.  Those are
what I believe they are waiting for.  The poor fools think that torches
will enable them to see us and shoot us down, but they will be to our
advantage.  We shall be in the darkness; they will be in the light; and
I am going to lead you in such an attack that I feel sure if you follow
out my instructions we can make them flee.  Once get them on the run, it
will be your duty to scatter them and not let them stop.  Yes," he
added, turning sharply in the darkness to some one who had touched him
on the shoulder; "who is it?"

"It is I," said the officer who had taken the lead in the King's flight,
and to whom the whole of the monarch's followers looked for direction.
"His Majesty wants to speak with you."

"I'll come," replied the _contrabandista_.  "Do you know why he wants
me?"

"Yes," replied the officer briefly.

"I suppose it is to find fault with me for our want of success."

"I believe that is the case," said the officer coldly.

"Ha!" ejaculated the _contrabandista_.  "I have as good a right to blame
his Majesty for the meagreness of the help his followers have afforded
me."

"I have done my best," said the officer gravely, "and so have the rest.
But this is no time for recriminations.  I believe you, sir, are a
faithful friend to his Majesty; and I believe you think the same of me."

"I do," replied the smuggler, "and his Majesty is not to blame for
thinking hard of one who has brought him into such a position as this."

"Be brief, please," said the officer, "and be frank with me before you
join the King.  He feels with me that we are completely trapped, and but
a short time back he went so far as to ask me whether the time had not
come for us all to make a desperate charge upon the enemy, and die like
men."

The smuggler uttered an ejaculation which the officer misconstrued.

"I meant for us, sir," he said bitterly, "for I suppose it is possible
that you and your men are sufficiently at home in these noisome passages
to find hiding-places, and finally escape."

The smuggler laughed scornfully.

"You speak, sir," he said, "as if you believe that my men would leave
his Majesty to his fate."

"Their acts to-day have not inspired him with much confidence in them,"
said the officer coldly.

"Well, no," said the smuggler; "but you must consider that my men, who
are perfect in their own pursuits and able enough to carry on a
guerilla-like fight against the Civil Guards in the mountains, have for
the first time in their lives been brought face to face with a body of
well-drilled soldiers ten times their number, and armed with weapons far
superior to ours."

"That is true," said the officer quietly; "but I expected to have seen
them do more to-day, and, with this strong place to hold, not so ready
to give up as they were."

"You take it, then," said the smuggler, "that we are beaten?"

"His Majesty has been the judge, and it is his opinion."

"His Majesty is a great and good king, then," said the smuggler, "but a
bad judge.  We are not beaten.  We certainly have the worst of it, and
my poor fellows have been a good deal disheartened, and matters would
have gone far worse with us if it had not been for the clever
marksmanship of those two boys."

"Ah!" exclaimed the officer, "I may as well come to that.  His Majesty
speaks bitterly in the extreme about what he calls the cowardice which
resulted in those two poor lads being mastered and taken prisoners,
perhaps slain, before his eyes."

"Indeed!" said the smuggler sharply.  "But I did not see that his
Majesty's followers did more to save them than my men."

"There, we had better cease this unfruitful conversation.  But before I
take you to his Majesty, who is waiting for us, tell me as man to man,
perhaps face to face with death, what is really our position?  You are
beaten, and unable to do more to save the King?"

The smuggler was silent for a few moments, busily tightening a bandage
round his arm.

"One moment, sir," he said.  "Would you mind tying this?"

"A wound!" said the officer, starting.

"Yes, and it bleeds more freely than I could wish, for I want every drop
of blood to spend in his Majesty's service."

The officer sheathed his sword quickly, bent forward, and, in spite of
the darkness, carefully tightened the bandage.

"I beg your pardon, Senor el Contrabandista.  I trust you more than
ever," he said.  "But we are beaten, are we not?"

"Thanks, senor.--Beaten?  No!  When my fellows have finished their bread
and wine they will be more full of fight than ever.  We smugglers have
plenty of the fox in our nature, and we should not treasure up our rich
contraband stores in a cave that has not two holes."

"Ha!  You put life into me," cried the officer.

"I wish to," said the smuggler.  "Tell his Majesty that in a short time
he will see the Frenchmen coming on lighting their way with torches, and
that he and his followers will show a good front; but do as we do--keep
on retreating farther and farther through the black passages of this old
copper-mine."

"But retreating?" said the officer.

"Yes; they will keep pressing us on, driving us back, as they think,
till they can make a rush and capture us to a man--King, noble, and
simple smuggler; and when at last they make their final rush they will
capture nothing but the darkness, for we shall have doubled round by one
of the side-passages and be making our way back into the passes to find
liberty and life."

"But one moment," said a stern voice from the deeper darkness behind.
"What of the entrance to this great cavern-mine?  Do you think these
French officers are such poor tacticians that they will leave the
entrance unguarded by a body of troops?"

"One entrance, sire," said the smuggler deferentially.

"Your Majesty!" said the officer, "I did not know that you were within
hearing."

"I had grown weary of waiting, Count," said the King.  "I came on, and I
have heard all that I wished.  Senor Contrabandista, I, your King, ask
your pardon.  I ask it as a bitterly stricken, hunted man who has been
driven by his misfortunes to see enemies on every hand, and who has
grown accustomed to lead a weary life, halting ever between doubt and
despair."

"Your Majesty trusts me then," said the smuggler, sinking upon one knee
to seize the hand that was extended to him and pressing it to his lips.

"Ha!" ejaculated the monarch.  "Your plans are those of a general; but
there is one thing presses hard upon me.  For hours I was watching the
way in which those two boys held the enemy at bay, fighting in my poor
cause like heroes; and again and again as I stood watching, my fingers
tingled to grasp my sword and lead my few brave fellows to lend them
aid.  But it was ever the same: I was hemmed in by those who were ready
to give their lives in my defence, and I was forced to yield to their
assurances that such an advance would be not merely to throw their lives
away and my own, but giving life to the usurper, death to Spain."

"They spoke the truth, sire," said the smuggler gravely.

"But tell me," cried the King with a piteous sigh, "can nothing be done?
Your men, you say, will be refreshed.  My friends here are as ready as
I am.  Before you commence the retreat, can we not, say, by a bold dash,
drive them past where those two young Englishmen lie prisoners at the
back of the little stonework they defended so bravely till the last
cartridge was fired away?  You do not answer," said the King.

"Your Majesty stung me to the heart," said the _contrabandista_, "in
thinking that I played a coward's part in not rescuing those two lads."

"I hoped I had condoned all that," said the King quickly.

"You have, sire, and perhaps it is the weakness and vanity in my nature
that makes me say in my defence, I and half-a-dozen of my men made as
brave an effort as we could, twice over, when the French made their
final rush, and each time my poor fellows helped me back with a
bayonet-wound.--Ah! what I expected!" he exclaimed hastily, for there
was a flickering light away in front, followed by another and another,
and the sound of hurrying feet, accompanied by the clicking of gun and
pistol lock as the _contrabandistas_ gathered together, rested and
refreshed, and ready for action once again.



CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.

IN THE ROUT.

It is one thing--or two things--to make plans mentally or upon paper,
and another thing to carry them out.  A general lays down his plan of
campaign, but a dozen hazards of the war may tend to baffle and spoil
courses which seem as they are laid down sure ways leading to success.

The _contrabandista_ chief had made his arrangements in a way that when
he explained them made his hearers believe that nothing could be better.
His reluctant silence respecting the position of the two lads had
impressed the Spanish King with the belief that he considered the young
riflemen's situation to be hopeless, and that he felt that he had done
everything possible.

In fact, he doubted their being alive, and the possibility, even if they
still breathed where they were struck down, of forcing his way through
the strong force of French that occupied the mine, and reaching their
side.  Above all, he felt that he would not be justified in risking the
lives of many men for the sake of two.

And now the flickering lights in the distance told that the French had
somehow contrived the means for making their way through the darkness
easier.  They had evidently been busy breaking up case and keg, starting
the brands thoroughly in the fire, and keeping them well alight by their
bearers brandishing them to and fro as they advanced, with the full
intent of driving the Spaniards into some cul-de-sac among the ancient
workings of the mine, and there bayoneting them or forcing them to lay
down their arms.

All this was in accordance with the orders given by the French officers,
and the chasseurs advanced perfect in their parts and with a bold front.
But the _contrabandista's_ followers and those of the King were also as
perfect in what they would do, and they knew exactly that they were to
fire and bring down their adversaries as they had an opportunity given
them by their exposure in the light, and after firing they were to lead
the untouched on by an orderly retreat, thus tempting the enemy farther
and farther into the winding intricacies of the old workings.

Those advancing and those in retreat began to carry out their orders
with exactitude; the chasseurs cheered and advanced in about equal
numbers, torch-bearers and musketeers with fixed bayonets, the former
waving their burning brands, and all cheering loudly as in the distance
they caught sight of those in retreat; but it was only to find as the
rattle and echoing roll of carbine and pistol rang out and smoke began
to rise, that they were forming excellent marks for those who fired, and
before they had advanced, almost at a run, fifty yards, the mine-floor
was becoming dotted with those who were wounded and fell.

The distance between the advancing and retreating lines remained about
the same, but the pace began to slacken, the run soon became a walk, and
a very short time afterwards a stand on the part of those who attacked,
and the smoke of the pieces began to grow more dense as the firing
increased.

Orders kept on ringing out as the French officers shouted "Forward!" but
in vain, and the light that, as they ran, had flashed brilliantly, as
they stood began to pale, and the well-drilled men who now saw a dense
black curtain of smoke before them, riven here and there by flashes of
light, began to hesitate, then to fall back, slowly at first, and before
many paces to the rear had been taken they found the light begin to
increase again and more men fell.

That pause had been the turning-point, for from a slow falling back the
pace grew swifter, the waving and tossing lights burned more brightly,
and those who fired sent ragged volley after volley in amongst the now
clearly seen chasseurs; while the Spaniards, forgetful now of the
commands they had received, kept on advancing, in fact, pursuers in
their turn, firing more eagerly as each few steps took them clear of the
cloud of smoke which they left behind.

It was a completely unexpected change of position.  The French officers
shouted their commands, and the _contrabandista_ captain gave forth his,
but in both cases it was in vain, for almost before he could realise the
fact a panic had seized upon chasseur and torch-bearer alike, and soon
all were in flight--a strangely weird medley of men whose way was lit up
by the lights that were borne and blazed fiercely on their side, while
their pace was hastened by the firing in their rear.

It was only a matter of some few minutes before the French officers
found that all their attempts to check the rout were in vain.

The hurry of the flight increased till the darkness of the mine-passage
was left behind and all raced onward through the great store-cavern and
out into the narrow gully, now faint in the evening light, and on past
the rough stone-piled defences, where the officers once more tried to
check the headlong flight.

Here their orders began to have some effect, for there were dead and
wounded lying in the way, and some from breathlessness, some from shame,
now slackened their pace and stooped to form litters of their muskets,
on which some poor wretch who was crying for help with extended hands
was placed and carried onward.

And somehow, in the confusion of the flight, as the fallen wounded were
snatched up in the semi-darkness from where they lay, the last burning
brand having been tossed aside as useless by those who could now see
their way, two of the wounded who lay with their arms secured behind
them with straps were lifted and borne onward, for those who were now
obeying their officers' orders were too hurried and confused, hastened
as they were in their movements by the rattle and crash of firearms in
their rear, to scrutinise who the wounded were.  It was sufficient for
them that they were not wearers of the rough _contrabandista's_ garb;
and so it was that the dark-green uniform of the bandaged wounded was
enough, and the two young riflemen became prisoners and participators in
the chasseurs' rout.



CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.

AFTER "WIGGLING."

"Where do you suppose we are, Punch?"

"Don't quite know," was the reply.  "Chap can't think with his arms
strapped behind him and his wrists aching sometimes as if they were sawn
off and at other times being all pins and needles.  Can you think?"

"Not very clearly; and it has been too dark to see much.  But where
should you say we are?  Quite in a new part of the country?"

"No; I think we came nearly over the same ground as we were going after
we left that good old chap's cottage; and if we waited till it was quite
daylight, and we could start off, I think I could find my way back to
where we left the old man."

"So do I," said Pen eagerly.  "That must be the mountain that the
_contrabandista_ captain took us up in the darkness."

"Why, that's what I was thinking," said Punch; "and if we had gone on a
little farther I think we should have got to the place where the
Frenchies attacked us.  Of course I ain't sure, because it was all in
the darkness.  But, I say, Mr Contrabando and his fellows have given up
the pursuit.  I haven't heard anything of them for hours now."

"No," said Pen; "we may be sure that they have given it up, else we
shouldn't be halted here.  I fancy, Punch--but, like you, I can't be
sure--that the Frenchmen have been making for the place where they
surprised us after being driven down the mountain pass."

"That's it," said Punch; "and our friends, after beating off the enemy,
have gone back to their what-you-may-call-it quarters--mine, didn't they
call it?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, that's what we have got to do--get away from here and go
back and join Mr Contrabando again."

"Impossible, Punch, even if we were free."

"Not it!  Why, I could do it in the dark if I could only get rid of
these straps, now that the Frenchies are beaten."

"Not beaten, Punch; only driven back, and I feel pretty sure in thinking
it out that they have come to a halt here in what I dare say is a good,
strong place where they can defend themselves and wait for
reinforcements before attacking again."

"Oh, they won't do that," said Punch roughly.  "They had such a sickener
last night."

"Well, I can't be sure," said Pen; "but as far as I can make out they
have a lot of wounded men lying about here in this bit of a valley, and
there are hundreds of them camped down about the fires.  They wouldn't
have lit those fires if it hadn't been a strong place."

"I suppose not," said Punch.  "I never thought of that.  Because they
would have been afraid to show the smugglers where they were, and it
sounded when they were talking as if there were hundreds and hundreds of
them--regiments, I think.  One couldn't see in the night, but while I
was lying awake I thought there were thousands of them."

"Say hundreds, Punch.  Well, I haven't spoken to you much lately, for I
thought you were asleep."

"Asleep!  Not me!  That's what I thought about you; and I hoped you was,
so that you could forget what a muddle we got into.  Well, I don't know
how you feel now, but what I want to do is to get away from here."

"Don't talk so loud," said Pen; "there are those fellows on sentry, and
they keep on coming very near now and then."

"That don't matter," said Punch, "they can't understand what we talk
about.  What do you say to having a go at getting our arms loose?"

"They would find it out, and only bind us up again."

"Yes, if we stopped to let 'em see."

"Then you think we could get away, Punch?"

"To be sure I do; only we should have to crawl.  And the sooner the
better, for once it gets light the sentries will have a shot at us, and
we have had enough of that.  I say, though, didn't they pick us up
because they thought we were wounded?"

"The men did; and then one of the officers saw our uniforms and that we
were the two who had been taken prisoners when they made their rush."

"Oh, that was it, was it?" said Punch.  "Well, what do you say?  Hadn't
we better make a start?"

"How?" said Pen.  "I have been trying again and again to get my arms
loose, and I am growing more helpless than ever."

Punch gave a low grunt, raised his head a little, and tried to look
round and pierce the darkness, seeing very little though but the fact
that they were surrounded by wounded men, for the most part asleep,
though here and there was one who kept trying to move himself into an
easier position, but only to utter a low moan and relapse into a state
of semi-insensibility.

About a dozen paces away, though, he could just make out one of the
sentries leaning upon his musket and with his back to them.  Satisfied
with his scrutiny, Punch shifted his position a little, drawing himself
into a position where he could get his lips close to his companion's
ear.

"Look here," he said, "can you bite?"

"Bite!  Nonsense!  Who could think of eating now?"

"Tchah!" whispered Punch, "who wants to eat?  I have been wiggling
myself about quietly ever since they set me down, and I have got my
hands a bit loose.  Now, I am just going to squirm myself a bit farther
and turn over when I have got my hands about opposite your mouth, and I
want you to set-to with your teeth and try hard to draw the tongue of
the strap out of the buckle, for it's so loose now that I think you
could do it."

"Ah!  I'll try, Punch," whispered Pen.

"Then if you try," said the boy, "you'll do it.  I know what you are."

"Don't talk, then," replied Pen excitedly, "but turn over at once.  Why
didn't you think of this before?  We might have tried at once, and had a
better chance, for it will be light before long."

"Didn't think of it.  My arms hurt so that they made me stupid."

Giving himself a wrench, the boy managed to move forward a little,
turned over, and then worked himself so that he placed his bandaged
wrists close to his comrade's mouth, and then lay perfectly still, for
the sentry turned suddenly as if he had heard the movement.

Apparently satisfied, though, that all was well, he changed his position
again, and then, to the great satisfaction of the two prisoners, he
shouldered his musket and began to pace up and down, coming and going,
and halting at last at the far end of his beat.

Then, full of doubt but eager to make an effort, Pen set to work, felt
for the buckle, and after several tries got hold of the strap in his
teeth, tugging at it fiercely and with his heart sinking more and more
at every effort, for he seemed to make no progress.

Twice over, after tremendous efforts that he half-fancied loosened his
teeth, he gave up what seemed to be an impossibility; but he was roused
upon each occasion by an impatient movement on the part of Punch.

"It's of no use," he thought.  "I am only punishing myself more and
more;" and, fixing his teeth firmly once more in the leather, he gave
one shake and tug such as a wild beast might have done in worrying an
enemy.  With one final drag he jerked his head back and lay still with
his jaws throbbing and the sensation upon him that he had injured
himself so that several of his teeth had given way.

"It's no good.  It's of no use, Punch," he said to himself; for the boy
shook his wrists sharply as if to urge him to begin again.  "I can't do
it, and I won't try;" when to his astonishment he felt that his comrade
was moving and had forced himself back with a low, dull, rustling sound
so that he could place his lips to his ear again; and to Pen's surprise
the boy whispered, "That last did it, and I got the strap quite loose.
My!  How my wrists do ache!  Just wait a bit, and then I will pull you
over on to your face and have a turn at yours."

Pen felt too much confused to believe that his companion had succeeded,
but he lay perfectly still, with his teeth still aching violently, till
all at once he felt Punch's hands busy about him, and he was jerked over
upon his face.

Then he felt that the boy had raised himself up a little as if to take
an observation of their surroundings before busying himself with the
straps that bound his numbed wrists.

"Lie still," was whispered, "don't flinch; but I have got my knife out,
and I am going to shove it under the strap.  Don't holloa if it hurts."

Pen set his aching teeth hard, and the next minute he felt the point of
the long Spanish clasp-knife which his comrade carried being thrust
beneath one of the straps.

"He will cut me," thought Pen, for he knew that the pressure of the
strap had made his flesh swell so that the leather was half-bedded in
his arm; but setting his teeth harder--the pain he felt there was more
intense--while, when the knife-blade was being forced under the strap he
only suffered a dull sensation, and then grew conscious that as the
knife was being thrust beneath the strap it steadily divided the bond,
so that directly after there was a dull sound and the blade had forced
its way so thoroughly that the severed portions fell apart; sensation
was so much dulled in the numbed limbs that he was hardly conscious of
what had been done, but he knew that one extremely tight ligature had
ceased its duty, though he could hardly grasp the idea that one of his
bonds was cut.

Then a peculiar throbbing sensation came on, so painful that it diverted
the lad's attention from the continuation of Punch's task, and before he
could thoroughly grasp it Pen found that the sharp blade had been thrust
under another strap, dividing it so that the leather fell apart, and he
was free.

But upon his making an effort to put this to the proof it seemed as if
his arms were like two senseless pieces of wood; but only for a few
minutes, till they began to prove themselves limbs which were bearers of
the most intense agony.

_Click_! went Punch's closing knife-blade; and then he whispered,
"That's done it!  Now, when you are ready, lead off right between those
sleeping chaps.  Creep, you know, in case the sentry looks round."

"A minute first," whispered Pen; "my arms are like lead."

"So's mine.  I say, don't they ache?"

Pen made no reply, but lay breathing hard for a time; and then, raising
his head a little so as to make sure of the safest direction to take, he
turned towards his comrade and whispered, "Now then: off!"



CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.

"HEAR THAT?"

It was still dark, but there were faint suggestions of the coming day
when Pen began to creep in the direction of a black patch which he felt
must be forest.

This promised shelter; but he had first to thread his way amongst the
wounded who lay sleeping around, and his difficulty was to avoid
touching them, for they apparently lay thickest in the direction he had
chosen.

Before he was aware of what he was doing he had laid his inert right
hand upon an outstretched arm, which was drawn back with a sharp wince,
and its owner uttered a groan.  Bearing to the left and whispering to
Punch to take care, Pen crept on, to find himself almost in contact with
another sufferer, who said something incoherently; and then a whisper
from Punch checked his companion.

"Come on," said Pen hastily, "or they will give the alarm."

"Not they, poor chaps!  They are too bad.  That sentry isn't coming, is
he?"

Pen glanced in the man's direction, but he was not visible, for some low
bushes intervened.

"I can't see him," said Pen.

"Then look here, comrade; now's our time.  It's all fair in war.  Every
man for himself."

"What do you mean?  Don't stop to talk, but come on."

"All right; but just this," came back in a whisper.  "They can't help
themselves, and won't take any notice whatever we do, unless they think
we are going to kill them.  Help yourself, comrade, the same as I do."

Pen hesitated for a moment.  Then, as he saw Punch busily taking
possession of musket and cartouche-belt, he followed his example.

"It's for life, perhaps," he thought.

He had no difficulty in furnishing himself with the required arms from a
pile, and that too without any of the wounded seeming to pay the
slightest attention.

"Ready?" whispered Punch.  "Got a full box?"

"Yes," was the answer.

"Sling your musket then.  Look sharp, for it's getting light fast."

Directly after the two lads were crawling onward painfully upon hands
and knees, for every yard sent a pang through Pen's wrists, and he
thoroughly appreciated his comrade's advice, for there were moments when
he felt that had he been carrying the musket he would certainly have
left it behind.

He did not breathe freely till he had entered the dark patch of
woodland, where it was fairly open, and they had pressed on but a short
distance in the direction of the mountain, which high up began to look
lighter against the sky, when he started violently, for the clear notes
of a bugle rang out from somewhere beyond the spot where the wounded
lay, to be answered away to left and right over and over again, teaching
plainly enough that it was the reveille, and also that they were in
close proximity to a very large body of troops.

"Just in time, comrade," said Punch coolly, as he rose to his feet.

"Take care!" cried Pen.  "It isn't safe to stand up yet."

"Think not?  Oh, we shall be all right," replied the boy.  "Lead on.
Didn't you know?  The reveille was going right behind and off to the
left and right; so there's no troops in front, and all we have got to do
is to get on as fast as we can up the mountain yonder.  And it's no
good; I must walk.  My wristies are so bad that if I try to crawl any
more on my hands they will drop off.  Ain't yours bad?"

"Terribly," replied Pen.

"Come on, then; we must risk it.  There, right incline.  Can't you see?
There's a bit of a track yonder."

"I didn't see it, Punch," said Pen, as they bore off to their right,
where the way was more open, and they increased their pace now to a
steady walk, a glance back showing them that they were apparently well
screened by the low growth of trees which flourished in the bottom
slopes of the mountains that they could now see more clearly rising in
front.

"We've done it, comrade," said Punch cheerily, "and I call this a bit of
luck."

"Don't talk so loudly."

"Oh, it don't matter," replied the boy.  "They're making too much noise
themselves to hear us.  Hark at them!  Listen to the buzz!  Why, it's
just as if there's thousands of them down there, just as you thought;
and we've hit on the right way, for those Frenchies wouldn't come
through here unless it was skirmishing with the enemy in front.  Their
enemy's all behind, and they'll be thinking about making their way back
to the mine."

"To see if they can't make up for yesterday's reverses.  I'm afraid,
Punch, it's all over with the poor King and his followers."

"Yes," said Punch thoughtfully, as he trudged on as close as he could
get to his companion.  "It's a bad lookout for them, comrade; but
somehow I seem to think more of Mr Contrabando.  I liked him.  Good
luck to the poor chap!  And when we get a bit farther on we will pitch
upon a snug spot where there's water, and make a bit of breakfast."

"Breakfast!  How?" said Pen, smiling; but, wearied out and faint with
his sufferings, it was a very poor exhibition of mirth--a sort of smile
and water, like that of a sun-gleam upon a drizzly day.  "Breakfast!" he
said, half-scornfully, "You are always thinking of eating, Punch."

"That I ain't, only at bugle-time, when one blows `soup and tater' for
breakfast or dinner.  I say, do you know what the cavalry chaps say the
trumpet call is for stables?"

"No," said Pen quietly; and then to humour his companion he tried to
smile again, as the boy said, "Oh, I know lots of them!  This is what
the trumpet says for the morning call:--

  "Ye lads that are able
  Now come to the stable,
  And give all your horses some water and hay-y-y-y!"

And the boy put his half-crippled fist to his lips and softly rang out
the cavalry call.

"Punch!" whispered Pen angrily, "how can you be such a fool?"

"Tchah!  Nobody can hear us.  I wanted to cheer you up a bit.  Well, it
has stirred you up.  There: all right, comrade.  For'ard!  We are safe
enough here.  But, I say, what made you jump upon me and tell me I was
always thinking about eating when I said breakfast?"

"Because this is no time to think of eating and drinking."

"Oh my!  Ain't it?" chuckled the boy.  "Why, when you are on the march
in the enemy's country you ought to be always on the forage, and it's
the time to think of breakfast whenever you get the chance."

"Of course," said Pen.

"Well, ain't we got the chance?  We was too busy to think of eating all
yesterday, and while we were lying tied up there like a couple of calves
in a farmer's cart."

"Well, are we much better off now, Punch?"

"Much better--much better off!  I should think we are!  It was talking
about poor Mr Contrabando that made me think of it.  Poor chap!  I hope
he will be able to repulse, as you call it, the Frenchies at the next
attack.  He is well provisioned; that's one comfort.  And didn't he
provision us?  My haversack's all right with what I helped myself to at
breakfast yesterday.  Ain't yours?"

Pen clapped his hand to his side.  "No," he said.  "The band was torn
off, and it's gone."

"What a pity!  Never mind, comrade.  Mine's all right, and regular
bulgy; and, as they say, what's enough for one is enough for two; so
that will be all right.  I say, ain't it getting against the collar?"

"Yes, we are on the mountain-slope, Punch."

"Think we are not getting up the same mountain where the old mine is?"

"No, Punch.  That must be off more to the right, I think."

"Yes, I suppose so.  But of course we ain't sure; and I suppose we are
not going anywhere near the old _padre's_ place?"

"No, Punch; that lies farther away still to the right."

"Yes.  But, I say, how you seem to get it into your head where all the
places lie!  I can't.  It seems to me as if you could make a map."

"No, no.  But I suppose if I wandered about here for long enough I
should be able to make out some of the roads and tracks."

"Then I suppose you haven't been here long enough," said the boy
banteringly.  "If you had, you would be able to tell where the British
army is, and lead right on to it at once."

"That would be rather a hard job, Punch, when troops are perhaps
changing their quarters every day."

"I say, hear that?" said the boy excitedly, as a distant call rang out.

"Yes, plain enough to hear," replied Pen.

"Then we ought to turn back, oughtn't we?"

"No.  Why?"

"Some of the Frenchies in front.  That was just before us, half a mile
away."

Pen shook his head, and the boy looked at him wonderingly.

"There!  There it is again!  Let's get into hiding somewhere, or we
shall be running right into them."

For another clear bugle-note rang out as if in answer to the first.

"That's nothing to mind, Punch," said Pen.  "These notes came from
behind, and were echoed from the mountain in front."

"Why, of course!  But I can't help it.  Father always said that I had
got the thickest head he ever see.  I got thinking that we were going to
run right into some French regiment.  Then it's all right, and we shall
be able to divide our rations somewhere up yonder where the echoes are
playing that game.  I say, what a mistake might be made if some officer
took an echo like that for the real thing!"

"Yes," said Pen thoughtfully; and the two lads stopped and listened to
different repetitions of the calls, which seemed fainter and fainter as
the time went on; and the sun was well up, brightening as lovely a
landscape of mountain, glen, and green slope as ever met human eye.

But it was blurred to Pen by the desolation and wildness of a country
that was being ravaged by invasion and its train of the horrors of war.

As the lads tramped on, seeing no sign of human habitation, not even a
goat-herd's hut on the mountain-slopes, the sun grew hotter and the way
more weary, till all at once Punch pointed to a few goats just visible
where the country was growing more rugged and wild.

"See that, comrade?" he cried.

"Yes, goats," said Pen wearily; and he stopped short, to throw himself
down upon a heathery patch, and removed his cap to wipe his perspiring
forehead.

"No, no; don't sit down.  Don't stop yet," cried Punch.  "I didn't mean
those old goats.  Look away to the left in that hollow.  Can't you see
it sparkling?"  And the boy pointed to the place where a little rivulet
was trickling down the mountain-side to form a fall, the water making a
bright leap into a fair-sized pool.  "Let's get up yonder first and sit
down and see what I have got in my haversack.  Then a good drink of
water, and we shall be able to go on, and perhaps find where our fellows
are before night."

"Yes, Punch--or march right into the lines of the French," said Pen
bitterly.

"Oh, well, we must take our chance of that, comrade.  One's as likely as
the other.  There's the French troops about, and there's our English
lads--the lads in red as well as the boys in green.  No, it's no use to
be down in the mouth.  We are just as likely to find one as the other.
I wonder how they are getting on up there in the old mine.  Shall we be
near enough to hear if there's any fighting going on?"

"Perhaps," said Pen, springing up.  "But let's make for that water."

But it was farther off than it had at first appeared, and it was nearly
half an hour after they had startled the browsing goats when the two
weary lads threw themselves down with a sigh of content beside the
mountain pool, which supplied them with delicious draughts of clear cold
water as an accompaniment to the contents of the haversack which Punch's
foresight had provided.

"Ah!" sighed the boy.  "'Lishus, wasn't it?"

"Yes, delicious," said Pen.

"Only one thing agin it," said Punch.

"One thing against it," said Pen, looking up, "Why, it could not have
been better."

"Yes," said the boy sadly.  "It waren't half enough."

"Hark!  Listen!" said Pen, holding up his hand.

"Guns firing!" exclaimed Punch in a whisper.  "Think that's in the
little valley that leads up to the old mine?"

"It's impossible to say," replied Pen.  "It's firing, sure enough, and a
long way off; but I can't tell whether it's being replied to or whether
we are only listening to the echoes."

"Anyhow," said Punch, "it's marching orders, and I suppose we ought to
get farther away."

"Yes," replied Pen with a sigh.  "But how do you feel?  Ready to go on
now?"

"No, not a bit.  I feel as if I want to take off my coat and bathe my
arms in the water here, for they ache like hooray."

"Do it, then," said Pen wearily, "and I must do the same to my wound as
well; and then, Punch, there's only one thing I can do more."

"What's that, comrade?"

"Get in the shade under that grey-looking old olive, and have a few
hours' sleep."

"Splendour!" said Punch, taking off his coat.  "Hark at the firing!"

"Yes," said Pen wearily, as he followed his comrade's example.  "They
may fire, but I am so done up that they can't keep me awake."

The water proved to be a delicious balm for the bruised limbs and the
wound--a balm so restful and calming to the nerves that somehow the sun
had long set, and the evening star was shining brilliantly in the soft
grey evening sky when the two sleepers, who had lain utterly unconscious
for hours, started awake together, wondering what it all meant, and then
prepared themselves to face the darkness of the coming night, not
knowing what fate might bring; but Pen felt a strange chill run through
his breast with a shiver as Punch exclaimed in a low, warning whisper,
"I say, comrade, hear that?  Wolves?"



CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.

STRUNG-UP.

"Or dogs," said Pen angrily.  "What a fellow you are, Punch!  Don't you
think we had enough to make us low-spirited and miserable without you
imagining that the first howl you hear comes from one of those horrible
brutes?"

"It's all very well," said Punch with a shudder.  "I have heard dogs
enough in my time.  Why, I used to be once close to the kennel where
they kept the foxhounds, and they used to set-to and sing sometimes all
at once.  Then I have heard shut-up dogs howl all night, and other sorts
begin to howl when it was moonlight; but I never heard a dog make a
noise like that.  I am sure it's wolves."

"Well, perhaps you are right, Punch; but I suppose they never attack
people except in the winter-time when they are starving and the ground's
covered with snow; and this is summer, and they have no reason for
coming down from the mountains."

"Oh, I say," exclaimed the boy, "haven't they just!"

"Will you hold your tongue, Punch!" cried Pen angrily.  "This is a nice
way to prepare ourselves for a tramp over the mountains, isn't it?"

"Are we going to tramp over the mountains in the night?" said the boy
rather dolefully.

"Yes, and be glad of the opportunity to get farther away from the French
before morning."

"But won't it be very bad for your leg, comrade?"

"No worse than it will be for your back, Punch."

"But wouldn't it be better if we had a good rest to-night?"

"Where?" said Pen bluntly.

"In some goat-keeper's cottage.  We saw goats before we came here, and
there must be people who keep them."

"Perhaps so," said Pen; "but I have seen no cottages."

"We ain't looked," said Punch.

"No, and I don't think it would be very wise to look for them in the
dark.  Come, Punch, don't be a coward."

"I ain't one; but I can't stand going tramping about in these mountains
with those horrid beasts hunting you, smelling you out and following you
wherever you go."

"I don't believe they would dare to come near us if we shouted at them,"
said Pen firmly; "and we needn't be satisfied with that, for if they
came near and we fired at them they would never come near us again."

"Yes, we have got the guns," said the boy; and he unslung the one he
carried and began to try the charge with the ramrod.  "Hadn't you better
see if yours is all right too?" he said.

"Perhaps I had," was the reply, "for we might have to use them for
business that had nothing to do with wolves."

As he spoke, Pen followed his comrade's example, driving the cartridge
and bullet well home, and then feeling whether the powder was up in the
pan.

"Oh, I say," cried the boy huskily, "there they go again!  They're
coming down from high up the mountains.  Hadn't we better go lower down
and try and find some cottage?"

"I don't think so," said Pen sturdily.

"But we might find one, you know--an empty one, just the same as we did
before, when my back was so bad.  Then we could shut ourselves in and
laugh at the wolves if they came."

"We don't want to laugh at the wolves," said Pen jocularly.  "And it
might make them savage.  I know I used to have a dog and I could always
put him in a rage by laughing at him and calling him names."

"And now you are laughing at me.  I can't help it.  I am ashamed
perhaps; but, knowing what I do about the wolves, and what our chaps
have seen--Ugh!  It's horrid!  There they go again.  Let's get lower
down."

"To where the French are lying in camp, so that they may get hold of us
again?  Nonsense, Punch!  What was the good of our slipping away if it
was only to give ourselves up?"

"But we didn't know then that we should run up against these wolves."

"We are not going to run up against them, Punch, but they are going to
run away from us if we behave like men."

"But, don't you see, I can't behave like a man when I'm only a boy?  Oh,
there they go again!" half-whispered the poor fellow, who seemed
thoroughly unnerved.  "Come along, there's a good chap."

"No," said Pen firmly.  "You can't behave like a man, but you can behave
like a brave boy, and that's what you are going to do.  If we ever get
back to our company you wouldn't like me to tell the lads that you were
so frightened by the howling of the wolves that you let me go on alone
to face them, and--"

"Here, I say," cried Punch excitedly, "you don't mean to say that you
would go on alone!"

"I mean to say I would," said Pen firmly; "but I shall not have to,
because you are coming on along with me."

"No, I ain't," said the boy stubbornly.

"Yes, you are."

"You don't know," continued the boy, through his set teeth.  "Hanged if
I do--so there!"

Pen laughed bitterly.

"Well, you are a queer fellow, Punch," he said.  "You stood by me
yesterday and faced dozens of those French chasseurs, and fought till we
had fired off our last cartridge, and then set-to to keep them off with
the butt of your musket, though you were quite sure they would come on
again and again."

"Perhaps I did," said the boy huskily, "because I felt I ought to as a
soldier, and it was dooty; but 'tain't a soldier's dooty to get torn to
pieces by wolves.  Ugh!  It's horrid, and I can't bear it."

"Come on, Punch.  I am going."

"No, don't!  I say, pray don't, comrade!" cried the boy passionately;
and he caught at Pen's arm and clung to it with all his might.  "I tell
you I'd shoulder arms, keep touch with you, and keep step and march
straight up to a regiment of the French, with the bullets flying all
about our ears.  I wouldn't show the white once till I dropped.  You
know I'd be game if it was obeying orders, and all our fellows coming on
behind.  I tell you I would, as true as true!"

"What!" said Pen, turning upon him firmly, "you would do that if you
were ordered?"

"That I would, and I wouldn't flinch a bit.  You know I never did,"
cried the boy passionately.  "Didn't I always double beside my
company-leader, and give the calls whenever I was told?"

"Yes; and now I am going to be your company-leader to-night.  Now then,
my lad, forward!"

Pen jerked his arm free and stepped off at once, while his comrade
staggered with the violence of the thrust he had received.  Then,
recovering himself, he stood fast, struggling with the stubborn rage
that filled his young breast, till Pen was a dozen paces in front,
marching sturdily on in the direction of the howls that they had heard,
and without once looking back.

Then from out of the silence came the boy's voice.

"You'll be sorry for this," he shouted.

Pen made no reply.

"Oh, it's too bad of him," muttered Punch.  "I say," he shouted, "you
will be sorry for this, comrade.  D'ye 'ear?"

Tramp, tramp, tramp went Pen's feet over the stony ground.

"Oh, I say, comrade, this is too bad!" whimpered the boy; and then,
giving his musket one or two angry slaps as if in an exaggerated salute,
he shouldered the piece and marched steadily after his leader.

Pen halted till the boy closed up, and then started again.

"There, Punch," he said quietly, "I knew you better than you know
yourself."

The boy made no reply, but marched forward with his teeth set; and
evidently now thoroughly strung-up to meet anything that was in store,
he stared straight before him into the darkness and paid no heed to the
distant howls that floated to them upon the night-air from time to time.



CHAPTER FORTY.

FRIENDS OR FOES?

"This is rather hard work, Punch, lad," said Pen, after a long silence;
but the boy took no notice.  "The ground's so rugged that I've nearly
gone down half-a-dozen times.  Well, haven't you anything to say?"

The boy kept his teeth firmly pressed together and marched on in
silence; and the night tramp went on for quite a couple of hours, till,
growing wearied out by the boy's determination, Pen began again to try
and break the icy reserve between them.

"What a country this is!" he said.  "To think of our going on hour after
hour never once seeing a sign of any one's dwelling-place.  Ah, look at
that!" he exclaimed excitedly.  "Do you see that light?"

"Yes," said Punch sulkily, "a wolf's eye staring at us."

"Then he's got one shut," said Pen, laughing softly.  "I can only see
one.  Why, you are thinking of nothing else but wolves.  It's a little
watch-fire far away."

Punch lowered his piece quickly and cocked it.

"Look out, comrade," he said, "some one will challenge directly.  Drop
down together, don't us, if he does?"

"I don't think they will be sentries right up here," said Pen.

"What then?"

"Shepherds," replied Pen abruptly.

He was about to add, "to keep off the wolves," but he checked himself in
time, as he half-laughed and thought that it would scare his companion
again.

Punch remained silent and marched on, keeping step, till they were
getting very close to a tiny scrap of a smouldering fire; and then there
was a rush of feet as if about a couple of dozen goats had been
startled, to spring up and scatter away, with their horny hoofs
pattering amongst the stones; and at the same moment the two lads became
aware of the fact that after their habit the sturdy little animals had
been sleeping around a couple of fierce-looking, goatskin-clothed,
half-savage Spanish goat-herds, one of whom kicked at the fire, making
it burst into a temporary blaze which lit up their swarthy features and
flashed in their eyes, and, what was more startling still, on the blades
of the two long knives which they snatched from their belts.

"_Amigos, amigos_!" cried Pen, and he grounded arms, Punch following his
example.

"_Amigos!  No, Franceses_," shouted one of the men, as the fire burnt up
more brightly; and he pointed at Pen's musket.

"_No_," cried Pen, "_Ingleses_."  And laying down his piece near the
fire, he coolly seated himself and began to warm his hands.  "Come on,
Punch," he said, "sit down; and give me your haversack."

The boy obeyed, and as the two men looked at them doubtingly Pen took
the haversack, held it out, thrust his hand within two or three times,
and shook his head before pointing to his lips and making signs as if he
wanted to eat.

"_El pano, agua_," he said.

The men turned to gaze into each other's eyes as if in doubt, and then
began slowly to thrust their long, sharp knives into their belts; and it
proved directly afterwards that Pen's pantomime had been sufficiently
good, for one of them strode away into the darkness, where the lads
could make out a sort of wind-shade of piled-up stones, from which he
returned directly afterwards with what proved to be a goatskin-bag,
which he carried to his companion, and then went off again, to return
from somewhere behind the stones, carrying a peculiar-looking earthen
jar, which proved to be filled with water.

Just then Punch drew the two muskets a little farther from the fire, and
to Pen's surprise took off his jacket and carefully covered their locks.

"Afraid of the damp," muttered Pen to himself; and then he smiled up in
the face of the fiercer-looking of the two goat-herds as the man placed
a cake of coarse-looking bread in his hands and afterwards turned out
from the bag a couple of large onions, to which he added a small
bullock's horn whose opening was stopped with a ball of goatskin.

"_Bueno, bueno_!" said Pen, taking the food which was offered to him
with the grave courtesy of a gentleman; and, not to be outdone, he took
the hand that gave and lightly raised it to his lips.  The act of
courtesy seemed to melt all chilling reserve, and the two men hurried to
throw some heather-like twigs upon the fire, which began to burn up
brightly, emitting a pleasant aromatic smoke.  Then, seating themselves,
the more fierce-looking of the pair pointed to the bread and held up the
jar so that they could drink.

"_Amigos, amigos_!" he said softly; and he took the jar in turn, drank
to the lads, and gravely set it down between them; and then as Pen broke
bread Punch started violently, for each of the men drew out his knife,
and the boy's hand was stretched out towards the muskets, but withdrawn
directly as he realised the meaning of the unsheathed knives, each of
the goat-herds snatching up one of the onions and beginning to peel it
for the guests, before hastening to stick the point of his knife into
the vegetable and hand both to their visitors.

"They scared me," said Punch.  "I say, don't the onions smell good!
Want a bit of salt, though."

He had hardly said the word before the taller of the two men caught up
the horn, drew out the ball-like wad which closed it up, and revealed
within a reddish-looking powder which glistened in the light of the fire
and proved to be rock-salt.

It was a very rough and humble meal, but Punch expressed his companion's
feelings when he said it was 'lishus.

"Worth coming for--eh, Punch?" said Pen, "and risking the wolves."

"Here, I say, drop that, comrade.  Don't be hard on a fellow.  One can't
help having one's feelings.  But I say, you looked half-scared too when
these two Spaniards whipped out their knives."

"I was more than half, Punch.  But it was the same with them; they
looked startled enough when we came upon them suddenly with our muskets
and woke them out of sleep."

"Yes; they thought we was Frenchies till you showed them we was
friends."

It was a rough but savoury meal, and wonderfully picturesque too, for
the fire burned up briskly, shedding a bright light upon their hosts in
their rough goatskin clothes, as they sat looking on as if pleased and
amused at Punch's voracity, while now the herd of goats that had
scampered away into the darkness recovered from their panic and came
slowly back one by one, to form a circle round the fire, where they
stood, long-horned, shaggy, and full-bearded, looking in the half-light
like so many satyrs of the classic times, blinking their eyes and
watching the little feast as if awaiting their time to be invited to
join in.

"I say," said Pen suddenly, "that was very thoughtful and right of you,
Punch, to cover over the muskets; but you had better put your jacket on
again.  These puffs of air that come down from the mountains blow very
cold; when the fire flames up it seems to burn one cheek, while the wind
blows on the other and feels quite icy.  There's no chance of any damp
making the locks rusty.  Put on your jacket, lad; put on your jacket."

"That I don't," said the boy, in a half-whisper.  "Who thought anything
about dew or damp?"

"Why, you did."

"Not likely, with the guns so close to the fire.  Did you think I meant
that?"

"Why, of course."

"Nonsense!  I didn't want these Spaniels to take notice of them."

"I don't understand you, Punch."

"Why, didn't you tell them we was English?"

"Of course."

"And at the same time," said Punch, "put a couple of French muskets down
before them, and us with French belts and cartridge-boxes on us all the
time?"

"Oh, they wouldn't have noticed that."

"I don't know," said Punch.  "These are rough-looking chaps, but they
are not fools; and the French have knocked them about so that they hate
them and feel ready to give them the knife at the slightest chance."

"Well, there's no harm in being particular, Punch; but I don't think
they will doubt us."

"Well, I don't doubt them," said Punch.  "What a jolly supper!  I feel
just like a new man.  But won't it be a pity to leave here and go on the
march again?  You know, I can't help it, comrade; I shall begin thinking
about the wolves again as soon as we start off into the darkness.
Hadn't we better lie down here and go to sleep till daylight?"

"I don't know," said Pen thoughtfully.  "These men have been very
friendly to us, but we are quite strangers, and if they doubt our being
what we said ours would be a very awkward position if we went off to
sleep.  Could you go off to sleep and trust them?"

"Deal sooner trust them than the wolves, comrade," said Punch, yawning
violently, an act which was so infectious that it made his companion
yawn too.

"How tiresome!" he exclaimed, "You make me sleepy, and if we don't jump
up and start at once we shall never get off."

"Well then, don't," said Punch appealingly.  "Let's risk it, comrade.
These two wouldn't be such brutes as to use their knives on us when we
were asleep.  Look here!  What do they mean now?"

For the two goat-herds came and patted them on the shoulders and signed
to them to get up and follow.

"Why, they want us to go along with them, comrade," said the boy,
picking up the two muskets.

"Here, ketch hold, in case they mean mischief.  Why, they don't want to
take us into the dark so that the goats shouldn't see the murder, do
they?"

"I am going to do what you suggested, Punch," replied Pen, "risk it,"
and he followed their two hosts to the rough-looking stone shelter which
kept off the wind and reflected the warmth of the fire.

Here they drew out a couple of tightly rolled-up skin-rugs, and made
signs that the lads should take them.  No words were spoken, the men's
intention was plainly enough expressed; and a very short time afterwards
each lad was lying down in the angle of the rough wall, snugly rolled in
his skin-rug, with a French musket for companion; and to both it seemed
as if only a few minutes had elapsed before they were gazing across a
beautiful valley where mists were rising, wreath after wreath of
half-transparent vapour, shot with many colours by the rays of the
rising sun.



CHAPTER FORTY ONE.

BOOTS OR BOOTY?

"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, Frances_, and _Ingles_--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 Frances_?" 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 Frances_!" he said, showing his white teeth in a smile; and
then his face changed and he drew his knife.  "_Soldado Frances_," 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 Ingles_."

"_Si_," said the man directly; and he patted the lad on his shoulder.
"_Soldado Ingles_."

"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 Ingles_?"

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 Ingles!  Soldado Ingles_!" 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 Ingles, 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."

"Nonsense!"

"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."



CHAPTER FORTY TWO.

FRIEND AND ENEMY.

The two lads started off light-hearted and hopeful, for if they could
trust the goat-herds, whose information seemed to be perfectly correct,
a day's journey downward to the river in the valley, though seeming far
distant, must bring them pretty near the goal they sought--in other
words, the headquarters of the army that had crossed over from Portugal
into Spain to drive back the French usurper, the task having been given
to England's most trusted General, Wellesley, who was in time to come
always to be better known as Wellington.

Thanks to the goat-herds, the lads were well provisioned for a day; but
at the same time, and again thanks to their hosts of the past night,
they were sadly crippled for their task.

It was not long before they began to feel how badly they were equipped,
for the principal production of the part of the country they traversed
seemed to be stones, from the smallest sharp-cornered pebble up to huge
blocks half the size of a house.  But for hours they trudged on
sturdily, chatting cheerfully at first, then growing silent, and then
making remarks which were started by Punch.

"Say, comrade," he said, "is Spain what they call a civilised country?"

"Yes, and one of the most famous in Europe; at least, it used to be."

"Ah, used to be!" said Punch sharply.  "Used.  'Tain't now.  I don't
call a place civilised where they have got roads like this."

"Yes, it is rough," said Pen.

"Rough!  Rough ain't the word for it," grumbled Punch.  "If we go on
much farther like this I shall wear my feet to the bone.  Ain't it time
we sat down and had a bit of dinner?"

"No," replied Pen.  "We will sit down and rest if you like, but we must
try and husband our provisions so as to make them last over till
to-morrow night."

"What's to-morrow night got to do with it?  We ought to be along with
the British army by to-night; and what's husbands got to do with it?  We
are not going to share our prog with anybody else, and if it's husbands,
how do we know they won't bring their wives?  Bother!  You will be
telling me they are going to bring all their kids next."

"Is that meant for a joke, Punch?  Let's go a little farther first.
Come along, step out."

"Step out indeed!" grumbled the boy.  "I stepped out first thing--right
out of my boots.  I say, comrade, oughtn't the soles of our feet to
begin to get hard by now?"

"Don't talk about it, Punch."

"Oh, you can feel it too?  If it's like this now, what's it going to be
by to-night?  I did not know that it was going to be so bad.  If I had,
blest if that goat-stalker should have had my boots!  I'd have kept
them, and shared them--one apiece--and every now and then we could have
changed foots.  It would have been better then, wouldn't it?"

"I don't know, Punch.  Don't think about it.  Let's go on till we get to
the first spring, and then rest and bathe our feet."

"All right."

The boys kept on their painful walk for another hour; and then, the
spring being found, they rested and bathed their tender soles, partook
of a portion of their provisions, and went on again.

That night the river seemed to be as far off as ever, and as they
settled upon a sheltered spot for their night's rest, and ate their
spare supper, Punch hazarded the remark that they shouldn't overtake the
army the next day.  Pen was more hopeful, and that night they fell
asleep directly, with Punch quite forgetful of the wolves.

The morning found the travellers better prepared for the continuance of
their journey, and they toiled on painfully, slept for another night in
a patch of forest, and started off at the first blink of dawn so as to
reach the river, which was now flowing swiftly westward on their left.

Their provisions were finished, all but a scrap of the bread which was
so hard that they were glad to soak it in the river; but in spite of
their pain they walked on more bravely, their sufferings being
alleviated by the water, which was now always on their left, and down to
whose bubbling surface they descended from time to time.

"I say," said Punch, all at once, "I hope those chaps were right,
because we have come a long way, and I can't see no sign of the army.
You must have patience, Punch."

"All right; but it's nearly all used up.  I say, look here, do you think
the army will be this side of the river?"

"Can't say, Punch.--I hope so."

"But suppose it's the other side.  How are you going to get across?  Are
we likely to come to a town and a bridge?"

"No; we are too far away up in the mountains.  But I dare say we shall
be able to find a ford where we can cross."

"Oh!" said Punch thoughtfully; and they journeyed on, beginning to
suffer now from hunger in addition to weariness and pain; and just about
midday, when the heat of the sun was beating down strongly in the river
valley, Punch limped off painfully to where an oak-tree spread its shady
boughs, and threw himself prone.

"It's all up, comrade," he said.  "Can't go no farther."

"No, no; don't give way," said Pen, who felt painfully disposed to
follow his companion's example.  "Get well into the shade and have a few
hours' sleep.  It will be cooler by-and-by, and we shall get on better
after a rest.  There, try and go to sleep."

"Who's to sleep with a pair of red-hot feet and an empty cupboard?  I
can't," said Punch.  And he took hold of his ankles, drew them up, and
sat Chinese-tumbler fashion, rocking himself to and fro; while with a
weary sigh Pen sank down beside him and sat gazing into the sunny
distance.

"Couldn't we get over to the other side?" said Punch at last.  "It's all
rocks and stones and rough going this side, and all green and meadowlike
over the other.  Can you swim?"

"Yes, pretty well," said Pen; "but I should be too tired to try."

"So can I, pretty tidy.  I am tired, but not too tired to try.  Let's
just rest a bit, and then swim across.  It runs pretty fast, but 'tain't
far, and if it carried us some way down, all the better."

"Very well, after a bit I don't mind if we try," said Pen; "but I must
rest first."

Then the boys were silent for a time, for Punch, whose eyes were
wandering as he scanned the distance of the verdant undulating slope on
the other side of the river, suddenly burst out with: "Yes, we had
better get across, for our chaps are sure to be on the other side of the
river."

"Why?" said Pen drowsily.

"'Cause we are this.  Soldiering always seems to be going by the rules
of contrary; and--there!" cried the boy excitedly, "what did I tell you?
There they are!"

"What, our men?  Where?" cried Pen excitedly.

"Right over yonder, a mile away."

"I can see nothing."

"You don't half look," cried Punch angrily, bending forward, nursing his
tender feet and staring wildly into the distance.  "I ketched sight of a
bit of scarlet ever so far off, and that must mean Bri'sh soldiers."

"No; it might be something painted red--or a patch of poppies perhaps."

"Oh, go it!" cried Punch angrily.  "You will say next it is a jerrynium
in a red pot, same as my mother always used to have in her window.  It's
red-coats, I tell you.  There, can't you see them?"

"No."

"Tchah!  You are not looking right.  Look yonder--about a mile away from
the top of that hill just to the right of that bit of a wood.  Now, do
you see?"

"No," said Pen slowly.  "Yes, I do--men marching.  Do you see that flash
in the sunlight.  Bayonets!  Punch, you are right!"

"Ah!" said the boy.  "Now then, what do you say to a swim across?"

"Yes, I am ready," said Pen.  "How far is it, do you think?"

"About a hundred yards," replied the boy.  "Oh, we ought to do that
easy.  You see, it will be only paddle at first, and then wade till you
get up to your chest, and then swim.  Perhaps we sha'n't have to swim at
all.  Rough rivers like this are always shallow.  When you are ready I
am.  We sha'n't have to take off our shoes and stockings; and if we get
very wet, well, we can wring our clothes, and they will soon dry in the
sun.  Look sharp and give the word.  I am ready for anything with the
British army in sight."

There was no hesitation now.  The lads took the precaution of securing
their cartouche-boxes between the muzzle of their pieces and the ramrod;
and, keeping the muskets still slung so that at any moment they could
let them drop loose to hang from the shoulder, they stepped carefully
down amongst the stones until the pleasantly cool water began to foam
above their feet, and then waded carefully on till they were knee-deep
and began to feel the pressure of the water against their legs.

"Ain't going to be deep," said Punch cheerily.  "Don't it feel nice to
your toddlers?  How fast it runs, though!  Why, if it was deep enough to
swim in it would carry you along faster than you could walk.  It strikes
me that we shall get across without having it up to one's waistbelt."

The boy seemed pretty correct in his judgment, for as they carefully
waded on--carefully, for the bottom was very uneven--they were nearly
half across, and still the water was not so deep as the boy had
prophesied.

"There!  What did I tell you?" he said; and then with his next step he
caught at his companion's hand and went down to his chin.

The result was that Pen lost his balance, and the pair, half-struggling,
half-swimming for about a dozen yards, were carried swiftly along to
where a patch of rock showed itself in mid-stream with the water foaming
all around.

They were swept right round against the rocks, and found bottom
directly, struggling up, with the swift stream only now to their knees.

"What a hole!" cried Pen, panting a little with his exertions.  "I say,
you must take care, Punch."

"Oh yes, I will take care," said the boy, puffing and choking.  "I don't
know how much water I have swallowed.  But it's all shallow now, and we
are half-over.  How about your cartridges?  Mine's all wet."

"Then I suppose mine are too," said Pen.

"Never mind," cried Punch cheerfully.  "Perhaps they will be all right
if we lay them out to dry in the sun.  Now then, are you ready?  It
looks as if it will be all shallow the rest of the way."

"I sha'n't trust it," said Pen, "so let's keep hold of hands."

They started again, yielding a little to the stream, and wading
diagonally for the bank on Punch's left, but making very slow progress,
for Pen noted that the water, which was rough and shallow where they
were, seemed to flow calmly and swiftly onward a short distance away,
and was evidently deep.

"Steady!  Steady!" cried Pen, hanging away a little towards the bank
from which they had started.

"All right; I am steady enough, only one can't do as one likes.  It's
just as if all the water was pushing behind.  Ah!  Look out, comrade!"

Pen was already looking out, and he had need, for once more his
companion had stepped as it were off a shelf into deep water, and the
next moment, still grasping Punch's hand with all his might, he was
striking out; and then together they were being borne rapidly down by
the stream.



CHAPTER FORTY THREE.

FRESH COMRADES.

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?"

"Yes."

"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."



CHAPTER FORTY FOUR.

BEFORE THE AQUILINE.

Three days in the English camp, and the two lads had pretty well
recovered; but they were greatly disappointed to find that during the
absence of the dragoons on vedette duty the --th and another regiment
had been despatched for a reconnoitring expedition, so that the lads had
encountered no old friends.

"Well, I suppose we oughtn't to grumble, comrade," said Punch, "for
every one makes no end of a fuss over us, and are always beginning to
ask questions and set one telling them about all we did after we were
left behind."

"Yes; I am rather tired of it," said Pen.  "I shall be only too glad
when we are able to join the regiment."

"Oh, I shall be glad enough," said Punch.  "I want to see old O'Grady,
me boy; and, I say, do you think, if I was to make a sort of petition
like, the colonel would put me in one of the companies now?  Of course I
used to be proud enough of being bugler, but I want to be full private."

"Well, you have only got to wait till you get bigger," said Pen,
smiling.

"Bother bigger!" cried the boy.  "Why, I am growing fast, and last time
I was measured I was only an inch shorter than the little chap we have
got; and what difference does an inch make when a fellow can carry a
rifle and can use it?  You can't say that I ain't able, though it was
only a musket."

"No, Punch; there isn't a man in the regiment could have done better
than you did."

"There, then!" cried the boy, with his eyes sparkling.  "Then I'm sure
if you would speak up and say all that to the colonel he would let me go
into one of the companies.  I want to be in yours, but I would wait for
my chance if they would only make me a full private at once."

The boys were sitting talking together when an infantry sergeant came up
and said, "Here, youngsters, don't go away.  Smarten yourselves up a
bit.  You are to come with me to the officers' tent.  I will be back in
about ten minutes."

The sergeant went off in his quick, business-like way, and Punch began
to grumble.

"Who's to smarten himself up," he cried petulantly, "when his uniform is
all nohow and he's got no proper boots?  These old uns they've give me
don't fit, and they will be all to pieces directly; and yours ain't much
better.  I suppose they are going to question us again about where we
have been and what we have done."

"Yes," said Pen wearily, "and I am rather tired of it.  It's like making
a show of us."

"Oh, well, it don't hurt.  They like to hear, and I dare say the
officers will give orders that we are to have something to eat and
drink."

"Punch, you think of nothing but eating and drinking," said Pen again.

"Well, after being starved as we have, ain't it enough to make anybody
think that a little more wouldn't do them any harm?  Hallo, he's soon
back!"  For he caught sight of the sergeant coming.

"Now, boys," he said, "ready?"

"Yes," said Pen; and the keen-looking non-com looked both of them over
in turn.

"That the best you can do for yourselves?" he said sourly.  "Well, I
suppose it is.  You are clean, and you look as if you had been at work.
You, Punchard, can't you let those trousers down a little lower?"

"No, sir; I did try last night.  They have run up through being in the
river when we were half-drowned."

"Humph!  Perhaps," said the sergeant.  "I believe it was the growing so
much."

Punch turned sharply to his comrade and gave him a wink, as much as to
say, "Hear that?"

"Now then, forward!" said the sergeant.  "And look here, put on your
best manners, boys.  You are going before some of the biggest officers,
so mind your p's and q's."

A few minutes later the sergeant stopped short at the largest tent in
the camp, stated his business to the sentry who was marching to and fro
before a flag, and after waiting a few minutes a subaltern came out,
spoke to the sergeant, and then told the boys to follow him.

Directly after, the pair were ushered into the presence of half-a-dozen
officers in undress uniform, one of whom, a keen-looking, aquiline-nosed
man, gave them in turn a sharp, searching look, which Punch afterwards
said went right through him and came back again.  He then turned to a
grey-haired officer and said shortly, "Go on.  I will listen."

The grey-haired officer nodded and then turned to the two lads.

"Look here, boys," he said, "we have heard something about your
adventures while you were away from your regiment.  Now, stories grow in
telling, like snowballs.  Do you understand?"

"Oh yes, sir," said Punch, "I know that;" and, apparently not in the
slightest degree abashed by the presence in which he found himself, the
boy eagerly scanned each officer in turn, before examining every item
within the tent, and then letting his eyes wander out through the open
doorway.

"And you, my lad?" continued the officer, for Pen had remained silent.

"Yes, sir," said the lad quietly.

"Well," said the officer, "we want the plain, simple account of where
you have been, without any exaggeration, for I am afraid one of you--I
don't know which, but I dare say I shall make a very shrewd guess before
we have done--has been dressing up your adventures with rather a free
hand."

"I beg your pardon, sir," said Pen quietly, "my comrade here, Punchard,
has told nothing but the simple truth, and I have only answered
questions without the slightest exaggeration."

"Without the slightest exaggeration?" said the officer, looking
searchingly at Pen, and there was a touch of irony in his tone.  "Well,
that is what I want from you now."

Pen coloured and remained silent while the officer asked a question or
two of Punch, but soon turned to the elder lad, who, warming as he went
on, briefly and succinctly related the main points of what they had gone
through.

"Very well said!  Well spoken, my lad," said the aquiline-nosed officer;
and Pen started, for, warming in his narration, Pen had almost forgotten
his presence.  "How long have you been a private in the --th?"

"A year, sir."

"Where were you before you enlisted?"

"At Blankton House School."

"Oh, I thought they called that College."

"Yes, sir, they do," said Pen, smiling; "but it is only a preparation
place."

"Yes, for the sons of gentlemen making ready for the army?"

"Yes, sir."

"And how come you to be a private in his Majesty's Rifle-Regiment?"

Pen was silent.

"Speak out, comrade," put in Punch.  "There ain't nothing to be ashamed
of."

"Silence, sir!" cried the officer.  "Let your comrade speak for
himself."  Then turning to Pen, "Your comrade says there was nothing to
be ashamed of."

"There is not, sir," said Pen gravely.

"Well, then, keep nothing back."

"It was this way, sir," said Pen.  "I was educated to be an officer, and
then by a death in my family all my hopes were set aside, and I was
placed in a lawyer's office to become a clerk.  I couldn't bear it,
sir."

"And you ran away?"

"No, sir.  I appealed again and again for leave to return to my school
and finish my education.  My relative refused to listen to me, and I
suppose I did wrong, for I went straight to where they were recruiting
for the Rifle-Regiment, and the sergeant took me at once."

"H'm!" said the officer, looking searchingly in the lad's eyes.  "How
came you to join so quiet-looking a regiment?"

Pen smiled rather bitterly.

"It was because my relative, sir, always threw it in my teeth that it
was for the sake of the scarlet uniform that I wanted to join the army."

"H'm!" said the officer.  "Now, look here, my lad; I presume you have
had your eyes about you during the time that you were a prisoner, when
you were escaping, and when you were with the _contrabandista_ and had
that adventure with the Spanish gentleman whom you suppose to be the
King.  By the way, why did you suppose that he was the King?"

"From the behaviour of his followers, sir, and from what I learned from
the smuggler chief."

"H'm.  He was a Spaniard, of course?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you speak Spanish?"

"No, sir.  We conversed in French."

"Do you speak French fluently?"

"Pretty easily, sir; but I am afraid my accent is atrocious."

"But you should hear him talk Latin, sir!" cried Punch eagerly.

"Silence, boy!" snapped out the grey-haired officer; and the chief gave
him a look and a smile.

"Well, he can, sir; that's quite true," cried Punch angrily.  "He talked
to the old father, the _padre_, who was a regular friend to us."

"Silence, boy!" said the aquiline-nosed officer sternly now.  "Your
comrade can say what he has to say modestly and well.  That is a thing
you cannot do, so do not interrupt again."

"All right, sir.  No, sir; beg pardon," said Punch.

"Well," continued the officer, looking keenly and searchingly at Pen,
"you should have been able to carry in your mind a pretty good idea of
the country you have passed through."

"He can, sir," cried Punch.  "He has got it all in his head like a map."

"My good boy," said the officer, biting his lip to add to the severity
of his aspect, "if you interrupt again you will be placed under arrest."

Punch closed his lips so tightly that they formed a thin pink line right
across the bottom of his face.

"Now, Private Gray, do you think that you do carry within your
recollection a pretty good idea of the face of the country; or to put it
more simply and plainly, do you think you could guide a regiment through
the passes of this wild country and lead them safely to where you left
the French encamped?"

"I have not a doubt but that I could, sir."

"In the dark?"

"It would be rather harder in the dark, sir," replied Pen, "but I feel
confident that I could."

"May I take it that you are willing to try?"

"I am the King's servant, sir, and I will do my best."

"That's enough," said the chief.  "You can return to your quarters and
hold yourself in readiness to do what I propose, and if you do this
successfully--"

The speaker stopped short, and Pen took a step towards him.

"What were you going to say?" said the officer.

"Let me try first, sir," said the lad, with his pale face, worn by what
he had gone through of late, flushing up with excitement.

"That will do," said the officer, "only be ready for your duty at any
moment.--Well, what do you wish to say?"

Pen stretched out his hand and laid it upon Punch's shoulder, for the
boy had been moving his lips almost continuously during the latter part
of the conversation, and in addition making hideous grimaces as if he
were in pain.

"Only this, sir," said Pen; "my companion here went through all that I
did.  He was keenly observant, and would be of great assistance to me if
at any turn I were in doubt."

"Then you would like to have him with you?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you feel that you could trust him?"

"Oh yes, sir," replied Pen.  And the boys' eyes met--their hands too,
for Punch with his lips still pressed together took a step forward and
caught Pen by the hand and wrist.

"Take him with you, then," said the officer.

"Oh, thank--Hooray! hooray!" cried Punch, wildly excited now, for he had
caught the tramp of men and seen that which made him dash towards the
open tent-door.

"Bring back that boy!" cried the officer; and the sergeant, who was
waiting outside, arrested Punch and brought him before the group of
officers.

"How dare you, sir!" cried the chief wrathfully.  "You are not to be
trusted.  I rescind that permission I was about to give."

"Oh, don't do that, sir!  'Tain't fair!" cried the boy.  "I couldn't
help it, sir.  It was our fellows, sir, marching into camp--the --th,
sir--Rifles, sir.  Ain't seen them, sir, since I was shot down.  Don't
be hard on a fellow, sir!  So glad to see them, sir.  You might have
done the same.  I only wanted to give them a cheer."

"Then go out and cheer them, sir," said the officer, frowning severely,
but with a twinkle of mirth in his eye.--"There, Pen Gray, you know your
duty.  It is an important one, and I have given it to you in the full
belief that you will well serve your country and your King."



CHAPTER FORTY FIVE.

NO MORE BUGLING.

That same night not only a regiment but a very strong brigade of the
British army marched upon the important service that was in hand.

They marched only by night, and under Pen's guidance the French forces
that had been besieging the old mine were utterly routed.  This happened
at a time when provisions were failing, and the _contrabandista_ captain
saw nothing before him but surrender, for he had found to his dismay
that the adit through which he had hoped to lead the Spanish monarch to
safety had been blocked by the treacherous action of some follower--by
whom, he could not tell, though he guessed that it was a question of
bribery.

There was nothing for it but to die in defence of his monarch, and this
they were prepared to do; but no further fierce fighting had taken
place, for the French General, after securing every exit by the aid of
his reinforcements, felt satisfied that he had only to wait for either
surrender or the dash out by a forlorn hope, ready to die sword in hand.

Then came shortly what was to him a thorough surprise, and the routing
of his forces by the British troops in an encounter which laid open a
large tract of country and proved to be one of the greatest successes of
Sir Arthur Wellesley's campaign.

The natural sequence was a meeting in the English General's tent, where
the King was being entertained by the General himself.  Here he
expressed a desire to see again the brave young English youth to whom he
owed so much, for he had learned the part Pen Gray had taken in his
rescue.

It was one afternoon of such a day as well made the Peninsula deserve
the name of Sunny Spain that the --th Rifles were on duty ready to
perform their task of acting as escort to the dethroned Spanish monarch
on his way back to his capital; and to the surprise of Pen a message was
brought to him to come with his companion to the General's tent.

Here he was received by the King in person, and with a few earnest
thanks for all he had done, the monarch presented him with a ring which
he took from his finger.  He followed this up by taking his watch and
chain and presenting them to Punch, who took them in speechless wonder,
looked from one to the other, and then whispered to Pen, "He means this
for you."

The General heard his words, and said quietly, "No, my lad; keep your
present.  Your friend and companion has yet to be paid for the modest
and brave way in which he performed his duties in guiding our force.--
Private Gray, his Majesty here is in full agreement with that which I am
about to do.  It is this--which is quite within my powers as General of
his Britannic Majesty's forces.  In exceptional cases promotion is given
to young soldiers for bravery in the field.  I have great pleasure in
presenting you with your commission.  Ensign Gray, I hope that some day
I may call you Captain.  The way is open to you now.  I wish you every
success."

"Oh, I say!" cried Punch, as soon as they were alone.

The boy could say no more, for he was half-choking with emotion.  But
within an hour he was with Pen again bursting with news and ready to
announce, "No more bugling!  Hooray!  I am the youngest full private in
our corps!"

THE END.





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