Chapter 4 | A Young Hero

Chapter Four.

There were more sharp stones in their way that day than flowers. The Doctor and his charge tramped steadily on that morning, till in the distance they suddenly saw stretched out before them a long line of something which kept on glittering in the sunlight.

“Soldiers,” cried Phil, excitedly. “I know. I can see the bayonets on their guns. It must be my father’s men.”

“In blue coats, Phil?” said the Doctor, sadly.

The boy was silent for a few moments, as he stood with his brow knit, before saying slowly:

“No; their coats are red, and they have white leggings.”

There was nothing for it but to turn back and then strike off in another direction, which they followed till evening, when the bread was eaten, the milk having been finished at noon, and the basket and pitcher placed together in a tree.

“I should like to come and find them again some day and take them back to her,” said Phil. “We may come here again, mayn’t we?”

“Perhaps,” said the Doctor, with a sigh; and then, “Phil, my child, are you very, very tired?”

“Not so tired as I was last night. Why do you ask?”

“Because we must not sleep in a wood to-night; we must walk on till we come to some farm and ask for a lodging there.”

“No, no,” cried the boy, quickly, “the man will drive us away. I would rather sleep under the trees.”

“We must risk being driven away, boy.” And just at dusk, where all was strange to them both, they approached another lonely cottage-like place, with barn and sheds and cattle near, Phil shrinking but taking heart as he found that a woman was the only person in sight.

“Who are you? What do you want?” she said, scanning them suspiciously.

“Travellers,” replied the Doctor, “trying to get where there is no war.”

“Ah!” cried the woman, quickly. “Yes. It is too dreadful; and you with that brave little man tramping like that. Soldiers—hundreds, thousands, have been by here to-day.”

“French or English?” cried Phil, excitedly.

“I could not tell,” said the woman, smiling, and patting the little fellow’s cheek. “Yours?” she added, to the Doctor, “or are you his grandfather?”

“No; he is my little pupil. I am his teacher.”

“And you are going away from the war because of him?”

“Yes,” said the Doctor, simply. “Will you give us a bed to sleep in, or clean straw in one of your sheds, with supper? I will pay you.”

“Pay me!” said the woman, angrily. “What would my good man say if I took money for doing that?”

“Your husband?”

“Yes; he had to leave me to go and fight.”

Phil drew a deep breath, for the woman’s words seemed to go through him. She spoke in French, and he expected that she would look upon them directly as enemies and drive them from the door. The next minute he felt that the time had come, for she turned to him and said:

“But you do not speak like one of us, little one. You are not French?”

Phil drew himself up, and his face looked white and then flushed deeply red, as he gazed bravely in the woman’s face, the Doctor watching him the while with his forehead wrinkled, as if he had grown ten years older as he stood.

“What will my pupil say?” he muttered to himself.

It was bravely spoken.

“No, I am English,” he said.

“Ah!” said the woman, softly. “Why are you here? Who are your people—your father?”

It was hard, but Phil felt that he must speak out; and he did it bravely, suffering agony as soon as he had spoken, for the woman looked at him in silence.

A few minutes later Phil was sitting back watching the woman blowing up the fire to heat some of the evening’s milk and fry fresh eggs for her visitors, joining them in a hearty meal and laughing, too, the end, as after struggling hard to keep his eyes open, Phil let his head sink slowly down upon the table—fast asleep, too much worn out to feel when the Doctor lifted him out to follow their hostess into the next room, where a clean bed was given up to them. For when the Doctor declined and said he was sure it was the woman’s, she told him it was her own and that she would do with it as she pleased.