Falling among Lambs

That faithful creature, whom I began to admire as if she were my own (which is no little thing for a man to say of another man’s horse), stopped in front of a low black shed, such as we call a ‘linhay.’ And here she uttered a little greeting, in a subdued and softened voice, hoping to obtain an answer, such as her master was wont to give in a cheery manner. Receiving no reply, she entered; and I (who could scarce keep up with her, poor Kickums being weary) leaped from his back, and followed. There I found her sniffing gently, but with great emotion, at the body of Tom Faggus. A corpse poor Tom appeared to be, if ever there was one in this world; and I turned away, and felt unable to keep altogether from weeping. But the mare either could not understand, or else would not believe it. She reached her long neck forth, and felt him with her under lip, passing it over his skin as softly as a mother would do to an infant; and then she looked up at me again; as much as to say, ‘he is all right.’

Upon this I took courage, and handled poor Tom, which being young I had feared at first to do. He groaned very feebly, as I raised him up; and there was the wound, a great savage one (whether from pike-thrust or musket-ball), gaping and welling in his right side, from which a piece seemed to be torn away. I bound it up with some of my linen, so far as I knew how; just to stanch the flow of blood, until we could get a doctor. Then I gave him a little weak brandy and water, which he drank with the greatest eagerness, and made sign to me for more of it. But not knowing how far it was right to give cordial under the circumstances, I handed him unmixed water that time; thinking that he was too far gone to perceive the difference. But herein I wrong Tom Faggus; for he shook his head and frowned at me. Even at the door of death, he would not drink what Adam drank, by whom came death into the world. So I gave him a little more eau- de-vie, and he took it most submissively.

After that he seemed better, and a little colour came into his cheeks; and he looked at Winnie and knew her; and would have her nose in his clammy hand, though I thought it not good for either of them. With the stay of my arm he sat upright, and faintly looked about him; as if at the end of a violent dream, too much for his power of mind. Then he managed to whisper, ‘Is Winnie hurt?’

‘As sound as a roach,’ I answered. ‘Then so am I,’ said he: ‘put me upon her back, John; she and I die together.’

Surprised as I was at this fatalism (for so it appeared to me), of which he had often shown symptoms before (but I took them for mere levity), now I knew not what to do; for it seemed to me a murderous thing to set such a man on horseback; where he must surely bleed to death, even if he could keep the saddle. But he told me, with many breaks and pauses, that unless I obeyed his orders, he would tear off all my bandages, and accept no further aid from me.

While I was yet hesitating, a storm of horse at full gallop went by, tearing, swearing, bearing away all the country before them. Only a little pollard hedge kept us from their blood-shot eyes. ‘Now is the time,’ said my cousin Tom, so far as I could make out his words; on their heels, I am safe, John, if I have only Winnie under me. Winnie and I die together.’

Seeing this strong bent of his mind, stronger than any pains of death, I even did what his feeble eyes sometimes implored, and sometimes commanded. With a strong sash, from his own hot neck, bound and twisted, tight as wax, around his damaged waist, I set him upon Winnie’s back, and placed his trembling feet in stirrups, with a band from one to another, under the good mare’s body; so that no swerve could throw him out: and then I said, ‘Lean forward, Tom; it will stop your hurt from bleeding.’ He leaned almost on the neck of the mare, which, as I knew, must close the wound; and the light of his eyes was quite different, and the pain of his forehead unstrung itself, as if he felt the undulous readiness of her volatile paces under him.

‘God bless you, John; I am safe,’ he whispered, fearing to open his lungs much: ‘who can come near my Winnie mare? A mile of her gallop is ten years of life. Look out for yourself, John Ridd.’ He sucked his lips, and the mare went off, as easy and swift as a swallow.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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