G. A. Henty
Part 3 out of 6
When they had mounted the other side of the slope, and were out of
fire of the guns, the party halted, and Jack, hearing his own name
called, looked round, and saw Hawtry in the snow, where his captors
had dropped him.
"Hullo, Dick! old fellow," Jack shouted joyfully; "so there you are. I
was afraid they had killed you."
"I'm worth a lot of dead men yet, Jack. I've been hit in the leg, and
went down, worse luck, and that rascally Russian would have skewered
me if you hadn't shot him. You saved my life, old fellow, and made a
good fight for me and I shall never forget it; but it has cost you
"That's no great odds," Jack said. "It can't be much worse stopping a
few months in a Russian prison, than spending the winter upon the
heights. Besides, with two of us together, we shall be as right as
possible, and maybe, when your leg gets all right again, we'll manage
to give them the slip."
The Russian officer in command of the party, which was about 200
strong, now made signs to the boys that they were to proceed.
Dick pointed to his leg, and the officer examined the wound. It was a
slight one, the ball having passed through the calf, missing the bone.
He was, however, unable to walk. A litter was formed of two muskets
with a great-coat laid between them, and Dick, being seated on this,
was taken up by four men, and Jack taking his place beside him, the
procession started. They halted some four miles off at a village in a
valley beyond the Tchernaya.
The next day the boys were placed on ponies, and, under the escort of
an officer and six troopers, conducted to Sebastopol. Here they were
taken before a Russian general who, by means of an interpreter,
closely examined them as to the force, condition, and position of the
The lads, however, evaded all questions by stating that they belonged
to the fleet, and were only on duty on the heights above Balaklava,
and were in entire ignorance of the force of the army and the
intentions of its general. As to the fleet, they could tell nothing
which the Russians did not already know.
The examination over, they were conducted to one of the casemates of
Fort St. Nicholas. Here for a fortnight they remained, seeing no one
except the soldier who brought them their food. The casemate was some
thirty feet long by eighteen wide, and a sixty-eight-pounder stood
looking out seaward. There the boys could occasionally see the ships
of war of the allies as they cruised to and fro.
It was very cold, for the opening was of course unglazed. They had
each a heap of straw and two blankets, and these in the daytime they
used as shawls, for they had no fire, and it was freezing sharply.
Dick's leg had been examined and dressed by a surgeon upon his first
arrival; but as the wound was not serious, and the surgeons were
worked night and day with the enormous number of wounded at Inkerman,
and in the various sorties, with which the town was crowded, he did
not again come near his patient. The wound, however, healed rapidly.
As Jack remarked, the scanty rations of black bread and tough
meat--the latter the produce of some of the innumerable bullocks which
arrived at Sebastopol with convoys, too exhausted and broken down for
further service--were not calculated to cause any feverish excitement
to the blood, nor, had it been so, would the temperature have
permitted the fever to rise to any undue height.
Their guards were kind to them so far as was in their power, and upon
their using the word "tobacco," and making signs that they wanted to
smoke, furnished them with pipes and with tobacco, which, although
much lighter and very different in quality from that supplied on board
ship, was yet very smokable, and much mitigated the dulness from which
the boys suffered. A few days after their captivity the boys heard the
church bells of Sebastopol ringing merrily.
"I wonder what all this is about?" Dick said; "not for a victory, I'll
"Why, bless me," Jack exclaimed, "if it isn't Christmas day, and we
had forgotten all about it! Now, that is hard, monstrously hard. The
fellows on the heights will just be enjoying themselves to-day. I know
they were talking about getting some currants and raisins from on
board ship, and there will be plum-duff and all sorts of things. I
wonder how they're all getting on at home? They're sure to be thinking
often enough of us, but it will never enter their minds that here we
are cooped up in this beastly hole."
The day, however, did not pass unnoticed, for a Russian officer who
spoke English called upon them, and said that he came at the request
of the governor himself to express to them his regret that their
quarters were so uncomfortable and their fare so bad. "But," he said,
"we cannot help ourselves. Every barrack in the town is crowded; every
hospital, every private house even, filled with wounded. We have fifty
or sixty thousand troops, and near twenty thousand sick and wounded.
Your people are very good not to fire at the town, for if they did, I
do not know what the poor fellows would do. For to-day the governor
has sent you down a dinner from his own table, together with a few
bottles of wine and spirits--and what you will not prize less, for I
see you smoke, a box of cigars. It is very cold here. I will see that
you have some more blankets."
Two soldiers came in with baskets, the one with tin-covered dishes,
the other with wines. These were set out on the ground, and the boys,
after sending a message expressing their cordial thanks to the general
for his thoughtfulness, sat down, when alone, in the highest spirits
to their unexpected feast.
"This is a glorious spread, Jack. I wonder what all these dishes are?
I don't recognize any of them. However, this is soup, there is no
doubt about that, so let's fall to on that to begin with. But first of
all, get out the cork of one of those champagne bottles. Now fill up
your tin, Jack, and let's drink 'God bless all at home, and a merry
Christmas to them.' We'll have our other toasts after dinner. I
couldn't begin till we drank that. Now set to."
The dishes were not as cold as might have been expected, for each had
been enveloped in flannel before placing it in the basket. The soup
was pronounced excellent, and the unknown meats, prime--better than
anything they had tasted since they left England. There were sweets,
too, which they made a clean sweep of. Then they called their guard,
to whom they gave the remains of their dinner, together with a strong
pannikin of water and spirits, to his extreme delight.
Then, making themselves snug in the straw, wrapping themselves well
in their blankets, fencing in their candle, so that it was sheltered
from the draughts, they opened a bottle of brandy, drank a variety of
toasts, not forgetting the health of the governor, who they agreed
was a brick, they sang a song or two, then blew out the light, and,
thoroughly warm and comfortable, were asleep in a minute or two.
A few days later, an officer came in, signed to them to make their
blankets into a bundle, and to follow him.
The boys slipped four bottles of spirits which they had still
remaining, and also the stock of cigars, into the rolls. Then,
holding the bundles on their shoulders, they followed him.
Dick, although still weak on his legs, was now able to walk.
Presently they came to a large party of men, some of whom had their
arms in slings, some were bandaged on the head, some lay in stretchers
on the ground.
"It is a convoy of wounded," Jack said. "I suppose we're going to be
taken into the interior."
An officer, evidently in charge, saluted the boys as they came up, and
said something in Russian.
They returned the salute. He was a pleasant-looking fellow with
light-blue eyes, and yellowish moustache and beard. He looked at them,
and then gave orders to a soldier, who entered the building, and
returned with two peasants' cloaks lined with sheep-skin, similar to
the one he himself wore.
These were handed to them, and the midshipmen expressed their warmest
gratitude to him; their meaning, if not their words, being clearly
"These are splendid," Jack said. "They've got hoods too, to go over
the head. This is something like comfort. I wish our poor fellows up
above there had each got one. It must be awful up on the plateau now.
Fancy twelve hours in the trenches, and then twelve hours in the
tents, with no fires, and nothing but those thin great-coats, and
scarcely anything to eat. Now there's a move."
A strong party of soldiers came down, lifted the stretchers, and in a
few minutes the whole convoy were at the water's edge. Other similar
parties were already there, and alongside were a number of flat
barges. Upon these the invalids walked, or were carried, and the
barges were then taken in tow by ships' boats, and rowed across the
harbor to the north side.
"I hope to goodness," Jack said, looking up at the heights behind
them, along which the lines of entrenchments were clearly visible
against the white snow, "that our fellows won't take it into their
heads to have a shot at us. From our battery we often amused ourselves
by sending a shell from one of the big Lancaster guns down at the
ships in the harbor. But I never dreamed that I was likely to be a
The usual duel was going on between the batteries, and the puffs of
white smoke rose from the dark line of trenches and drifted up
unbroken across the deep blue of the still wintry sky.
But happily the passage of the flotilla of boats attracted no
attention, and they soon arrived at the shore close to the work known
as Battery No. 4.
Here they were landed. Those who could not walk were lifted into
carts, of which some hundreds stood ranged alongside. The rest fell in
on foot, and the procession started. The boys, to their satisfaction,
found that the officer who had given them the coats was in charge of a
portion of the train, and as they started he stopped to speak a word
or two to them, to which they replied in the most intelligible manner
they could by offering him a cigar, which a flash of pleasure in his
face at once showed to be a welcome present.
It took some time to get the long convoy in motion, for it consisted
of some 700 or 800 carts and about 5,000 sick and wounded, of whom
fully three-fourths were unable to walk. It mounted to the plateau
north of the harbor, wound along near the great north fort, and then
across undulating land parallel with the sea. They stopped for the
night on the Katcha, where the allied army had turned off for their
flank march to the southern side.
The boys during the march were allowed to walk as they liked, but two
soldiers with loaded muskets kept near them. They discussed the
chances of trying to make their escape, but agreed that although they
might be able to slip away from the convoy, the probability of their
making their way through the Russian troops to their own lines at
Balaklava or Sebastopol was so slight that the attempt would be almost
madness. Their figures would be everywhere conspicuous on the snow,
their footsteps, could be followed, they had no food, and were
ignorant of the language and country. Altogether they determined to
abandon any idea of escaping for the present.
There were but a dozen soldiers with the convoy, the officers being
medical men in charge of the wounded. A halt was made in a sheltered
spot near the river, and close to the village of Mamaschia, which was
entirely deserted by its inhabitants.
The worst cases of sickness were carried into the houses, and the rest
prepared to make themselves as comfortable as they could in or under
the wagons. Stores of forage were piled by the village for the use of
the convoys going up and down, and the drivers speedily spread a
portion of this before their beasts.
The guard and such men as were able to get about went off among the
orchards that surrounded the village, to cut fuel. The boys' special
guard remained by them. When the doctor whom they regarded as their
friend came up to them, he brought with him another officer as
interpreter, who said in broken French,--
"Voulez-vous donner votre parole pas essayez echapper?"
Jack was as ignorant of French as of Russian, but Dick knew a little.
He turned to Jack and translated the question.
"Tell him we will give our words not to try and escape during the
march, or till we tell him to the contrary." This was almost beyond
"Nous donnons notre parole pour le present," he said, "pour la marche,
vous comprenez. Si nous changons notre--I wonder what mind is," he
grumbled to himself--"intention, nous vous dirons."
This was intelligible, although not good French, and their friend,
having shaken hands with them as if to seal the bargain, told the
soldiers that they need no longer keep a watch on the prisoners, and
then beckoned them to accompany him. The boys had, at starting, placed
their bundles upon a cart to which they had kept close during the
march. Putting these on their shoulders, they accompanied their friend
to a cart which was drawn up three or four feet from the wall of a
house. They set to work at once, and with the aid of some sticks and
blankets, of which there was a good supply in the wagon, made a roof
covering the space between it and the house, hung others at the end
and side, and had soon a snug tent erected.
One of the soldiers brought a large truss of straw, and another a
bundle of firewood. The blanket at the end of the tent sheltered from
the wind, was drawn aside, and a great fire speedily blazed up at the
entrance. The straw was shaken out to form a soft seat, just inside
the tent. All three produced their pipes and lit them, while the
doctor's servant prepared over the fire a sort of soup with the
rations. This turned out to be by no means bad, and when after it the
boys produced one of their bottles of brandy and three cigars, the
Russian doctor patted them on the back, and evidently told them that
they were first-rate fellows.
For half-an-hour he smoked his cigar and sipped his tin of brandy and
water, then, explaining by signs that he must go and look after his
wounded, left them.
The boys chatted for another half-hour, and then stowing their brandy
carefully away, they shook up the straw into a big bed, and, wrapping
themselves in their sheepskins, were soon soundly asleep; but it was
long after midnight before the doctor returned from his heavy work of
dressing wounds and administering medicine, and stretched himself on
the straw beside them.
PRISONERS ON PAROLE
Day after day the convoy made its way northward without any incident
of importance happening. The midshipmen were glad to find that,
thanks to their sheepskin cloaks and pointed hoods, they passed
through the towns without attracting any attention whatever.
The convoy lessened in length as it proceeded. The animals broke down
in great numbers and died by the road, under the task of dragging the
heavy wagons through the deep snow.
At a town of some size, where they halted for two days, relief was
afforded by the wheels being taken off the wagons, and rough runners
affixed, the wheels being placed on the carts, as that they could be
put on again in case of a thaw.
Famine, however, did more that fatigue in destroying the animals; for
although good exertions had been made to form depots of forage along
the roads, these were exhausted faster than they could be collected by
the enormous trains, which, laden with provisions and warlike stores,
were making their way to Sebastopol from the interior of Russia. There
was no lack of food for the men, for ample stores of black bread were
carried, and a supply of meat was always obtainable at the end of the
day's journey by the carcase of some bullock which had fallen and then
been shot during the day's march.
But though the train diminished in length, its occupants diminished
even more rapidly. Every morning, before starting, a burying party
were busy interring the bodies of those who had died during the
previous day's march or in the night.
When the halt was made at a village, the papa or priest of the place
performed a funeral mass; when, as was more common, they encamped in
the open, the grave was filled in, a rough cross was erected over it,
and the convoy proceeded on its march.
The midshipmen found the journey dreary and uninteresting in the
After leaving the Crimea the country became a dead flat; which,
though bright in summer, with a wide expanse of waving grain, was
inexpressibly mournful and monotonous as it lay under its wide
covering of snow. Here and there, far across the plain, could be seen
the low, flat-roofed huts of a Russian village, or the massively-built
abode of some rich landed proprietor.
Scarce a tree broke the monotony of the wide plain, and the creaking
of the carts and the shouts of the drivers seemed strangely loud as
they rose in the dense silence of the plain.
From the first day of starting, the midshipmen set themselves to learn
something of the language. The idea was Jack's and he pointed out to
Hawtry, who was rather disinclined to take the trouble, that it would
in the first place give them something to think about, and be an
amusement on the line of march; in the second, it would render their
captivity less dull, and, lastly, it would facilitate their escape if
they should determine to make the attempt.
As they walked, therefore, alongside their friend the doctor, they
asked him the names of every object around them, and soon learned the
Russian words for all common objects. The verbs were more difficult,
but thanks occasionally to the doctor (who spoke French) joining them
at their encampment at night, they soon learned the sentences most
commonly in use.
As they had nothing else to do or to think about, their progress was
rapid, and by the end of a month they were able to make themselves
understood in conversations upon simple matters.
They had been much disappointed, when, upon leaving the Crimea, the
convoy had kept on north instead of turning west; for they had hoped
that Odessa would have been their place of captivity.
It was a large and flourishing town, with a considerable foreign
population, and, being on the sea, might have offered them
opportunities for escape. The Russians, however, had fears that the
allied fleets might make an attack upon the place, and for this
reason, such few prisoners as fell into their hands were sent inland.
The journeys each day averaged from twelve to fifteen miles, twelve,
however, being the more ordinary distance. The sky was generally clear
and bright, for when the morning was rough and the snow fell, the
convoy remained in its halting-place.
The cold was by no means excessive during the day, and although the
snow was deep and heavy, there was no difficulty in keeping up with
the convoy, as the pace of the bullocks was little over a mile and a
half an hour. At night they were snug enough, for the doctor had
adapted an empty wagon as their sleeping-place, and this, with a deep
bed of straw at the bottom, blankets hung at the sides and others laid
over the top, constituted as comfortable a shelter as could be
At last, after a month's travelling, the doctor pointed to a town
rising over the plain, and signified that this was their
It was a town of some seven or eight thousand inhabitants, and the
mosque-like domes of the churches shining, brightly in the sun, and
the green-painted roofs and bright colors of many of the houses, gave
it a gay and cheerful appearance.
The convoy made its way through the streets to large barracks, now
converted into a hospital. When the sick had been taken into the
wards, the doctor proceeded with the midshipmen to the residence of
The boys had laid aside the sheepskin cloaks which had proved so
invaluable during their journey, and as they walked through the
streets, in their midshipman's uniform, attracted a good deal of
They were at once shown in to the governor, an officer of some
five-and-thirty years old, with a fierce and disagreeable expression
of countenance. He was a member of a high Russian family; but as a
punishment for various breaches of discipline, arising from his
quarrelsome disposition and misconduct, he had been appointed governor
to this little town, instead of going with his regiment to the front.
Saluting him, the doctor delivered to him an order for the safe
guardianship of the two English officers.
"Ah," he said, as he perused the document, and glanced at the
midshipmen, "if these are British officers, I can scarcely understand
the trouble they are giving us. They are mere boys. I thought their
uniform was red. The soldiers who were brought here a month ago were
all in red."
"These are young naval officers," the doctor said. "I understand that
some of the sailors are serving on shore, and these were captured, I
am told, when out with a party of their men cutting fuel."
"A wonderful capture, truly," the governor said sneeringly. "Two boys
scarce out of the nursery."
"It cost us some men," the doctor said calmly, "for I hear from the
officer who brought them in that we lost altogether fifteen men, and
the sailors would all have got away had it not been that one of these
young officers was shot in the leg and the other stood by him, and
shot several men with his revolver before he was captured."
"A perfect St. George," the commandant sneered. "Well, sir, your duty
is done, and I will see to them. Are they on parole?"
"They gave me their parole not to try to escape during the journey,
and have expressed their willingness to renew it."
"It matters little one way or the other," the governor said. "Unless
they could fly, they could not make their way through the country.
There, sir, that will do."
The doctor bowed, shook hands with the boys, and without a word went
out, touching his lips with his fingers to them as he turned his back
to the governor, a movement which the lads understood at once as a
hint that it would be as well to say nothing which might show that
they had any knowledge of Russian.
The governor rang a hand-bell, and a sergeant entered. The governor
wrote a few words on a piece of paper.
"Take these prisoners to Count Preskoff's," he said, "and deliver this
order to him."
The sergeant motioned the lads to follow him. With a bow to the
governor, which he passed unacknowledged, they followed the soldier.
"A disagreeable brute, that," Jack said. "A little work in the
trenches would do him good, and take some of his cockiness out of him.
That was a good idea of the doctor, not saying good-bye in Russian. I
don't suppose we shall run against that fellow again, but it we did,
he might make it so disagreeable that we might be driven to show him a
clean pair of heels."
"He didn't ask for our parole," Dick said, "so we shall be justified
in making a bolt if we see a chance."
Passing through the streets the sergeant led them through the town and
out into the country beyond.
"Where on earth is he taking us to?" Jack wondered. "I would bet that
he has quartered us on this Count Preskoff from pure spite. I wonder
what sort of chap he is."
After half an hour's walking they approached a large chateau,
surrounded by smaller buildings.
"He's a swell evidently," Dick said. "We ought to have comfortable
They entered a large courtyard, across one side of which stood the
house; and the sergeant, proceeding to the main entrance, rang the
bell. It was opened by a tall man dressed in full Russian costume.
"I have a message for the count from the commandant," the sergeant
"The count is absent," the servant answered; "but the countess is in."
"I will speak to her."
Leaving them standing in the hall, the man ascended a wide staircase,
and in a minute or two returned and motioned to the sergeant to follow
They ascended the stairs and entered a large and handsome room, in
which sat a lady of some forty years old, with three younger ones of
from sixteen to twenty years old.
Countess Preskoff was a very handsome woman, and her daughters had
inherited her beauty.
The sergeant advanced and handed to her the order. She glanced at it,
and an expression of displeasure passed across her face.
"The commandant's orders shall be obeyed," she said coldly; and the
sergeant, saluting, retired.
The countess turned to her daughters.
"The commandant has quartered two prisoners, English officers, upon
us," she said. "Of course he has done it to annoy us. I suppose these
are they." And she rose and approached the lads, who were standing by
the door. "Why, they are boys," she said in surprise, "and will do for
playfellows for you, Olga. Poor little fellows, how cruel to send such
boys to fight!"
Then she came up to the boys and bade them welcome with an air of
kindness which they both felt.
"Katinka," she said, turning to her eldest daughter, "you speak
French, and perhaps they do also. Assure them that we will do our best
to make them comfortable. Come here, my dears."
Then she formally, pointing to each of them, uttered their names,--
"Katinka, Paulina, Olga."
Dick, in reply, pointed to his companion,--
"Jack Archer,"--and to himself--"Dick Hawtry."
The girls smiled, and held out their hands.
"Mamma says," the eldest said in French, "that she is glad to see you,
and will do all in her power to make you comfortable."
"You're very good," Dick said. "I can speak very little French, and
cannot understand it at all unless you speak quite slow. I wish now I
hadn't been so lazy at school. But we both speak a few words of
Russian, and I hope that we shall soon be able to talk to you in your
Bad as Dick's French was, the girls understood it, and an animated
conversation in a mixed jargon of French and Russian began. The girls
inquired how they had come there, and how they had been taken, and
upon hearing they had been in Sebastopol, inquired more anxiously as
to the real state of things there, for the official bulletins were
always announcing victories, and they could not understand how it was
that the allies, although always beaten, were still in front of
Sebastopol, when such huge numbers of troops had gone south to carry
out the Czar's orders, to drive them into the sea.
The lads' combined knowledge of French and Russian proved quite
insufficient to satisfy their curiosity, but there was so much
laughing over their wonderful blunders and difficulty in finding words
to explain themselves, that at the end of half an hour the boys were
perfectly at home with their hostesses.
"You will like to see your rooms," the countess said; and touching a
hand-bell, she gave some orders to a servant who, bowing, led the way
along a corridor and showed the boys two handsomely-furnished rooms
opening out of each other, and then left them, returning in a minute
or two with hot water and towels.
"We're in clover here," Jack said, "and no mistake. The captain's
state cabin is a den by the side of our quarters; and ain't they jolly
"And pretty, too, I believe you; and the countess, too. I call her a
stunner!" he exclaimed enthusiastically; "as stately as a queen, but
as friendly and kind as possible. I don't think we ought to go to war
with people like this."
"Oh, nonsense!" Jack said. "We've seen thousands of Russians now, and
don't think much of them; and 'tisn't likely we're going to let Russia
gobble up Turkey just because there's a nice countess with three jolly
daughters living here."
"No, I suppose not," he said. "But, Jack, what on earth are we going
to do about clothes? These uniforms are getting seedy, though it is
lucky that we had on our best when we were caught, owing to our having
had the others torn to pieces the night of the wreck. But as for other
things, we have got nothing but what we have on. We washed our flannel
shirts and stockings as well as we could whenever we halted, but we
can't well do that here; and as for money, we haven't a ha'penny
between us. It's awful, you know."
At this moment there was a knock at the door, and the servant entered,
bringing in a quantity of linen and underclothing of all kinds, which
he laid down on the bed with the words,--
"With the countess's compliments."
"Hurrah!" shouted Dick. "The countess is a brick. This is something
like. Now for a big wash, Jack, and a clean white shirt. We shan't
know ourselves. Here is a brush, too. We shall be able to make our
It was nearly an hour before the boys again joined the ladies,
looking, it must be owned, a great deal more like British officers and
gentlemen than when they left the room. They were both good-looking
lads, and the Russian girls were struck with their bright and cheerful
Dick hastened to express their warm thanks to the countess for the
welcome supply of clothes, and said that Jack and himself were ashamed
indeed at not only trespassing on their hospitality, but being obliged
to rely upon their wardrobe.
As Dick had carefully thought out this little speech, translated it
into French, and said it over half-a-dozen times, he was able to make
himself understood, utterly defective as were his grammar and
Katinka explained that the clothes had belonged to her brother, who
was now a lieutenant in a regiment stationed in Poland, and that they
had long been outgrown; he being now, as she signified by holding up
her hand, over six feet in height.
A quarter of an hour later the dinner was announced, and the countess
in a stately way took Dick's arm, and Jack, not without blushing,
offered his to the eldest of the girls. The dinner was, in the boys'
eyes, magnificent. Several domestics stood behind the chairs and
anticipated their wants. The girls continued their Russian lessons by
telling them the names of everything on the table, and making them
repeat them after them, and there was so much laughter and merriment,
that long as the meal was, it was by no means formal or ceremonious.
They learnt that the Count Preskoff was absent at some estates in the
north of Russia, and that he was not likely to return for some little
After dinner Dick asked Katinka to tell the countess that they did not
wish to be troublesome, and that they would be out and about the
place, and would not intrude upon them except when they wished to have
them. The countess replied through her daughter that they would be
always glad to have them in the room.
"You will really be a great amusement to us. We were very dull before,
and instead of being a trouble, as Count Smerskoff no doubt intended
when he quartered you upon us, you will make a very pleasant break. It
is dreadfully dull here now," she said. "There is no longer any
gayety, many of our neighbors are away, and nobody talks of anything
but that horrid war. Count Smerskoff is almost the only person we see,
and," and she shrugged her pretty shoulders, "he's worse than nothing.
And now, mamma says, would you like to ride or to go out in a sledge?
If you would like some shooting, there is plenty in the neighborhood.
But of course for that you will want a whole day, and it must be
arranged beforehand. I wish my brother Orloff had been at home. He
could have looked after you nicely."
Delighted at the prospect, the boys said that they should like a
drive, and a few minutes later, descending to the courtyard, they
found a sledge with three horses at the door.
"What a stunning turn-out!" Jack exclaimed, delighted. "We shall fancy
we are princes, Dick, and get spoiled altogether for a midshipman's
The sledge was of graceful form, painted deep blue. The seats were
covered with furs, while an apron of silver fox-skin was wrapped round
their legs. The driver sat perched up on a high seat in front. He was
a tall, stately figure, with an immense beard. On his head was the cap
of black sheep-skin, which may be considered the national head-dress.
He wore a long fur-lined coat of dark blue, fitting somewhat tightly,
and reaching to his ankles. It was bound by a scarlet sash round his
waist. It had a great fur collar and cuffs. His feet were encased in
untanned leather boots, reaching above the knees.
The horses were harnessed in a manner quite different to anything the
lads had before seen. They were three abreast; the middle one was in
shafts, those on either side ran free in traces, and by dint, as the
boys supposed, of long training, each carried his head curved round
outwards, so that he seemed to be looking half-backwards, giving them
a most peculiar effect, exactly similar to that which may be seen in
ancient Greek bas-reliefs, and sculptures of horses in ancient
chariots. This mode of harnessing and training the horses is
peculiarly Russian, and is rigidly adhered to by all the old Russian
families. Over each horse was a blue netting reaching almost to the
ground, its object being to prevent snow or dirt being thrown up in
the faces of those sitting in the low sledge.
Cracking his whip with a report as loud as that of a pistol, the
driver set the horses in motion, and in a minute the sledge was
darting across the plain at a tremendous pace; the centre horse
trotting, the flankers going at a canter, each keeping the leg next to
the horse in the shafts in front. The light snow rose in a cloud from
the runners as the sledge darted along, and as the wind blew keenly in
their faces, and their spirits rose, the boys declared to each other
that sledging was the most glorious fun they had ever had.
They had been furnished with fur-lined coats, whose turned-up collars
reached far above their ears, and both felt as warm as toast, in spite
of the fact that the thermometer was down at zero.
The country here differed in its appearance from that over which they
had been travelling, and great forests extended to within two or three
miles of the town.
"I suppose," Dick said, "that's where the shooting is, for I can't
fancy any birds being fools enough to stop out on these plains, and if
they did, there would be no chance of getting a shot at them. How
pretty those sledge-bells are, to be sure! I wonder they don't have
them in England."
"I've seen wagons down in the country with them," Jack said, "and very
pretty the bells sounded on a still night. But the bells were not so
clear-toned as these."
From one shaft to another, in a bow, high over the horses' necks,
extended an arch of light wood, and from this hung a score of little
bells, which tinkled merrily as the sledge glided along.
"It's a delicious motion," Jack said; "no bumping or jolting, and yet,
even when one shuts one's eyes, he feels that he is going at a
The boys were amused at the driver, who frequently cracked his whip,
but never touched the horses, to whom, however, he was constantly
talking, addressing them in encouraging tones, which, as Jack said,
they seemed to understand just like Christians.
After an hour-and-a-half's drive, in which they must have traversed
some eighteen miles, they returned to the chateau. The servant at the
door relieved them of their warm cloaks and of the loose, fur-lined
boots, with which they had also been furnished, and then, evidently in
accordance with orders, conducted them upstairs to the room where the
countess and two of her daughters were working, while the third was
reading aloud. It was already getting dusk, and lighted lamps burned
on the tables, and the room, heated by a great stove in the corner,
felt pleasantly warm and comfortable.
A NOMINAL IMPRISONMENT
The evening passed pleasantly. There was some music, and the three
girls and their mother sang together, and Jack (who had learnt
part-singing at home, for his family were very musical, and every
night were accustomed to sing glees and catches) also, at their
request, joined in, taking the part which their brother, when at home,
had been accustomed to fill.
In the course of the evening the boys explained that they had said
nothing to the commandant about their having picked up a little
Russian, as they had thought that it was better to allow him to remain
in ignorance of it, as they had had some idea of making their escape.
"Why, you foolish boys," Paulina said, "where would you escape to?
However, perhaps it is as well that you said nothing about it, for he
only sent you here because he thought it would annoy mamma; and if he
had thought you had known any Russian, he might have lodged you
"We don't want to escape now, you know," Jack said in his broken
Russian. "We are much more comfortable here than we should be in the
cold before Sebastopol."
The next few days passed pleasantly; sometimes the countess was not
present, and then the girls would devote themselves to improving the
Sometimes two sledges would come to the door, and two of the girls
accompanied the boys on their drive. On the fourth evening, Count
Smerskoff called, and a cloud fell upon the atmosphere.
The countess received him ceremoniously, and maintained the
conversation in frigid tones. The girls scarcely opened their lips,
and the midshipmen sat apart, as silent as if they understood no word
of what was passing.
"I am sorry, countess," the commandant said, "that I was obliged to
quarter these two English boys upon you, but every house in the town
is full of sick and wounded; and as they were given over to me as
officers, though they look to me more like ship-boys, I could not put
them in prison with the twenty or thirty soldiers whom we captured at
the victory on the heights above Inkerman."
"It is my duty to receive them," the countess said very coldly, "and
it therefore matters little whether it is pleasant or otherwise.
Fortunately one of them speaks a few words of French, and my daughters
can therefore communicate with them. So you have twenty or thirty
English prisoners in the jail? Where are all the rest; for, of course,
in such a great victory, we must have taken, some thousands of
The count glanced angrily at her.
"They have, no doubt, been sent to Odessa and other places," he said.
"You do not doubt, countess, surely, that a great victory was gained
by the soldiers of his Majesty?"
"Doubt," the countess said, in a tone of slight surprise. "Have I not
read the official bulletins describing the victory? Only we poor
women, of course, are altogether ignorant of war, and cannot
understand how it is that, when they are always beaten, these enemies
of the Czar are still in front of Sebastopol."
"It may be," said the count, "that the Archdukes are only waiting
until all the reinforcements arrive to drive them into the sea, or
capture them to the last man."
"No doubt it is that," said the countess blandly, "but from the number
of sick and wounded who arrive here, to say nothing of those taken to
Odessa and the other towns among which, as you say, the prisoners are
distributed, it is to be wished that the reinforcements may soon be
up, so as to bring the fighting to an end."
"The enemy are suffering much more than we are," the governor said,
"and before the spring comes we may find that there are none left to
conquer. If the soldiers of the Czar, accustomed to the climate as
they are, feel the cold, although they have warm barracks to sleep in,
what must be the case with the enemy on the bleak heights? I hear that
the English newspapers are full of accounts of the terrible sufferings
of their troops. They are dying like sheep."
"Poor creatures!" the countess said gravely. "They are our
fellow-beings, you know, Count Smerskoff, although they are our
enemies, and one cannot but feel some pity for them."
"I feel no pity for the dogs," the count said fiercely. "How dare they
set foot on the soil of Holy Russia?"
"Hating them as you do," the countess said, "it must be annoying for
you indeed, count, to occupy even so exalted a position as that of
governor of this town, instead of fighting against the English and
The count muttered something between his teeth, which was certainly
not a blessing. Then turning to Katinka, he changed the subject by
asking her if she would favor him with some music.
Without a word, the girl seated herself at the piano and played. When
she had finished the piece, she began another without stopping, and
continued steadily for an hour. The countess leaned back in her chair,
as if she considered that conversation would be out of place while her
daughter was playing.
Count Smerskoff sat quietly for a quarter of an hour. Then he began to
fidget in his chair, but he stoically sat on until, when at the end of
an hour Katinka showed no signs whatever of leaving off, he rose, and
ceremoniously regretting that his duties prevented him from having the
pleasure of hearing the conclusion of the charming little piece which
the young countess was playing (for in Russia all children bear the
title of their parents) he took his leave.
When the door had closed behind him, and the sound of his footsteps
along the corridor ceased, the girls burst into a fit of laughter, in
which the midshipmen joined heartily.
"Well done, Katinka!" Olga said, clapping her hands. "That was a
splendid idea of yours, and you have routed the governor completely.
Oh, dear, how cross he did look, and how he fidgeted about as you
played on and on without stopping! I thought I must have laughed
"It was a clever thought," the countess said, "and yet the count
cannot complain of want of courtesy. He is a disagreeable man, and a
bad man; but he is powerfully connected, and it will not do to offend
him. We have enemies enough, heaven knows."
The boys at the time could not gather the drift of the conversation;
but a month later, when their knowledge of the language had greatly
increased, Olga, when driving in a sledge with Jack, enlightened him
as to the position in which they stood.
"Papa," she said, "is a Liberal, that is to say, he wants all sorts of
reform to be carried out. If he had his way, he would free the serfs
and would have the affairs of the nation managed by a parliament, as
you do in England, instead of by the will of the Czar only. I don't
pretend to know anything about it myself, but papa has perhaps
expressed his opinions too openly, and some enemy has carried them to
the ears of the Czar. Nicholas is, you know, though it is treason to
say so, very autocratic and absolute. Papa was never in favor, because
mamma was a Pole, but these terrible opinions finished it. Papa was
forbidden to appear at court, and ordered to live upon his estates,
and it is even possible," she said anxiously, "that this will not be
all. You don't know Russia, or how dreadful it is to be looked upon as
disaffected here. Papa is so good and kind! His serfs all love him so
much, and every one says that no estates in Russia are better managed.
But all this will avail nothing, and it is only because we have
powerful friends at court that worse things have not happened."
"Unless you are very fond of gayety and society," Jack said, "I don't
think it can matter much being sent away from St. Petersburg, when you
have such a nice place here."
"Oh, no," the girl said. "It would not matter at all, only, you see,
when any one gets into disgrace there is no saying what may happen. An
enemy misrepresents some speech, some evil report gets to the ears of
the Czar, and the next day papa might be on his way to Siberia," she
dropped her voice as she uttered the dreadful word, "and all his
"What?" said Jack indignantly, "without any trial, or anything? I
never heard such a shame."
The girl nodded.
"It is dreadful," she said, "and now, to make matters worse, that
odious Count Smerkoff wants to marry Katinka. She will be rich, as she
will inherit large estates in Poland. Of course, papa and mamma won't
consent, and Katinka hates him, but, you see, he has got lots of
powerful relations at court. If it hadn't been for that, I hear that
he would have been dismissed from the army long since; and, worst of
all, he is governor here, and can send to headquarters any lying
report he likes, and do papa dreadful harm."
Jack did not understand anything like all that Olga said, but he
gleaned enough to understand the drift of her conversation, and he and
Dick chatted over the matter very seriously that night.
Both agreed that something ought to be done. What that something was
to be, neither could offer the remotest suggestion. They were so happy
in the family now, were so kindly treated by the countess and her
daughters, that they felt their troubles to be their own, and they
would have done anything which could benefit them.
"We must think it over, Jack," Dick said, as he turned into bed. "It's
awful to think of all these nice people being at the mercy of a brute
like that. The idea of his wanting to marry the pretty Katinka! Why,
he's not good enough to black her boots. I wish we had him in the
midshipmen's berth on board the 'Falcon'; we would teach him a thing
The lads had not availed themselves of the offer of riding-horses, as
they were neither of them accustomed to the exercise, and did not like
the thought of looking ridiculous. But they had eagerly accepted the
offer to have some wolf-shooting.
One night, everything having been prepared, they took their seats in a
sledge drawn by two of the fastest horses in the stables of the
countess. A whole battery of guns was placed in the seat with them.
The sledge was larger than that which they were accustomed to use, and
held four, besides the driver. Two woodmen--experienced hunters--took
their places on the seat facing the midshipmen. A portion of the
carcase of a horse, which had broken its leg and been shot the
previous day, was fastened behind the sledge.
A drive of an hour took them far into the heart of the forest,
although the coachman drove much slower than usual, in order that the
horses might be perfectly fresh when required. Presently the woodmen
told the driver that they had gone far enough, and the sledge was
turned, the horses facing homeward. The great lump of meat was then
unfastened from behind the sledge, and a rope some forty yards long
attached to it, the other end being fastened to the sledge. The horses
were next moved forward until the rope was tight.
They were then stopped, rugs were laid across their backs to keep them
warm, and the party awaited the result.
The young moon was shining in the sky, and dark objects showed clearly
over the white snow for a considerable distance. Half an hour passed
without a word being spoken, and without a sound breaking the silence
that reigned in the forest. Presently a low whimpering was heard, and
the boys fancied that they could see dark forms moving among the
trees. The horses became restless and excited, and it was as much as
the man standing at their heads could do to quiet them.
The coachman sat looking back, whip in hand, ready for an instant
All at once a number of dark objects leaped from among the trees on to
the broad line of snow which marked the road.
"Jump in, Ivan!" the coachman exclaimed. "Here they come. Keep a sharp
look-out on both sides. We can leave those fellows behind standing
still. The only danger is from a fresh pack coming from ahead."
The peasant leaped into the car, and in an instant the horses dashed
off at a speed which would have taken them far away from the wolves
had not their driver reined them in and quieted them with his voice.
They soon steadied down into a long sweeping gallop, the coachman at
times looking back and regulating their speed so as to keep the bait
gliding along just ahead of the wolves.
The peasant now gave the signal to the midshipmen, who with their guns
cocked were standing up with one knee on the seat to steady
themselves, ready to fire, and the two barrels at once rang out.
One of the leading wolves, who was but a few yards from the bait,
dropped and rolled over, while a sharp whimpering cry told that
another was wounded.
The boys had an idea that the wolves would stop to devour their fallen
comrade, but the smell of the meat was, it appeared, more tempting,
for without a pause they still came on. Again and again the lads
fired, the woodmen handing them spare guns and loading as fast as they
Suddenly the driver gave an exclamation, and far ahead on the white
road, the boys, looking round, could see a dark mass. The peasant,
with a stroke of his knife, cut the rope which held the bait.
The coachman drove forward with increased speed for fifty yards or so,
and then suddenly drew up the horses. The peasants in an instant
leaped out, each with a rug in his hand, and running to the horses'
heads, at once blindfolded the animals by wrapping these around them.
Then the men jumped into the sledge again.
A hundred and fifty yards behind, their late pursuers, in a mass, were
growling, snarling, and fighting over the meat, but already many,
finding themselves unable to obtain a share, had set off in pursuit of
the prize ahead, which promised to be ample for all.
To these, however, the peasants paid no attention, but each taking a
double-barrel gun, poured heavy charges of shot in above the bullets.
Handing them to the boys, they performed the same operation to the
other two guns, which they intended this time to use themselves.
Standing on the seat, the men prepared to fire at the wolves directly
ahead, signing to the boys to lean over, one on each side, and
take those on the flanks of the horses. All this was done in a very
few seconds, as the sledge glided steadily along towards the
fast-approaching foes. When these came within fifty yards, the horses
were sent forward at full gallop. In another second or two the four
barrels of the woodmen poured their contents into the mass of wolves.
The boys waited until the horses were fairly among them, and then they
A hideous chorus of yells arose, and the horses at full speed dashed
in upon the pack. Already a lane had been prepared for them, and,
trampling over dead and dying, they rushed through. In spite of the
execution done by the heavy charges of the midshipmen's double-barrel
guns, several wolves tried to spring into the sledge as it went past,
and one of them succeeded in leaping upon one of the horses. The
animal made a wild plunge, but in an instant one of the woodmen sprang
to the ground, and buried his long knife in the beast; then, as the
sledge swept on again, he caught at the side and clambered into the
car before the wolves, who had already turned in pursuit, could come
up to him.
The guns were quickly loaded again, and another volley poured into the
wolves. Then the coachman, knowing that one of the horses was hurt,
and both nearly mad with fright, let them have their heads, and the
sledge darted away at a pace which soon left the wolves far in the
rear. So rapid was the motion indeed, that the boys held on to the
sides, expecting every moment that the sledge would be dashed against
the trees which lined the road. The coachman, however, kept the horses
straight, and, quieting them down, again brought them to a standstill,
when the cloths were taken off their heads, and the journey to the
chateau completed at a steady pace.
"That's sharp work," Jack said, when the wolves had been fairly left
in the rear. "They call that wolf-hunting. I call it being hunted by
wolves. These are fine fellows; they were as cool as cucumbers."
"I've nearly broken my shoulder," Dick grumbled, "The gun with those
tremendous charges kicked like a horse. Well, it's fine fun anyhow,
but its rather too risky to be often repeated. If two or three of
those fellows had got hold of the horses' heads, they would all have
been upon us, and very short work they would have made of us if they
"Ugh!" Jack said with a shudder. "What teeth they have! and what
mouths! It seemed like a sort of nightmare for a moment with those
great open mouths and shining teeth, as they leaped towards us, as we
rushed past. I hope I shan't dream about them."
"No fear of that," Dick said laughing. "The countess said that some
supper should be ready for us when we got back. I feel tremendously
peckish. After the night air, and plenty of hot tea and a good
tuck-in, we shall sleep without dreaming, I can venture to say."
The countess and her daughters had gone to bed long before the return
of the sportsmen. At breakfast next morning the boys attempted to
relate their adventures, but their vocabulary being wholly
insufficient, the coachman was sent for, and requested to give a full
account of the proceedings. This he did, and added on his own account
that the little lords had been as cool and collected as if they had
been wolf-hunting all their lives.
After breakfast, the letter-bag arrived, and the countess, having
opened her correspondence, said that her husband would return the next
day. Great as was the pleasure of the ladies, the boys hardly felt
enthusiastic over the news; they were so jolly as they were, that they
feared any change would be for the worse.
Next day the count arrived, and the boys soon felt that they had no
cause for apprehension. He greeted them with much cordiality, and told
them that he had heard from the countess that he had to thank them for
having made the time of his absence pass so cheerfully, and that she
had said she did not know how they would have got through the dull
time without them. The boys, after the manner of their kind, were bad
hands at compliment; but they managed to express in their best Russian
their thanks for the extreme kindness which they had received.
The days went on after the count's arrival much as they had done
before, except that the boys now took to horse exercise, accompanying
their host as he rode round his estate, and visited the various
villages upon it.
The houses in these villages astonished the boys. Built of mud, of one
story only and flat-roofed, they each occupied a large extent of
ground; for here whole families lived together. As the sons grew up
and married, instead of going into separate houses, and setting up
life on their own account, they brought their wives home, as did their
children when their turn came also to marry, so that under one roof
resided as many as four generations, counting some forty or fifty
Each village had its headman, who settled all disputes, but against
whose decision, if it failed to give satisfaction, there was an appeal
to the master. The serfs worked, the count told the boys, without pay,
but they had so many days in each month when they cultivated the land
which was common to the village. They could, the count said, be sold,
but in point of fact never were sold except with the land.
"It's a bad system, and I wish that they were as free is your laborers
are in England."
"Of course our people cannot be sold," Jack said, "but after all
there's not so much difference in that respect, for if an estate
changes hands, they work for the new owner just as yours do."
"Yes, but your laborers cannot be killed or even flogged by their
masters with impunity."
"No, I should think not," Jack exclaimed. "We should have a revolution
in no time, if masters were to try that sort of thing."
"I fear that we shall have one too, some day," the count said, "unless
the serfs are emancipated. The people are terribly ignorant, but even
among them some sort of enlightenment is going on, and as they know
better they will refuse to live and to work as mere beasts of burden."
"Will they be better off, sir, than before?" Dick Hawtry asked. "I
have heard my father say that the negroes in the West Indian islands
are worse off than they were in the days when they were slaves. They
will not work except just enough to procure themselves means of
living, and they spend the rest of their lives lying about and
"It would no doubt be the same thing here," the count said, "for a
time. The Russian peasant is naturally extremely ignorant and
extremely fond of 'vodka.' Probably at first he would be far worse off
than at present. He would be content to earn enough to live and to get
drunk upon, and wide tracts of land would remain untilled. But it is
of the future we must think; and who can doubt that in the future,
Russia, with a free people and free institutions, with her immense
resources and enormous population, must become the grandest empire on
A SUSPECTED HOUSEHOLD
Cheerful though their hosts were, the midshipmen could see that a
cloud of anxiety hung over them. To be "suspected" in Russia is
equivalent to being condemned. Secret police spies in the very bosom
of the household may be sending denunciations. The man who meets you
and shakes hands with you in the street may have reported on your
conduct. The letters you write are opened, those you should receive
stopped in the post. At any moment the agent of the authorities may
appear and conduct you to a prison which you may leave only for the
long journey to Siberia.
Count Preskoff did not think that matters had yet reached this point.
He was in disgrace at court, and had enemies who would injure him to
the utmost with the emperor, but he believed that no steps would be
taken until Count Smerskoff had received his final refusal of
Katinka's hand. He had already once proposed for it, but would not
consider the answer which her father then gave him as final.
"I cannot accept your refusal, count," he had said. "The marriage
would be for the advantage of all parties concerned. My family is, as
you are aware, not without influence at court, and they would, were I
the husband of your daughter, do all in their power to incline the
emperor favorably towards you; while, were I rejected, they would
probably view your refusal to accept my offers as a slight to the
family, and resent it accordingly. I cannot but think that when you
have given the matter calm consideration, you will see the advantages
which such an alliance would offer. I shall therefore do myself the
honor to renew my proposals at some future date."
This conversation took place in the beginning of December; Count
Preskoff had shortly afterwards left for his estates in the north, and
he felt sure that upon his return the subject would be renewed, and
that upon his announcement of his continued determination to refuse
his daughter's hand to this pressing suitor, the latter would use
every means in his power to ruin him, and that the cloud which had so
long threatened would burst over his head.
From Olga, who, being about his own age, a little under sixteen, was
his special chum in the family, Jack gathered a general idea of the
situation. Olga was an adept at pantomimic action, and a natural
mimic; hence, although he could only understand a word here and there,
he obtained an accurate idea of the conversation between her father
and the governor, and of her father's calm manner, and the gestures
and intonations of apparent friendship but veiled menace. By putting
her ears to a keyhole and hiding behind a curtain, she expressed the
possibility of there being a spy in the very household, who would
listen to the unguarded talk of her father and report it to the
governor. Jack determined that he would watch every movement of the
domestics, and especially observe if he could detect any sign of an
understanding between one of them and the governor.
It was some four or five days after the count had returned that Count
Smerskoff rode up to the door. Orders had already been given that if
he arrived he should be shown to the count's private study. The
midshipmen saw him riding up, and, according to the plan they had
agreed upon, one stood near the entrance to observe whether any sign
of recognition passed between him and any of the servants gathered
upon the steps to receive him, the other took his place in the hall.
The interview was not a long one.
"I am come, Count Preskoff," the governor said, "to renew my request
for the hand of your daughter. I trust that upon consideration you
will have thought it better to overlook the objections you preferred
to my suit."
"Upon the contrary," the count said calmly, "I have thought the matter
over in every light, and am more convinced even than before that such
a marriage would not conduce to the happiness of my daughter. She
herself is wholly repugnant to it, and even were it otherwise, I
should myself most strongly object."
"On what grounds, count?" the officer said angrily. "Noble as your
family is, my own is fully equal to it."
"That I am perfectly willing to allow, sir, and will frankly own that
my objection is a purely personal one. The incidents of your past
career are notorious. You have killed two men in duels, which, in both
cases, you forced upon them. You have been involved in gambling
transactions of such a description that it needed all the influence of
your family to save you from public disgrace. To such a man it is
impossible that I could intrust my daughter."
Count Smerskoff rose to his feet, bursting with passion.
"Since you know my reputation, count, it would have been wiser to
abstain from insulting me. You shall hear from me before night."
"It is useless your sending your second to me," the count said calmly,
"for I absolutely refuse to meet you. I shall publish my refusal, and
state that the grounds upon which I base it are that you are a
notorious ruffian; but that if you can find any man of honor to take
up your quarrel, I shall be prepared to meet him."
"I will force you to it," the soldier said, burning with passion. "I
will publicly insult you. I will strike you," and he drew a step
"You will do so at your peril," the count said, drawing a pistol from
his pocket. "I know your method, sir, and am prepared for it. If you
lay a finger upon me, if you insult me in public, I will shoot you
dead where you stand, and take the consequences."
"You shall repent this," Count Smerskoff exclaimed. "There are lives
worse than death, and you shall have cause to remember your words of
to-day," and turning round he strode from the room.
Jack was still lounging in the hall as he passed out. One of the
servants had also remained there, and when the governor was seen
striding down the staircase, the man hastened to open the door. Jack
saw the officer pause for a moment, "At eight to-night at the cross
roads," he said, and passed out, and flinging himself upon his horse,
rode off. Among the Russian words learned by the midshipmen were all
words connected with roads. They had been specially desirous of asking
questions which might enable them to find their way across country,
and every word which would be likely to be included in a direction as
to route had been learned. This was the more easy, as on their march
there had been but few objects of interest to attract their attention.
The expressions therefore "the road to the right," "the road to the
left," "the turning by the wood or stream," "the cross roads," and
other similar expressions had been learned by heart. Jack's quick
ears, consequently, gathered the purport of the brief order.
"I have found the spy," he said triumphantly, when he joined his
comrade outside. "Come for a stroll, Dick. I don't want to be seen
When well away from the house, Jack repeated the words he had
overheard, and they determined that they would be present at the
interview between the governor and his spy. They had a long discussion
whether it would be better to invite the count himself to be present;
but they agreed at last that it would be better not to do so, as he
might break in upon the interview, and possibly only bring matters to
a climax at once, which they agreed had better be avoided, as even if
the men fought then and there, the fact of the governor being killed
by the count would only precipitate the danger which already
threatened. Still they agreed that it was absolutely necessary that
the conversation should be thoroughly understood, and the few words
which they would glean here and there might be insufficient to put
them in possession of the full details of the plot.
They therefore resolved to take the coachman into their confidence.
They knew that he was warmly attached to the count, and that he could
be relied upon in an emergency. As they had full permission to take
the horses or carriage whenever they pleased, they now went to the
stable and told the coachman that they should like to go for a drive
in the sledge, as the weather showed signs of breaking, and the snow
would probably shortly disappear.
The horses were at once put to, and, in a few minutes they were
whirling over the snow. They directed the coachman to drive into the
forest where they had had the encounter with the wolves, and when well
in its shelter they stopped the sledge and alighted, and requested the
coachman to do the same. Much surprised, the unrolled the sheepskin
wrappings from his legs and got down from his seat.
"Alexis, you love the count, your master, do you not?"
"Yes, young lord," the Russian said earnestly, though much surprised
at the question. "His fathers have been the masters of mine for many
generations. My good lord is always kind and considerate to his serfs.
I drove his father before him. I drove him when he was a boy. He has
never said a harsh word to me. I would give my life for him willingly.
Why do the young lords ask?"
"Your master has enemies, Alexis. There are many who think that he is
too kind to his serfs. They have poisoned the ear of the Czar against
him. They have told him that your master is a dangerous man. They have
turned the face of the Czar from him."
The Russian nodded. It was no secret that the count was banished from
"The chief of his enemies," Jack went on, "is the governor, Count
Smerskoff. He wishes to marry the Countess Katinka, and because the
count refuses he will try to injure him and to obtain his exile to
"I will kill him," the coachman said. "I will slay him in the middle
of his soldiers. They may kill me, but what of that, it is for my
"No, Alexis, not now," Jack said, laying his hand upon the arm of the
angry Russian. "Perhaps later, but we will see. But I have found out
that Paul, the hall servant, is acting as his spy. I heard the
governor order him to meet him at the cross roads at eight o'clock
to-night. I suppose he means where the road crosses that to town,
about half-way along. We mean to be there, but you know we don't
understand Russian well enough to hear all that is said. We want you
to be there with us, too, to hear what they mean to do."
"I will be there," the Russian said; "and if the young lords think it
well, I will kill them both."
"No, Alexis," Jack said; "that would never do. It might get about that
the governor had been killed by order of the count, and this would do
more harm than if he were alive. Will you be in the stables at seven
o'clock? We will join you there. There are plenty of bushes at the
cross-roads, and we shall be able to hide there without difficulty."
The coachman assented, and taking their seats, they again drove on. It
must not be supposed that the conversation was conducted as simply and
easily as has been narrated, for it needed all the efforts of the boys
to make the Russian understand them, and they had to go over and over
again many of the sentences, using their scanty vocabulary in every
way, to convey their meaning to their hearer. The rest of the
afternoon passed slowly. The count himself was tranquil and even
cheerful, although his face wore an air of stern determination. The
countess looked anxious and careworn. The eyes of the three girls were
swollen with crying, and the lads afterwards learned that Katinka had
gone down on her knees to her father, to implore him to allow her to
sacrifice herself for the common good by marrying Count Smerskoff.
This, however, the count had absolutely refused to do, and had even
insisted upon her promising him that, should he be exiled and his
estates confiscated, she would not afterwards purchase his release by
consenting to marry her suitor. Respecting the grief and anxiety into
which the family were plunged, the midshipmen kept apart from them all
the afternoon, only joining them at the evening meal at six o'clock.
As they withdrew, saying, in answer to the count's invitation that
they should stop with them, that they were first going for a little
walk, Jack whispered in Olga's ear, "Keep up your courage. All may not
be lost yet."
The coachman was waiting for them in the stable, and they started at
once in an opposite direction to that at which the meeting was to take
place, in case Paul might by any possibility observe their departure.
Taking a long _detour_, they reached the cross-roads, and lay down
under cover of the brushwood. It was nearly half an hour later before
they heard footsteps approaching along the road from the chateau. On
reaching the junction of the roads, the man stopped, and from their
place of concealment they could dimly see his figure.
The boys had taken the precaution of abstracting a brace of pistols
and two swords from the count's armory. The coachman they knew would
have his knife. This they had done at Jack's suggestion that it was
possible that their presence might be betrayed by a cough or other
accidental noise, in which case they knew they would have to fight for
their lives. A few minutes later they heard the tramp of a horse's
hoof. It approached quickly, and the rider halted by the standing
"Is that you, Paul?"
"It is, my lord," the serf said, bowing.
"You are alone?"
"No one had approached the place since I came here a quarter of an
"It is time for action," the horseman said. "To-morrow you will come
boldly at twelve o'clock to my house, and demand to see me on
important business. You will be shown to my room, where two officers
who I wish to have as witnesses will be present. You will then state
to me that you wish to make a denunciation of your master, Count
Preskoff. I shall ask what you have to say, and tell you that you are
of course aware of the serious consequences to yourself should such
statements be proved untrue. You will say that you are aware of that,
but that you are compelled by your love for the Czar, our father, to
speak. You will then say that you have heard the count using insulting
words of the Czar, in speaking of him to his wife, on many occasions,
and that since his return, on one occasion, you put your ear to the
keyhole and heard him telling her of a great plot for a general rising
of the serfs, and an overthrow of the government; that he said he had
prepared the serfs of his estates in the north for the rising; that
those of his estates here would all follow him; that many other nobles
had joined in the plot, and that on a day which had not yet been
agreed upon a rising would take place in twenty places simultaneously;
and that the revolt once begun he was sure that the serfs, weary of
the war and its heavy impositions, would everywhere join the movement.
I shall cross-question you closely, but you will stick to your story.
Make it as simple and straightforward as you can; say you cannot
answer for the exact words, but that you will answer that this was the
general sense of the conversation you overheard. Now, are you sure you
"I quite understand, my lord," the man said humbly, "and for this your
Excellency has promised me?"
"Five hundred roubles and your freedom."
"But when am I to be paid?" the man said doubtfully.
"Do you doubt my word, slave?" the horseman said angrily.
"By no means, your Excellency. But things might happen, and after I
had told my story and it had been taken down before witnesses, your
Excellency's memory might fail. I should prefer the money before I
told my story."
The horseman was silent a moment.
"You are an insolent dog to doubt me," he said in an angry tone; "but
you shall have the money; when you call to-morrow the sergeant of the
guard will have instructions to hand you a letter which will contain
notes for five hundred roubles."
"I thought," the man said, "your Excellency said gold. Five hundred
roubles in notes are not worth two hundred in gold, and you see I
shall have much to do to earn the money, for I may be sent to St.
Petersburg and cross-questioned. I may even be confronted with my
master; and after it is over and I am freed, I must, in any case,
leave this part of the country, for my life will not be safe for a day
"Very well," the count said, "you shall have a thousand roubles in
paper; but beware! if you fail me or break down in cross-examination,
you shall end your life in the mines of Siberia."
So saying, without another word he turned and rode back, while the
serf strode off towards the chateau. During this conversation, which
the boys imperfectly understood, they had difficulty in restraining
the count's faithful retainer, who, furious at hearing the details of
the plot against his master, would have leaped up to attack the
speakers, had not the boys kept their restraining hands on his
shoulder, and whispered in his ear, "Be quiet, for the count's sake."
Waiting long enough to be sure that the two men had passed not only
out of sight but of the sound of their voices, the lads suffered their
companion to rise, and to indulge his feelings in an explosion of deep
oaths. Then, when he was a little calm, they obtained from him a
repetition of the leading facts of the conversation.
The boys consulted among themselves, and agreed that it was necessary
to acquaint the count with all the facts that they had discovered, and
to leave him to act as seemed best according to his judgment.
They entered the house alone, telling the coachman to call in half an
hour, and to say that the count had given orders that he was to see
him to take instructions for the horses in the morning. Then they
joined the family in the drawing-room. There all proceeded as usual.
Katinka, at her father's request, played on the piano, and a stranger
would not have dreamed of the danger which menaced the household. When
the half-hour had nearly expired, Jack said to the count,--
"I have told Alexis to call upon you for orders for to-morrow. Would
you mind receiving him in your study? I have a very particular reason
for asking it."
"But I have no orders to give Alexis," the count said, surprised.
"No, sir, but he has something he particularly wishes to say to
you--something really important."
"Very well," the court replied, smiling; "you seem to be very
mysterious, but of course I will do as you wish. Is he coming soon?"
"In two or three minutes, sir, I expect him."
"Then," the count remarked, "I suppose I had better go at once, and
learn what all this mystery is about. He isn't coming, I hope, to
break to me the news that one of my favorite horses is dead." So
saying, with a smile, he left the room. No sooner had he gone than the
girls overwhelmed the midshipmen with questions, but they told them
that they must not be inquisitive, that their father would, no doubt,
tell them the secret in due time.
"If you will allow me, countess," Dick said, "I will leave this door a
little open, so that we may hear when Alexis goes in." The door was
placed ajar, and a few minutes later the footsteps of two men were
heard coming along the corridor. Paul opened the door. "Is his
Excellency here?" he asked. "Alexis wishes to see him."
"He is in his study," the countess answered.
The study door was heard to close, and when the sound of Paul's feet
returning along the corridor ceased Dick said, "You will excuse us,
countess, we are going to join the conference."
"It is too bad," Katinka exclaimed, "to keep us in the dark in this
way. Mind, if the secret is not something very important and
delightful, you will be in disgrace, and we shall banish you from this
The lads made a laughing reply, and then, promising they would soon be
back, they went to the study. Alexis was standing silent before his
master, having explained that he would rather not speak until the
young English lords appeared. Jack began the narrative, and said that
fearing Count Smerskoff, whom they knew to be his enemy, might have
suborned one of the servants to act as his spy they had watched him
closely, and had heard him make an appointment with Paul to meet him
that evening at the cross-roads; that they had taken Alexis into their
confidence, and had with him been concealed spectators of the
interview; that they themselves had been able to gather only the
general drift of the conversation, but that Alexis would give him a
full report of it.
The count's face had at first expressed only surprise at Jack's
narration, but the expression changed into one of fierce anger as he
proceeded. Without a word he motioned to Alexis to continue, and the
latter detailed word for word the conversation which he had overheard.
When he had concluded, he added, "Your Excellency must pardon me for
not having killed your enemies upon the spot, but the young English
lords had told me that it was necessary to lie quiet, whatever I
heard, and besides, the governor might have ridden off before I could
The count stood for a minute silent when the narration ceased. "You
did well, Alexis," he said in a stern voice. "It is for me to judge
and sentence. I had thought that I, at least, was safe from treachery
among those around me. It seems I was wrong, and the traitor shall
learn that the kind master can be the severe lord, who holds the life
and death of his serfs in his hand." He was silent, and remained two
or three minutes in deep thought. "Go to the stable, Alexis. You will
be joined there soon by Ivan and Alexander. They will have their
instructions. After that Paul will come out; seize him and bind him
when he enters the stable. Now go. You have done well. Tell Paul, as
you go out, that I wish to see the steward."
A minute or two later the steward, a white-headed old man, who had
from childhood been in the service of the family, entered. "Demetri,"
he said, "will you tell Ivan and Alexander to go out into the stable?
They will find Alexis waiting for them. Order them, when Paul joins
them there, to aid Alexis in seizing him instantly. Give them your
instructions quietly, and without attracting notice. Above all do not
let Paul see you speaking to them. When you have seen them out, find
Paul, and order him to go to the stable and tell Alexis that I wish to
speak to him; when he has gone, join me here."
A STRUGGLE FOR LIFE
Count Preskoff's old steward received his orders with scarce a look of
surprise, singular though they must have seemed to him. A Russian is
accustomed to unquestioning obedience to the orders of his superior,
and although never before had Count Preskoff issued such strange and
unaccountable commands to the steward, the thought never occurred to
the latter of questioning them for a moment.
When he had left the room, the Count turned to the midshipmen, and his
brow relaxed. "I cannot tell you," he said, "under what obligation you
have placed me and my family. Little did we think that any little
kindness we might show to you, strangers and prisoners here, would be
returned by a service of a hundredfold greater value. The danger which
hangs over us may for the time be averted by your discovery. I know my
enemy too well to suppose that it is more than postponed, but every
delay is so much gained. I have news to-day that the Czar is
alarmingly ill. Should Heaven take him, it would be the dawn of a
better era for Russia. His son is a man of very different mould. He
has fallen into disgrace with his father for his liberal ideas, and he
is known to think, as I do, that serfdom is the curse of the empire."
"But surely," Dick Hawtry said, "if we draw out a document signed by
us and Alexis, saying that we overheard the plot to obtain false
evidence against you, the emperor would not believe other false
accusations which your enemies might invent?"
"You little know Russia," the count said. "I believe that Nicholas,
tyrannical and absolute as he is, yet wishes to be just, and that were
such a document placed in his hands, it would open his eyes to the
truth. But my enemies would take care that it never reached him. They
are so powerful that few would dare to brave their hostility by
presenting it. Nor, indeed, surrounded as Nicholas is by creatures
whose great object is to prevent him from learning the true wishes of
his people, would it be easy to obtain an opportunity for laying such
a document before him. Even were the attempt made, and that
successfully, such doubts would be thrown upon it, that he might well
be deceived. It would be said that the evidence of Alexis, a serf
devoted to his master, was valueless, and that you, as strangers, very
imperfectly acquainted with the language, might well have
misunderstood the conversation. Count Smerskoff would swear that he
was only repeating statements which Paul had previously made to him,
and that he only promised money because Paul insisted that, as a first
condition of his informing against me, he should receive funds to
enable him to leave this part of the country, where his life would
assuredly be unsafe. I will thankfully take such a document from you,
my friends, for it may be useful, but I must not trust too much to it.
Now come with me," he continued, as the steward reappeared. "You have
seen how a Russian noble can be kind to his serfs; you will now see
how he punishes traitors."
Followed by the steward and the two midshipmen, the count proceeded to
the stables. Here, by the light of the lantern, they saw Paul
standing, bound against the manger. His features were ghastly pale and
contracted with fear. His conscience told him that his treachery had
been discovered. Alexis and the two servants were standing by, in the
attitude of stolid indifference habitual to the Russian peasant.
"Demetri, you, Ivan, and Alexander will be the court to try this man
whom I accuse of being a traitor, who has plotted against my life and
liberty, who would have sent me to the gallows or Siberia, and seen my
wife and children turned beggared and disgraced on the world. You will
form the court, and decide whether he is innocent or guilty. If the
latter, I will pass sentence. Alexis and these English gentlemen are
the witnesses against him."
The midshipmen first, and then Alexis related the conversation they
"You have heard the evidence," the count said, turning to Demetri.
"What is your opinion? is this man innocent or guilty?"
"He is guilty," the old man said, "of the basest treachery towards the
best and kindest master in Russia, and he deserves to die."
"And so say we," said the other two together, looking with loathing
horror at the prisoner; for in Russia for a serf to conspire against
his master was a crime deemed almost equal in atrocity to parricide.
"You hear, Paul," his master said, sternly looking at him; "you have
been found guilty, and must die. Alexis, you restrained yourself for
my sake from taking the life of this wretch when you heard him
plotting against me; you will now act as executioner."
"Right willingly," the man replied, taking down a huge axe which hung
by the wall.
The wretched prisoner, who had hitherto maintained an absolute
silence, now burst into an agony of cries, prayers for mercy, and
curses. Seeing in the unmoved countenances of his judges that nothing
would avail, and that Alexis was approaching him; he screamed out a
demand for a priest before he died.
"That is reasonable," the count said. "Go into the house, Demetri, and
ask Papa Ivanovitch to come hither"--for in the family of every
Russian noble a priest resides, as a matter of course.
Presently the priest arrived with the steward.
"Papa Ivanovitch," the count said, "you are, I know, devoted to the
family in which your father and grandfather were priests before you.
You can, therefore, be trusted with our secret, a secret which will
never go beyond those present. You are here to shrive a man about to
Then the count related the incidents of the discovery of the treachery
of the prisoner, and the priest, who shared with the serfs their
veneration and affection for their lord, could scarcely overcome his
repugnance and horror of the prisoner so far as to approach and listen
For five minutes all present withdrew from the stable, leaving the
priest and the prisoner alone together. Then the door opened and the
priest came out.
"It is finished," he said. "May God pardon the sinner!" and he moved
away rapidly towards the house.
Alexis spoke a word to his fellow-servants, and these lifted a heavy
log from the wood-pile in the courtyard, and carried it into the
stable. Then they seized Paul, and in spite of his screams and
struggles laid him with his head across the log. Alexis raised the
heavy axe in the air; it flashed in the light of the lantern; there
was a dull, heavy thud, and the head of the traitor rolled on the
"Now," the count said, unmoved, "put a horse into a cart, take picks
and shovels, and carry the body of this traitor out to the forest and
bury it there. Dig a hole deeply, that the wolves may not bring it to
light. Demetri will give each of you to-morrow fifty roubles for your
share in this night's work, and beware that you never let a syllable
concerning it pass your lips, even when you are together and alone.
Alexis, on you I bestow your freedom, if you care to have it, and
also, as a gift to yourself and your heirs after you, the little farm
that was vacant by the death of Nouvakeff last week."
So saying, followed by the two midshipmen who had been awed, but not
disapproving spectators of the tragedy, he returned to the house, and
led the way back to his study.
"You do not disapprove," he asked gravely, "of what I have done? It is
not, I know, in accordance with your English ideas, nor even in Russia
may a noble take a serf's life, according to law, though hundreds are
killed in fits of hasty passion, or by slow ill-treatment, and no
inquiry is ever made. Still, this was a case of life against life. My
safety and happiness and that of my dear wife and daughters were
concerned, and were the lives of fifty serfs at stake, I should not
Although the boys felt that the matter, if brought before an English
court of justice, might not be favorably considered, their sympathies
were so thoroughly with the count, that they did not hesitate to say
that they thought he could not have acted otherwise than he had done,
and that the life of the traitor was most justly forfeited.
"I shall now have a respite for a short time," the count said. "Count
Smerskoff will of course be perturbed and annoyed at the
non-appearance of his spy, and will after a time quietly set inquiries
on foot. But I will tell Demetri to give it to be understood that Paul
has asked for leave of absence for a few days to go to a distance to
visit a friend who is ill. He was always a silent and unsociable
fellow, and the others will not wonder at his having started without
mentioning his intention to any of them."
"What are we to say to the ladies, sir?" Jack asked. "We must invent
some reason for our mysterious absence."
"Yes," the count agreed. "I would not burden them with such a secret
as this on any account."
"I have an idea, sir," Jack said after a pause. "You know that
beautiful pair of ponies which were brought here yesterday for sale?
The ladies were in raptures over them, but you said that the price was
preposterous, and that the owner wanted as much for them as you had
given for your best pair of carriage horses. Now, sir, if you were to
order Alexis to go over at daybreak to the town to purchase them, and
have them at the door in a pony-carriage by breakfast-time, this would
seem to explain the whole mystery of the coachman's coming to see you,
and our private conference."
"It is a capital plan," the count assented; "admirable, and I will
carry it out at once. It is true I refused to buy them, for we have
all contributed to the extent of our means to enable the emperor to
carry on the war, and I am really short of money. But of course the
purchase of the ponies is not a matter of importance, one way or the
Upon the party returning to the drawing-room, they were assailed with
questions; but the count told his daughters that their curiosity must
remain unsatisfied until after breakfast on the morrow; and with this
assurance they were obliged to be satisfied, although Olga pouted and
told Jack that he had entirely forfeited her confidence. Fortunately
it was now late, and the lads were not called upon long to maintain an
appearance of gayety and ease which they were very far from feeling.
When they retired to their rooms, they had a long talk together. Both
agreed that, according to English law, the whole proceeding was
unjustifiable; but their final conclusion was that things in Russia
were altogether different to what they were in England, and that,
above all things, it was a case in which "it served him right."
Nevertheless it was long before they got to sleep, and for weeks the
scene in the stable was constantly before their eyes, and the screams
and entreaties of the dying man rang in their ears.
The next morning the sight of the ponies delighted the girls, and in
their pleasure at the purchase they accepted at once the solution of
the mystery, and never thought of questioning whether the long
conference between their father and the midshipmen on the preceding
evening was fully accounted for by the gift of the ponies.
Five days elapsed, and then one morning a sergeant rode up with an
official letter for the count. The latter opened it and read an order
from the governor for him to transfer the English prisoners in his
charge to the bearer of the letter, who would conduct them to the
quarters assigned to them. Most reluctantly the count ascended the
stairs and informed the boys of the order which he had received.
"It is simply done to annoy me," he said. "No doubt he has heard that
you ride about the estate with me and are treated as members of the
family, and he thinks, and rightly, that it will be a serious
annoyance to me if you are transferred elsewhere. However, I can do no
less than obey the order, and I can only hope that you will spend most
of your time here. Alexis shall bring the carriage over every morning
for you, wherever you may be quartered."
The girls were as indignant and aggrieved as even the midshipmen could
wish to see them, but there was no help for it. A quarter of an hour
later a carriage was at the door, a portmanteau well filled with
clothes placed behind, and with the sergeant trotting alongside, the
boys left the chateau where they bad been so hospitably entertained,
promising to come over without fail the next morning.
They were conducted to the governor's house, and taken not to the
large room where he conducted his public business, and where they had
before seen him, but to a smaller room, fitted up as a private study
on the second floor. The governor, who looked, Jack thought, even more
savage and ill-tempered than usual, was seated at a writing-table. He
signed to the sergeant who accompanied them to retire, and pointed to
two chairs. "So," he said, "I am told that you are able to converse
fairly in Russian, although you have chosen to sit silent whenever I
have been present, as if you did not understand a word of what was
being said. This is a bad sign, and gives weight to the report which
has been brought to me, that you are meditating an escape."
"It is a lie, sir," Dick said firmly, "whoever told it you. As to our
learning Russian, we have, as you see, picked up a little of the
language, but I'm not aware of any rule or law by which gentlemen,
whether prisoners or otherwise, are obliged to converse, unless it
pleases them to do so. You never showed any signs of being even aware
of our presence in the room, and there was therefore no occasion for
us to address you."
"I do not intend to bandy words with you," the governor replied
savagely. "I repeat that I am informed you meditate attempting an
escape, and as this is a breach of honor, and a grave offence upon the
part of officers on parole, I shall at once revoke your privilege, and
you will be confined in the same prison with common soldiers."
"In the first place," Jack said, "as my friend has told you, the
report of our thinking of escaping is a lie. If we had wanted to
escape, at any rate from this place, we could have done it at any time
since we have been here. In the second place, I deny that we are
prisoners on parole. We did not give you our promise, because you did
not ask for it. You said to Dr. Bertmann, in our hearing, that our
parole was no matter, one way or the other, as it would be impossible
for us to escape. The doctor can of course be found, and will, I am
sure, bear out what I say."
"Silence, sir!" shouted the governor. "I say that you were prisoners
on parole, and that I have discovered you intended to break that
parole. You will be committed to prison, and treated as men who have
forfeited all right to be considered as officers and gentlemen."
The boys sat silent, looking with contempt at the angry Russian. The
latter believed that he had now cowed them. He sat for a few minutes
silent, in order to allow the prospect of imprisonment and disgrace to
produce its full effect. Then he continued in a milder voice, "I do
not wish to be severe upon such very young officers, and will
therefore point out a way by which you may avoid the imprisonment and
disgrace which your conduct has merited, and be enabled still to enjoy
your freedom as before."
"What is it?" Dick asked briefly.
"It is this," the governor said. "I have here before me," and he
touched some documents lying on the table, "a report which I am about
to forward to the Czar respecting Count Preskoff. The report is not
altogether favorable, for the count is a man of what are called
advanced opinions. He has curious ideas as to the treatment of serfs,
and has, no doubt, in your hearing expressed himself favorable to
The boys were silent.
"He has, I doubt not, done so, for he is rash and open of speech. I
have here before me an information sworn to that effect, and if you
will place your names as witnesses to it, I will not only pardon the
indiscretion of which you have been guilty, but will do all in my
power to make your stay pleasant."
The boys were speechless with indignation at the infamy of the
proposal, and doubted not that the document contained far weightier
charges than those specified by the governor.
"Who has signed that document?" Jack asked.
"I do not know that the name can matter to you," the governor said,
"but it is one of the servants of the count, one Paul Petrofski."
"Then," Dick said, starting to his feet, "it is a forgery. Paul
Petrofski never signed that document."
"What do you mean?" the governor exclaimed, leaping to his feet also,
and laying his hand on his sword, while his face grew white with
passion. "Do you accuse me of forgery?"
"I repeat," Dick said, his indignation altogether mastering his
prudence, "that it is a forgery. You have never seen Paul Petrofski
since I heard you offer him one thousand roubles at the cross-roads
that night to betray his master."
With a short cry which reminded Jack of the sharp snarl of the wolves
in the night in the forest, the Russian drew his sword and rushed upon
Dick. The latter threw up his arm to defend himself, but the blow
fell, cutting his arm severely, and laying open a great gash on his
The Russian raised his arm to repeat the blow, when Jack sprang upon
him from behind, seizing him round the waist, and pinning his arms to
The count struggled furiously, but Jack was a strongly built English
lad of nearly sixteen years old, and he not only retained his grasp,
but lifted his struggling captive from his feet. "Open the window,
Dick!" he shouted. "It's his life or ours now." Dick though nearly
blinded with blood, sprang to the window and threw it up.
There was a short, desperate struggle, as the Russian shouting
furiously for aid, strove with his feet to keep himself away from the
window, but Dick struck these aside. With a mighty effort Jack pushed
his captive forward, and in another moment he was thrown through the
open window. A rush of heavy steps was heard on the stairs. In an
instant Jack darted to the table, seized the documents upon it, and
cast them into the fire in the stove, slammed the door, and was
standing by the window with Dick, when an officer and several soldiers
burst into the room.
"What is the matter?" the former exclaimed; "and where is the
"The matter is," Jack said, quietly turning round, "that the governor
has drawn his sword, and, as you see, tried to kill my friend. In
order to prevent his doing so, my friend and I have thrown the
governor out of the window."
"Thrown the governor out of the window!" gasped the astonished
"Yes," Jack said. "It was painful, but we had to do it. If you look
out, I fancy you'll see him."
The officer ran to the window.
"Good heavens!" he exclaimed; "it is true. They are lifting him up
already. He seems to me to be dead. You will have to answer for this,"
he said, turning to the lads.
"Of course we shall answer for it," Jack said. "He brought it on
himself. His temper, as no doubt you are aware, was not always under
The officer could not help smiling. He had himself often experienced
the effects of that want of control of his temper on the part of his
superior, and was at heart by no means sorry at the prospect of a new
"His Excellency's temper was hasty," he said. "However, gentlemen,
that is no business of mine." Then, turning to the soldiers, he
continued, "You will take these officers into custody, and remain here
in charge of them until you have further orders." He then left them,
to inquire into the state of the governor. The soldiers muttered
remarks to each other, by no means indicative of sorrow, for the
tyranny of the governor had made him hated by all below him. One of
them at Jack's request at once went out and returned with a jug of
cold water and a towel, with which Jack bathed Dick's wounds, which
were bleeding severely, and the midshipman was scarcely able to stand
from loss of blood. Jack vainly attempted to stop the bleeding. "We
must have a surgeon," he said, turning to the soldiers, "or, as you
see, my friend will bleed to death. No doubt there are plenty of them
below. Will one of you go and ask one of them to come up here, telling
him how urgent is the need?"
After a consultation among themselves, one of the soldiers retired,
and in a minute or two returned with a surgeon, in whom, to his great
delight, Jack recognized Doctor Bertmann, who upon seeing Dick's state
at once proceeded to attend to him. Cutting off his coat and
shirt-sleeve, he examined his arm, from which the blood was flowing in
"One of the small arteries is cut," he said. "It is lucky that aid was
at hand, or he would have assuredly bled to death." The severed artery
was speedily found and tied up, and then the wound on the face was
plastered and bandaged, and Dick, as he lay on the couch, for he was
far too weak to stand, felt comparatively comfortable.
AN ESCAPE FROM PRISON
When he had dressed Dick's wounds, Doctor Bertmann said he would go
down and see the governor. He had already told the lads that he had
received fatal injuries, and was unconscious, and that he might, or
might not, recover his senses before he died. It was an hour before he
returned, accompanied by the other officer. Both looked grave.
Back to Full Books