G. A. Henty
Part 4 out of 6
"I'm sorry to say, my young friend," the doctor said to Jack, for Dick
had now gone off in a quiet doze, "that the affair has assumed a very
serious aspect. The count is dead. He recovered consciousness before
he died, and denounced you both as having made a sudden and altogether
unprovoked attack upon him. He had, he affirmed, discovered that you
were meditating a breach of your parole, and that he had informed you
that the privileges extended to you would, therefore, be withdrawn.
Then, he said, transported by rage, you sprang upon him. He drew his
sword and attempted to defend himself, but the two of you, closing
with him, hurled him through the window, in spite of his struggles."
The other officer had, while the doctor was speaking, been examining
"I do not see the papers he spoke of," he said to the doctor.
Then, turning to the sergeants of the guard, he asked if any papers
upon the table had been touched. The sergeant replied that no one had
gone near the table since he had entered the room.
"In that case," the officer said, "his mind cannot have been quite
clear, although he seemed to speak sensibly enough. You heard him
order me, doctor, to fold up a report and attesting statement directed
to the Minister of the Interior, and to post them immediately? It is
clear that there are no such documents here. I entered the room with
the sergeant almost at the moment when the struggle ended, and as no
one has touched the table since, it is clear that they cannot have
been here. Perhaps I may find them on the table downstairs. It is
now," he said, turning to Jack, "my duty to inform you that you are in
custody for the deliberate murder of Count Smerskoff, as sworn to by
him in his last moments."
"He was a liar when he was alive," Jack said, "and he died with a
falsehood on his lips. However, sir, we are at your orders."
A stretcher was brought in, Dick was placed upon it, and under a guard
the midshipmen were marched to the prison, the soldiers with
difficulty keeping back the crowd who pressed forward to see the
English prisoners who had murdered the governor.
Doctor Bertmann walked with Jack to the prison door. Upon the way he
assured Jack that he entirely believed his version of the story, as he
knew the governor to be a thoroughly bad man.
"Singularly enough," he said, "I had intended to see you to-day. I
went back to Sebastopol on the very day after you arrived here, with a
regiment marching down, and left again with a convoy of wounded after
only two days' stay there. I got here last night, and I had intended
coming out to call upon you at Count Preskoff's to-day. You would, no
doubt, like me to see him at once, and inform him of what has taken
Jack said that he would be very much obliged, if he would do so.
"I will return this afternoon to see my patient," Doctor Bertmann
said, as they parted, "and will then bring you news from the count,
who will, no doubt, come to see you himself."
The cell to which the boys were conducted was a small one, and
horribly dirty. Jack shrugged his shoulders, as he looked at it.
"It is not fit for a pig," he said to himself. "After all, Russia is
not such a pleasant place as I thought it yesterday."
When they were left alone, Jack set to work to cheer up his companion,
who was weak, and inclined to be despondent from the loss of blood
which he had suffered.
"At any rate, old boy," Jack said, in reply to Dick's assertion of his
conviction that they would be shot, "we shall have the satisfaction
that we have procured the safety of our friends at the chateau. Now
that their enemy is gone, the count will no doubt be let alone. It was
dreadful to think what would have become of the countess and the three
girls if their father had been sent to Siberia, and they turned out
penniless. Besides, old fellow, we are a long way from being dead yet.
After all, it is only the governor's word against ours, and you may be
sure that the count will move heaven and earth to bring matters
It was dusk before the doctor returned.
"I have seen the count," he said, "and the ladies and he were greatly
distressed at my news. It is plain to see that you are prime
favorites. The young ladies were very Niobes. The count was most
anxious to learn all particulars, but I could only tell him that you
asserted the governor had attacked you first. He drove in at once, and
made no doubt that he should be allowed to see you. In this, however,
he was disappointed, and indeed you have had a most fortunate escape.
The officer second in command here is a relative of the late governor.
Fortunately he was absent this morning, and only returned this
afternoon. Like the late count he is of a violent and passionate
temper, and when he heard the news swore that had he been here, he
would have instantly had you brought out and shot in the square.
Indeed, it was with difficulty that the other officers dissuaded him
from doing so upon his return. He has ordered that a court-martial
shall assemble to-morrow, and that you shall be at once tried and
"But surely," Jack said, "no court-martial of officers would find us
guilty. The count's violent temper was notorious, and it is against
all reason that two unarmed men should make an attack upon one armed
with a sword, and within call of assistance. You yourself know, Doctor
Bertmann, that the reason which he alleged for the attack is a false
one, as we were not asked for our parole."
"I am, of course, aware of that," the doctor said, "and should attend
to give evidence, but the case is a doubtful one. The officers of our
line regiments are, for the most part, poor and friendless men.
Promotion is almost entirely by favoritism, and it would need a very
considerable amount of courage and independence to give a verdict in
the teeth of their commanding officer. In the next place, for I have
heard them talking it over among themselves, there is a sort of
feeling that, for the honor of the Russian army, it is almost
necessary that you should be found guilty, since it would throw
discredit upon the whole service were it published to the world that
two unarmed young English officers had been attacked with a sword by a
Russian officer of rank."
"Then things look rather badly for us," said Jack. "Well, it can't be
helped, you know, and the count will, no doubt, write to our people at
home, to tell them the truth of the case."
"Oh," said the doctor, "you must not misunderstand me. I only said
that the new commandant had ordered that you should be tried by
court-martial, but that is a very different thing from its being done.
We must get you out of prison to-night."
"You speak very confidently," Jack said, laughing, "but how is it to
"Oh," answered the doctor, "there is no great difficulty on that
score. It may be taken as certain that as a rule every Russian
official, from the highest to the lowest, is accessible to a bribe,
and that no prisoner with powerful friends outside need give up hope.
This is a military prison. The soldiers at the gate are open to imbibe
an unlimited amount of vodka, whoever may send it. The officer in
command of them will be easily accessible to reasons which will induce
him to shut his eyes to what is going on. Your warder here can of
course be bought. The count is already at work, and as his means are
ample, and, although under a cloud at present, his connections
powerful, there is little fear that he will fail in succeeding. By the
way I have news to tell you. Do you hear the bells tolling? The news
has arrived that Nicholas is dead. Alexander, our new Czar, is known
to be liberally disposed, and, were there time, the count would go to
St. Petersburg, obtain an audience with him, and explain the whole
circumstances, which, by the way, he has related to me. This, of
course, is out of the question, and even were there time for him to go
and return, it would not be possible for him to obtain an audience
with the new emperor just at present."
"I wish it could have been so," Jack said. "Of course Dick and I will
be glad enough to avail ourselves of the chances of escape, for it
would be foolish to insist upon waiting to be tried by a tribunal
certain beforehand to condemn us. Still, one doesn't like the thought
of making one's escape, and so leaving it to be supposed that we were
conscious of guilt."
"Oh," the doctor said, "you need not trouble yourself upon that score.
The governor was hated by every one, and no one really doubts that he
attacked you first. Upon the contrary, the population are inclined to
look upon you as public benefactors. There will then be no feeling
against you here, but even if there were, it would make but little
difference. At present every one in Russia is talking and thinking of
nothing but the death of the Czar, and of the changes which may be
made by his son, and the details of a squabble in an obscure town will
attract no attention whatever, and will not probably even obtain the
honor of a paragraph in the Odessa papers. The first thing for us to
do is to get your friend into a fit state to walk. How do you feel?"
he asked, bending over Dick and feeling his pulse.
"Ever so much better," Dick said cheerfully, "since I have heard from
you that there is a chance of escape. I have been fretting so at the
thought that I have got Jack into such a wretched mess by my folly in
telling the governor that I knew of his treachery. If it had been only
myself, I shouldn't have cared."
"Why, my dear Dick," Jack said cheerfully, "I never dreamt of blaming
you, and if you hadn't spoken out, I have no doubt I should have done
so. No, no, old fellow, whatever comes of it, don't you blame
"Can you stand, do you think?" the doctor asked.
"Oh, I think so," Dick said; and rising, he managed to totter across
"That is all right," the doctor said. "In a quarter of an hour you
shall have a good dinner sent in from a restaurant. I have arranged
for that. It is of course contrary to rule, but a few roubles have
settled it. There will be supper, too, at eleven o'clock; there will
also be a couple of bottles of first-rate Burgundy from the count's
cellar. You are to eat two good meals, and drink a third of a bottle
at each of them. Your wounds are not in themselves serious, and the
only thing that ails you is loss of blood. We must risk a little
accession of fever for the sake of giving you strength. When you have
had your supper, you had best both get to sleep, if you can, for an
hour or two. Whatever arrangements we make will be for about two
o'clock in the morning. And now good-bye for the present; keep up your
spirits, and remember that even should any unexpected accident upset
our plans for to-night, we will carry them out to-morrow night, as the
court-martial will not take place till the afternoon, and there will
be at least twenty-four, probably forty-eight hours, between the
sentence and its execution."
So saying, the doctor took his departure, leaving the lads far more
cheerful and confident than they had been when he entered. He seemed
indeed to regard the success of the attempt which would be made for
their evasion as secured. The meal, which consisted of some strong and
nourishing soup, and a dish of well-cooked meat, shortly arrived, and
Dick, after partaking of it, and drinking his prescribed allowance of
Burgundy, announced that he felt a man again, and ready for a tussle
with the commandant. After his meal he dozed quietly, for some hours,
until aroused by the arrival of supper which consisted again of soup
with some poached eggs served on vegetables.
Jack had not tried to sleep, but had enjoyed a pipe which the doctor
had, with tobacco, handed to him, his own having been confiscated upon
his entrance into the prison. After supper, however, he threw himself
upon the straw and slept soundly, until awakened by a hand being
placed on his shoulder. He leaped to his feet, and saw the warder
beside him. The man carried a lantern. The candle with which the boys
had been furnished by the doctor's arrangement had burned out. Jack
aroused his comrade, and the two followed the warder, who led the way
along the corridor and down the stairs into the courtyard of the
The man did not walk with any particular caution, and the lads judged
from his movements that he had no fear whatever of interruption. The
door of the guard-room stood open, and by the light of the fire which
blazed within, they could see the soldiers lying about in a drunken
sleep. At the gate itself the sentry on duty was sitting on the ground
with his back against a wall, and his musket beside him, in a heavy
The warder unlocked the door, the key being already in the lock; the
three issued out; the gate was closed and locked on the outside, and
the key thrust under the gate. The warder then led the way through the
streets, until he reached a small house near the outskirts. The door
opened as their footsteps approached, and Count Preskoff came out.
"My dear boys," he exclaimed embracing them as if he had been their
father, "how much you have suffered for the sake of me and mine!
Here," he continued, turning to the warder, "is the reward I promised
you. Go straight on to the chateau. You will find my coachman with a
light carriage ready for starting. He will drive you twenty-five miles
on your way, and you will then only have fifteen to walk before
morning to the house of the woodman, your brother, where I hear you
intend to remain hidden for the present. You can rely upon my
protection after the affair has blown over. Now come in, lads, this is
the house of a faithful serf of mine, who works here on his own
account as an artisan, and you will be safe from interruption for the
next hour or two."
Upon entering the cottage, the midshipmen were surprised to find the
countess and her daughters, who greeted them no less warmly than the
count had done.
"My husband has told me all that you have done for us," the countess
said, "and how you first discovered the plot between the governor and
that miserable traitor for our ruin. I have blamed him for hiding it
from us at first, for surely a wife should know of the dangers to
which her husband is exposed. Besides, I and my daughters would have
remained ignorant of the obligation we owe you."
"And to think of the way you took us in with the ponies," Olga
laughed. "Papa said that was your invention, Master Jack. That's
another score against you."
"I hope," Dick said, "that you are running no risks on our account,
countess. I fear that there may be suspicions that the count has been
concerned in our escape."
"The deputy-commandant may suspect," the count said, "but he can prove
nothing. All in the chateau are, I believe, faithful, but even were
they not, none know of our absence, as we did not leave until all were
asleep, and shall return before daylight. Alexis will himself drive
the warder to his destination. He has the best pair of horses, and
will do the fifty miles in under four hours so that he will be back
before any one is stirring. The others concerned will hold their
tongues for their own sakes. The soldiers will not admit that they
have been drunk, but will declare that no one has passed the gate. The
lieutenant in charge will hang up the key on its hook in the
guard-room, and will declare that every time he made his rounds he
found the men alert and vigilant. It will therefore be supposed that
the warder has let you out by a rope or in some other way. No doubt
there will be a vigilant hue-and-cry in the morning, and the
commandant will search every house, will keep a sharp watch over the
chateau, and will scour the country for miles round. But it will die
away in time. I wrote yesterday afternoon to my friends in St.
Petersburg, urging them to obtain the appointment of some friend to
this post. The party of reform will be in the ascendency in the
counsels of the emperor, and I have every hope that I shall shortly be
restored to favor at court, a matter, by the way, which I care for
very much more for the sake of my daughters than for myself. The
countess and I are well content with our life in the country, but the
girls naturally look forward to the gayeties of life at the capital.
Beside which," he added, laughing, "I must be looking for husbands for
them, and I fear that I should not find satisfactory suitors in this
Jack could not help glancing at Olga, for, with a midshipman's usual
inflammatory tendency, he was convinced that he was hopelessly in love
with that damsel. Olga colored, and then turned away, from which Jack
could gain no indication favorable or otherwise for his hopes.
The count now explained the plans that had been adopted for their
escape. "It would," he said, "seem the natural course to aid you, as
we have done the warder, by driving you far into the country. But the
descriptions of you are sure to be sent to every place within fifty
miles. I know no one to whom I could safely entrust you, and the
doctor says that it is impossible that our friend Dick should walk for
any distance for the next two or three days. The doctor has
fortunately received orders to-day to start at daybreak this morning
with a convoy going back to Sebastopol. No doubt the new commandant
had heard that he was prepared to give evidence at the court-martial
contradicting the governor's statement that you were prisoners on
parole, and therefore wished to get him out of the way. There are
several of my carts which have been requisitioned for the service, in
the convoy. I have here peasants' dresses for you. These you will put
on, and when the carts come along from the chateau half an hour before
daybreak it is arranged that you will take the places of two of the
drivers, who will at once return home. There will be no loading to do,
as the carts will be laden with flour for the army before they leave
to-night, so you will only have to go along with the others, and take
your places in the convoy. After starting the doctor will come along
the line, and seeing Dick limping, will order him to take his place in
one of the carts under his immediate charge, with medicines and
bedding for the hospitals. One driver more or less in a team of some
hundreds of wagons all following each other along a straight road will
not be noticed. So you will journey south for a week or so, until Dick
has thoroughly recovered his strength. You had then, we think, better
make to the west by the Odessa road. The doctor will take two
uniforms, there are plenty obtainable in the hospital, for you to put
on. You must of course run the risk of questioning and detection by
the way, but this cannot be avoided, and at least you will be beyond
the range of search from here, and will be travelling by quite a
different road from that which you would naturally take proceeding
hence. And now tell us all about your affair with the governor. We
have only so far heard his version of the affair, which of course we
knew to be false; but why he should have attacked you in the way he
did, we cannot quite understand."
Dick gave an account of the struggle and the causes which led to it,
owning himself greatly to blame for his imprudence in acquainting the
governor with his knowledge of his secret. He also gave full credit to
Jack for his promptness, not only in seizing the governor and so
saving a repetition of the blow, which would probably have been fatal,
but also in destroying the report and forged evidence of Paul before
interruption. The lads gained great credit with all for their
gallantry, and Katinka said, laughing, "It is wrong to say so, I
suppose, now he is dead, but I should like to have seen the count
struggling as Jack carried him along, like a little ant with a great
beetle." They all laughed.
"Oh, come now," Jack said; "there was not so much difference as all
that. He was not over six feet, and I suppose I am only about five
inches less, and I'm sure I was not much smaller round the shoulders
than he was."
"And now about your route," the count said. "You must not lose time.
Do you both quite agree with me that it would be next to impossible
for you to pass through the lines of our army and to gain your own?"
"Quite impossible," Dick agreed. "Jack and I have talked it over again
and again, and are of opinion that it could not be done even in
Russian uniforms. We should be liable to be questioned by every
officer who met us as to the reason of our being absent from our
regiment, and should be certain to be found out. We thought that it
might be possible to get hold of a fishing-boat, and sail down to join
the fleet. There would be of course the risk of being blown off the
shore or becalmed, and it would be difficult to lay in a stock of
"Besides," the count said, "there is no blockade at Odessa, and our
small war-steamers cruise up and down the coast, so that you would be
liable to capture. No, I am sure your best way will be to go by land
through Poland. There are still large bodies of troops to the
southwest, facing the Turks, and it would be better for you to keep
north of these into Poland. You can go as wounded soldiers on furlough
returning home; and, being taken for Poles, your broken Russian will
appear natural. I will give you a letter which the countess has
written to the intendant of her estates in Poland, and he will do
everything in his power."
"I would rather not carry a letter," Dick said, "for it would
compromise you if we were taken. It would be better, if I might
suggest, for the countess to write to him direct, saying that when two
persons arrive and give some pass-word, say, for instance, the names
of your three daughters, we shall not forget them, he is to give us
any help we may require."
This was agreed upon, and the party chatted until the count said that
it was time for them to dress. Going into another room, the boys clad
themselves in two peasant costumes, with the inseparable sheepskin
coat which the Russian peasant clings to until the full heat of summer
sets in, and which is, especially during a journey, invaluable. The
count then insisted upon their taking a bundle of rouble notes to the
value of 200 l., and upon their urging that they could have no possible
need of so much money, he pointed out that there was no saying what
emergencies might occur during their journey, and that after passing
the frontier they would require a complete outfit, and would have to
pay the expenses of their journey, either to England or the east,
whichever they might decide upon. They rejoined the party in the front
room just as a rumble of carts was heard approaching. There was a
hasty parting. Father, mother, and daughters kissed the midshipmen
affectionately. Jack squeezed Olga's hand at parting, and in another
minute they were standing in front of the door.
"Yours will be the last two carts," the count said.
When these arrived opposite the house the count stepped forward and
said a word to the drivers, who instantly fell behind, while the boys
took up their places by the oxen and moved along with the procession
A JOURNEY IN DISGUISE
The start was accomplished. Many hundreds of carts were assembled in
the great square. A mounted officer and a small guard of soldiers had
formed across the road which they were to follow, and as soon as
daylight had fairly appeared he gave the word, and the carts began to
file off along the southern road, an account being taken of each cart,
as it passed out, by an officer on duty, to see that the number which
had been requisitioned were all present. No question was asked of the
As the driver of the first of those belonging to the count reported
twelve carts, each laden with thirty sacks of flour supplied by Count
Preskoff, the officer, seeing the number was correct, allowed them to
pass without further question. Dick found himself still extremely
weak, and could not have proceeded many hundred yards, if he had not
taken a seat on the cart behind his oxen.
After two hours' travelling there was a halt for a quarter of an hour,
and the doctor, passing along, spoke to Dick, and then walked with him
back along the line to the hospital carts which were in the rear. Here
Dick took his place among some bales of blankets, and another was
thrown over him, in such a way that his presence there would not be
suspected by any one riding past the cart. Upon the train proceeding
Jack took charge of the two carts. This was an easy task, the oxen
proceeding steadily along without deviating from the line, and
requiring no attention whatever beyond an occasional shout and a blow
of the stick when they loitered and left a gap in the line.
Alongside the drivers walked in groups of three or four, talking
together, and thus the fact that one of the wagons was without its
driver passed unnoticed. Alexis had told the count's serfs who
accompanied the carts that their master had arranged at the last
moment for hired men to take the places of two of their number, one of
whom had a wife sick at home, and the other was engaged to be married
shortly. He had also told them that it was their master's wish that
they should enter into no conversation with the strangers, as these
were from a northern province, and scarcely understood the southern
Accustomed to obey every command of their master without hesitation,
the serfs expressed no wonder even among themselves at an order which
must have appeared somewhat strange to them. It was the count's
pleasure, and that was sufficient for them. At the end of the day,
Dick rejoined his comrade, and assisted him to feed the oxen, who
required no further attention except the removal of the yoke, when
they lay down upon the ground and slept in their places. Dick brought
him a supply of cold meat and white bread, and a bottle of wine; and
the lads, choosing a place apart from the others, enjoyed their meal
heartily, and then, climbing up on to the top of their flour sacks,
wrapped themselves in their sheepskins and were soon sound asleep.
That evening a soldier brought a message to the officer in charge of
the escort, telling him that the two English prisoners had by the aid
of their warder effected their escape, bidding him search the convoy,
and keep a sharp lookout along the road and ordering him to give
information to all village and military authorities, and instruct them
to send messages to all places near, warning the authorities there not
only to keep a sharp lookout, but again to forward on the news; so
that in a short time it would be known in every village in the
In the morning, before starting, the officer in charge of the escort
rode along the line, examining every wagon carefully, asking the names
of the drivers, and referring to a paper with which he had been
furnished by the owners of the carts, at starting, giving the names of
the drivers. The head man of the party from Count Preskoff's responded
at once for the twelve men under him; and satisfied that the fugitives
were not in the convoy, the officer gave orders to proceed.
This time Dick was able to walk two or three miles before dropping
back to the hospital wagon. The next day he went still farther, and by
the end of a week announced himself to be as strong as ever, and the
doctor allowed that he could now be trusted to travel.
On this night they had halted at a point where a road, running east
and west, crossed the great road to the Crimea. Before starting, the
boys had a long chat with their friend the doctor, who furnished them
with military passes which he had procured from an officer. These
testified that Ivan Petrofski and Alexis Meranof, of the 5th Polish
Regiment, were proceeding home on sick-furlough.
The signature of the colonel was no doubt fictitious, but this
mattered but little. Jack inquired whether their absence in the
morning would not be likely to be remarked; but the doctor said that
the head of the party had been informed by Demetri that the two
strangers would only accompany them for a few days' march, and had
only been hired to satisfy the authorities that the right number of
men had been furnished, for the want of hands on the estate was now so
great owing to the heavy drain of conscripts to fill up the losses
caused by the war, that the count had been glad to retain the services
of the two who had been left behind. There was therefore to be no
remark concerning the disappearance of the new hands, but the others
were to take charge of their carts, and if possible the authorities
were to be kept unacquainted with the fact that their number was
The peasants' dresses were now exchanged for the uniforms of Russian
soldiers. Dick's head was wrapped in bandages, and his arm placed in a
sling. Jack's leg was also enveloped in bandages, the trousers being
slit up to the hip, and the sides loosely tied together by a piece of
string, and the doctor gave him a pair of crutches, the same as those
used in regimental hospitals.
"Now you will do," he said, surveying them by the light of a lantern.
"Many of the soldiers who have joined since the outbreak of the war
are mere boys, so your age will not be against you, only pray for a
time give up all idea as to the necessity of washing. The dirtier your
hands and faces, the better, especially if the dirt will hide your
clear healthy color, which is very unlike the sallow complexions
almost universal among our peasantry. And now, good-bye. I move about
too much to hope to receive any letter from you, but as you have of
course arranged with Count Preskoff to send him word when you have
safely crossed the frontier, I shall hear of you from him."
With many deep and hearty thanks for the kindness he had shown them,
the boys parted from him, and, setting their faces to the west, took
the road to Odessa. Jack carried his crutches on his shoulders, as
also the long strap which, when he used them, was to pass over his
neck, and down under his foot, keeping it off the ground.
They had made many miles before morning, and as they had retained
their sheepskin cloaks, which had been served out to many of the
troops, they were able to get a comfortable sleep under shelter of a
protecting wall. Five days' walking took them to Odessa. This town was
not upon the direct road, but they still clung to the hope of getting
away by sea.
On the journey they had met several bodies of troops and many convoys
of provisions and stores. Whenever they observed the former to be
approaching, they left the road, and sheltered themselves behind
bushes or inequalities of the ground at a distance from the road, as
they knew they would be liable to be questioned as to the state of
things at the front. They did not, however, go out of their way for
convoys, as they passed these with short salutations in reply to the
greetings or pitying remarks from the drivers. Their Russian was good
enough to pass muster when confined to short sentences of a formal
kind. Their hearts beat when, on passing over a rise, they saw the
blue water stretching out far before them, and they again debated the
possibility of seizing a boat. But the sight of two gun-boats steaming
slowly along the shore convinced them that the attempt would be an
extremely dangerous one.
Odessa is not a fortress, and the boys consequently entered it
unquestioned. The town was crowded with wounded and sick soldiers, and
their appearance attracted no attention whatever. In the principal
streets the lads saw many names of English firms over offices, and the
majority of the shops appeared to be kept by Frenchmen and Germans.
They walked down to the wharves and saw how great must have been the
trade carried on before the war. Now all traffic and business was at
The great foreign merchants interested in the corn trade had all left,
and many of the shops were closed.
The harbor was deserted, save that a score or two of brigs employed in
the coasting-trade, in the Black Sea lay moored by the wharves with
hatches battened down and deserted decks. A little farther out lay at
anchor two or three frigates and some gun-boats. Looking seaward, not
a single sail broke the line of the horizon.
Returning into the town, they went up some small streets, entered a
small eating-house, and asked for food, for the stock with which they
had started four days before had been exhausted the previous evening.
The landlord served them, and as they were eating he entered into
conversation with them.
"I suppose you have leave out of hospital for the day?"
"No," Dick said, "my comrade and I have got leave to go home to Poland
till our wounds are cured."
"Oh," the landlord said. "You are Poles. I thought you did not look
quite like our men; but you speak Russian well for Poles. There is a
regiment of your countrymen in the town now, and some of them come in
sometimes for a glass of brandy. They like it better than vodka;
curious, isn't it? Your true Russian thinks that there's nothing
better than vodka."
Rather disturbed at the intelligence that there was a Polish regiment
in the town, the boys hastened through their meal, and determined to
lay in a stock of bread and meat sufficient for some days'
consumption, and to leave Odessa at once. Just as they had finished,
however, the door opened, and a sergeant and two soldiers entered.
"Ah, my friend," the landlord said to the former. "I am glad to see
you. Are you come as usual for a glass of brandy? Real French stuff it
is, I promise you, though for my part I like vodka. Here are two of
your compatriots wounded; they have furlough to return home. Lucky
fellows, say I. There are thousands at Sebastopol would be glad to
change places with them, even at the cost of their wounds."
The sergeant strode to the table at which the lads were sitting, and,
drawing a chair up, held out his hands to them. "Good-day, comrades,"
he said in Polish. "So are you on your way home? Lucky fellows! I
would give my stripes to be in your place, if only for a fortnight."
Dick for a moment was stupefied, but Jack recalled to mind three
sentences which the countess had taught him and which might, she said,
prove of use to them, did they happen to come across any insurgent
bands in Poland; for vague reports were current, in spite of the
efforts of the authorities to repress them, that the Poles were
seizing the opportunity of their oppressors being engaged in war,
again to take up arms. The sentences were pass-words of a secret
association of which the countess's father had been a member, and
which were widely whispered among patriotic Poles. "The dawn will soon
be at hand. We must get up in the morning. Poland will yet be free."
The sergeant stared at them in astonishment, and answering in a low
tone in some words which were, the boys guessed, the countersign to
the pass, sat down by them. "But you are not Poles?" he said in a low
voice in Russian. "Your language is strange. I could scarce understand
"No," Jack said, in similar tones, "we are not Poles, nor Russians. We
are English, and England has always been the friend of Poland."
"That is so," the sergeant said heartily. "Landlord," he said, raising
his voice, "a glass of vodka for each of my friends. I fear that my
money will not run to brandy. And now," he said, when the landlord had
returned to his place, "what are you doing here? Can I help you in any
"We are English officers who have escaped, and are making our way to
Poland. We expect to find friends there. Do you know the intendant of
the Countess Preskoff at--?"
"Do I know him?" the soldier repeated. "Why, I belong to the next
village. I have seen him hundreds of times. And the countess, do you
know the countess?"
"Certainly we do," Jack said. "We have been living for six weeks in
her chateau, it is she who has written to the intendant to aid us."
"You will be welcome everywhere for her sake. She is a kind mistress,
and greatly beloved. It is a pity that she married a Russian, though
they say he is a good fellow. Tell me, can I do anything for you? Do
you want for money?"
"No, indeed," Jack replied. "The countess has taken care of that."
"Look here," the sergeant said. "I will give you a note to my brother,
who is a horse-dealer at Warsaw. It may be useful to you. He knows
every one, and if, as they say, there is trouble in Poland, he is sure
to be in the thick of it, and at any rate he will be able to give you
advice which may be useful, and addresses of safe people in different
towns to whom you can go. Landlord, give me some paper and pen and
ink. My comrades here know friends of mine at home, and will carry a
letter for me."
"Please be careful," Dick said, as the soldier began to write. "It is
possible we may be searched on the way; so do not say anything that a
Russian official might not read."
"Trust me," the sergeant answered, laughing. "We Poles have been
learning to conceal our feelings for generations. Trust me to write a
letter which my brother will understand at once, but which will seem
the most innocent thing in the world to any Russian official who may
In a few minutes the letter was finished, and the three left the place
together, the sergeant telling his comrades that he would return
shortly for them. He then accompanied the midshipmen, and did their
shopping for them, and, bidding him a hearty adieu, they were soon on
their way out of Odessa, Jack swinging along upon his crutches at a
fair pace. Once fairly away from the town, he took his foot from the
strap, shouldered his crutches and again they trudged along upon their
They found their walking powers improve day by day as they went on,
and were soon able to make thirty-five miles a day without
inconvenience. Travelling in this way, without any interruption or
incident save an occasional demand for a view of their passport by
some Russian official, they journeyed across the south of Russia, and
ten days after leaving Odessa they entered Poland.
Here they foresaw that their difficulties would be far greater than
before, and that their characters as Polish soldiers on their way home
could no longer be sustained. They took, therefore, the first
opportunity of purchasing two suits similar to those worn by Polish
peasants, and, entering a wood, dressed themselves in their new
attire, and, rolling their dirt-stained uniforms into a bundle, thrust
them into a clump of underwood. Into this Jack also joyfully tossed
his crutches and strap. Dick had long been able to dispense with his
sling, but the wound on his face was scarcely healed, and was still
angry-looking and irritable.
They now trudged steadily along, avoiding all conversation as much as
possible, and making their purchases only in a quiet villages. They
met many bodies of troops moving about the roads, and although they
could understand nothing of the language, and were wholly ignorant of
what was going on, they judged from the manner in which these troops
marched, by the advance guard thrown out in front, the strong
detachments which accompanied the baggage, and the general air of
vigilance which marked them, that the country was in a troubled state.
Once convinced of this, they took care to conceal themselves whenever
they saw troops approaching, as they feared that questions might be
addressed to them which they might find it difficult to answer. There
was the less difficulty in their doing this as the country was for the
most part thickly wooded, the roads sometimes running for miles
through forests. Upon one occasion, when, just as it was dusk, they
had gone in among the trees, having seen a Russian column moving along
the road, they were astonished at being suddenly seized, gagged, and
carried off through the wood. So suddenly had this been done, that
they had time neither to cry nor struggle.
After being carried some distance, they were thrown down on the
ground, and the men who had carried them hurried away. Just as they
did so there was a sudden outburst of musketry, mingled with loud
yells and shouts; then, after a moment's pause, came the rattle of a
rolling musketry fire. The first, Jack judged to be the fire of
insurgents upon the column; the second, that of the troops. For a
while the din of battle went on. Sharp ringing volleys, heavy
irregular firing, the fierce, wild shouts of the insurgents, and
occasionally the hoarse hurrah of Russian soldiery.
Presently the sounds grew fainter, and the lads judged by the
direction that the Russian column was falling back in retreat. Ere
long the sounds of firing ceased altogether, and in scattered knots of
three and four, men came through the wood to the wide open space in
which the midshipmen were lying bound. No attention was paid to them
for some time, until a large body of men were collected. Then the lads
were suddenly raised and carried to a large fire which was now-blazing
in the centre of the clearing. Here the gags were taken from their
mouths, and the cords unbound, and they saw confronting them a young
man evidently by his dress and bearing a person of rank and authority,
and, as they judged by the attitude of those standing round, the
leader of the insurgent band.
"Where do you come from, and what are you doing here?" he asked in
The boys shook their heads in token of their ignorance of the
"I thought so," he said angrily in Russian. "You are spies, Russian
spies. I thought as much when the news came to me that two peasants
had entered a village shop to buy goods, but had been unable to ask
for them except by pointing to them, and had given a rouble note and
allowed the woman who served them to take her own change. You are
detected, sirs, and may prepare for the death you deserve. Hang them
at once," he said in Polish, to those standing near. "But first search
them thoroughly, and see if they are the bearers of any documents."
The lads in vain endeavored to explain, but their voices were drowned
in the execrations of the angry peasants, fresh from the excitement of
the battle, and in many cases bleeding from bullet and bayonet wounds,
for the Polish peasants always rush to close quarters. Concealed in
Dick's waistband was found a heavy roll of Russian notes, and the yell
which greeted its appearance showed that it was considered
confirmatory of the guilt of the prisoners.
Upon Jack was found only the letter which the sergeant had given him
to his brother, the horse-dealer. This was taken to the leader, and he
opened and read it by the light of a blazing brand which one of his
followers held beside him. "Stop!" he shouted, after reading the first
line or two, to the men who were already hurrying the lads towards the
nearest tree. "Wait till I have read this through." He read it to the
end, and then beginning afresh again, went carefully through it.
"Bring the prisoners here," he said. "Young men," he went on, when the
lads were again placed before him, "there may be some mistake here.
This letter purports to be from a sergeant of the 12th Polish regiment
to his brother, Horni Varlofski. Now Varlofski is well known to many
of us. I do not know whether he has a brother a sergeant. Does any one
Two or three of the men raised their voices to say that they knew that
Varlofski the horse-dealer had a brother who was drafted into the army
as a punishment for having struck a Russian sergeant in a brawl.
"This must be the man, then," the leader said. "The letter is written
carefully, apparently with a view to avoid any suspicion, should it be
opened and read by any but him for whom it is intended; but in fact it
contains assurances couched in language which I understand, that the
bearers are enemies of Russia and friends of Poland, and that every
confidence may be placed in them. Now, sirs, will you explain to me
how you, who speak no Polish come to be in the middle of the forest,
dressed as Polish, peasants, and the bearers of a letter such as
"We are English officers," Dick began, "who were taken prisoners at
Sebastopol, and have since escaped."
He then proceeded to explain the circumstances of their residence at
Count Preskoff's, of their recommendation to the intendant of the
countess's estates in Poland, of their acquaintance with the insurgent
pass-words, and their meeting with the sergeant at Odessa. When they
had concluded, the young leader held out his hand to them.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I ask your pardon for the roughness with which
you have been treated, and shall never forgive myself for having
without sufficient inquiry condemned you to death. It will be a lesson
to me never to judge by appearances in future. I knew the countess
well before her marriage. Her estates are but a few miles distant from
my own, and I last saw her some three years since, when she was there
with her husband and daughters. By the way," he said carelessly, "what
are their names?"
Dick instantly repeated them.
"Right," the Pole answered. "Pardon me this last test, but one cannot
be too particular when the lives of hundreds depend upon a mistake not
being made. I am satisfied now. Welcome, heartily welcome to our
THE POLISH INSURGENTS
A few words from the leader explained to his followers that the
new-comers were friends. Their money was instantly restored to them,
and those who a few minutes before were so eager to hurry them to
execution were profuse in their apologies and demonstrations of
respect. The Poles regarded England as a friendly power, and were
eagerly watching the war in the Crimea, hoping that the strength of
Russia would be so exhausted there that she would be obliged to weaken
her hold on Poland. So far, however, great as were the number of
troops that Russia had poured down to meet the Allies, she had in no
way weakened her hold upon Poland. Indeed even larger numbers of
troops than usual were massed in that country. The insurrection at
present going on was intended rather as a proof to Europe that Poland
yet lived, ground down though she was under the heel of Russian
tyranny, than as a movement from which success could be reasonably
The lads were now able to look round at the wild group which filled
the clearing. The greater portion were peasants, although the dress
and bearing of several proclaimed that they belonged to a superior
class. Some of the peasants were armed with guns, but these were quite
in the minority, the greater portion carrying scythe blades fastened
to long handles. These, although clumsy to look at, were terrible
weapons in a close onslaught, and the Russian soldiers could seldom be
kept firm by their officers when, in spite of their fire, the Polish
peasantry rushed among them. The Poles were in high spirits. Their own
loss had been small, and they had inflicted great slaughter upon the
head of the Russian column, and had gained a considerable number of
arms. A party which had attacked the rear of the column at the same
moment when the main body fell upon its head, had for a time obtained
possession of a wagon with spare ammunition, and had succeeded in
carrying off the greater part of it.
The leader of the party, having given orders to his men and seen that
the wounded were carried away on stretchers roughly formed of boughs,
either to their own villages, or when these were too distant, to a
collection of wood-cutters' huts in the heart of the forest, returned
and took a seat by the lads near the fire.
"We have not introduced ourselves yet," he said in Russian, laughing.
"My name is Stanislaus Chernatony."
Dick named himself and his comrades.
"Tell me now," the Pole said, "how you got here, and what are your
Dick in reply gave him a narrative of their adventures, and said that
they were making their way to the Austrian frontier.
"It would be absolutely impossible," the Pole said, "for you to
succeed in making your way in safety. Every town is full of Russian
troops, who are forever scouring the roads. It would be out of the
question for any one except a native to succeed in getting through,
and even a Pole would find difficulty, so strictly is every one
questioned. Of course their object is to prevent our bands from
increasing, and to capture any of us who may be returning to our
homes. We only manage to assemble by marching constantly in the woods
by paths known only to villagers. You would find it, too, a matter of
extreme difficulty to cross the frontier, even should you gain it, as
there is a perfect cordon of troops posted along the frontier, to
prevent any one from escaping. Once in Austria, you would be safe, but
you could not cross into Prussia, even if you succeeded in passing the
Russian troops stationed along that line; for Prussia, who is as harsh
a master to the Poles under her rule as is Russia, acts as policeman
for the latter, and turns all fugitives back who may cross the
frontier. At present I fear I can give you no assistance; but there is
a talk of a union of several of our bands further west, and in that
case you might travel with us, and we might pass you on, and see that
you had guides. For the present I can either lodge you in the village
where our wounded are now taken, and where it is not likely that the
Russians will find you, at any rate for the present; or if you like to
join us, I need not say how glad we shall be to receive you as
comrades. England has always been the friend of Poland and more than
one of your countrymen has fought in the Polish ranks. As England is
at war at present with Russia, you will be doing as much service by
fighting her here as in the Crimea. Here, too, you will have the
satisfaction that you are fighting for an oppressed people struggling
for freedom against tremendous odds."
The lads asked for twelve hours before giving a final answer, and
then, having shared the Pole's rough meal, they chatted with him for a
long time upon the progress and chances of the insurrection. The
Polish leader told them that there were a score of bands like his own
in the forests; but he admitted that he saw but little hope of final
success unless Russia were completely crippled in the war with England
"But," he said, "we in Poland do not rise only when we consider
success possible. We take up arms when we are goaded to it. When some
act of Russian tyranny more gross and brutal than usual goads us to
desperation, we take up arms to kill and to die. You know not the
awful persecution to which we Poles are exposed. Whole villages are
destroyed, and the inhabitants banished to Siberia; our young men are
taken and compelled to serve in the Russian army. Scores are shot
down, after a mockery of a trial, on the pretence of discontent with
Russian rule. Women, ay, and ladies, are publicly flogged. Priests are
massacred, our churches closed, our very language proscribed. Death is
a thousand times preferable to the living torture we undergo, and when
we at last rise, it is vengeance and death that we seek rather than
with any thought of finally freeing Poland from her oppressors. And
now," he said, "you will excuse me if I suggest that we follow the
example of my comrades, and turn off to sleep. We have marched fifty
miles since yesterday evening, and shall be off before daybreak
For half an hour after the Polish leader had rolled himself in his
cloak and gone off to sleep, the boys chatted together as to the
course they should adopt, and finally resolved to throw in their
fortunes with those of the Polish patriots. They saw that it would be
impossible for them to make their way on to the frontier alone, and
considered that their chance of life was no less if captured in action
by the Russians than if found in a village with a number of wounded
insurgents. The wrongs of Poland were in those days a subject which
moved men's hearts in England, and the midshipmen rejoiced at the
thought of striking a blow in so good a cause.
These were the reasons which, in talking the matter over, they
assigned to each other, but in reality their love of adventure and
excitement in no slight degree influenced them. To have taken part in
a real Polish insurrection, to join in guerilla attacks and fierce
onslaughts on Russian columns, to live a wild life in the woods, were
things that appealed strongly to the imagination of the midshipmen;
and in the morning they expressed to Stanislas Chernatony their
willingness to join him, and fight against the Russians until an
opportunity occurred for them to cross the frontier and rejoin the
forces before the Sebastopol.
"Good," the Pole said. "I am heartily glad to have two English
officers fighting under me. The warfare is of a kind very different to
that to which you are accustomed, but I can guarantee that you shall
see that we Poles, undisciplined, badly armed, and fighting a hopeless
battle, can yet die as bravely as your own trained soldiers in the
Crimea. We are now going back to the place we left the day before
yesterday, and which we regard as our headquarters. We had news that
the column we attacked was to set out, and as so far none of our bands
had visited this neighborhood, we thought we might take them by
surprise. We succeeded in doing them much damage, but our success was
not as great as that which we gained in our last fight, when we
succeeded in capturing two cannons. By the way," he said, "you as
marine officers, are accustomed to artillery."
"Yes," Dick replied, "we are drilled, not only with heavy ship's guns,
but with light field-pieces, of which every large vessel carries a few
to be used in case of a landing."
"Capital!" the Pole exclaimed. "We have not a man who has any idea of
artillery, and I will appoint you to the command of the guns. You
shall each pick out as many men as you require, and train them as
artillerymen. This will be an invaluable service to us."
Late at night they reached their halting-place. The guns had been
hidden in a thicket, every man having marched with his leader to the
attack of the column. The next morning thirty-six men were chosen,
eighteen to each gun, in order that the places of those who might be
killed could be filled at once, or, should some more pieces be taken,
men would be available already trained to the work.
For four days drill went on without intermission. The lads found the
Polish peasants very intelligent, although it was difficult for them
to understand why each movement should be performed with mechanical
regularity. At first, too, the boys' ignorance of Polish caused them
great difficulty; but Stanislas wrote down for them the translation of
the words of command, and the movements were taught by the boys
themselves performing them, and insisting upon their motions being
accurately imitated. They worked from morning till night, and by the
end of the fourth day were satisfied that their men could serve the
guns in a workmanlike and regular way.
The Poles themselves were delighted when they found how swiftly and
smoothly the work could be done now that they had mastered it, and
looked forward with anxiety to try the results upon the Russians. They
had not long to wait. In a short time friends from the next garrison
town brought the news that considerable bodies of fresh troops had
arrived there, and that an attack was to be made on the following day
by two heavy columns. Messengers were sent off at once, and during the
night the insurgents were joined by three other bands, raising their
numbers to nearly 1500 men. Stanislas told the lads that he intended
to move before daybreak, so as to attack one of the columns as soon as
it entered the forest, and while the other was too far away to arrive
at the scene of action until all would be over.
"I propose," he said, "to fell some trees across the road, arranging
them so that the guns can fire between them, while the trunks will
afford the gunners some shelter. Half the men will be arranged among
the trees on either side, so that while the guns sweep the column we
shall attack it upon either flank. I will place a hundred of my best
men at the barricade to defend the guns should the column press
forward in spite of our efforts; but I believe that we shall have an
easy victory. Our recent partial successes have considerably added to
our stock of arms, and as this is the first time that we have brought
cannon into play, we may rely upon their effect being considerable."
The lads begged that they might go forward with the party charged with
felling the trees, in order that they might choose the spot, and
themselves see to the construction of the defence. Stanislas chose one
of his lieutenants who spoke Russian, and, giving him 200 men, ordered
him to carry out the instructions of the lads. They set off an hour
before daylight, and just as the dawn began, arrived at the spot where
the struggle was to take place.
They selected a point where a rise of six feet afforded a view of the
road far in advance, and placed the guns just so far behind the trees
that while they would sweep the road, their muzzles only could be seen
by an advancing foe. Two large trees felled and stripped of their
boughs were placed across the road in front of the guns, being, when
placed, just high enough for the gunners to look over them. A strong
party were then set to work to cut sods, and with these an earthwork
was thrown up across the road, four feet high. Embrasures were left
for the guns, and these were made very narrow, as the fire would be
directly in front. On either side trees were felled with their boughs
outward, so as to form a chevaux-de-frise, extending at an angle on
each side of the road for fifty yards in advance of the guns.
Fifty of the men were to remain in the road in the rear of the guns,
in readiness to man the earthwork, should the Russians advance to take
it by storm, while the rest were to lie down behind the
chevaux-de-frise and to open fire upon both flanks of the advancing
column. A few green boughs were scattered on the road in front of the
battery, and the lads, going along the roads by which the Russians
would advance, were pleased to see that at a distance the work was
scarcely noticeable. Just as they had finished their preparations
Stanislas with the main body arrived, and all were greatly pleased at
the position which the boys had constructed. The guns and ammunition
wagons had been dragged along by ropes to which hundreds of the
peasants had harnessed themselves.
The Poles now took up the positions assigned to them for the attack.
Stanislas and his principal officers held a consultation with the
midshipmen, and it was agreed that the Russian column should be
allowed to approach near to the guns before these opened fire, and
that their doing so should be the signal for the general attack upon
the column. Half an hour later a peasant who had been placed near the
edge of the wood announced that the Russian column was in sight, that
so far as he could judge from his observations made from a tree-top,
it numbered about 2000 infantry, with a battery of artillery.
"That is just a fair match for us," Stanislaus said. "The 500 men
extra do not count for much, and their superiority of arms will be
counterbalanced by our advantages of surprise, and to the effect which
cannon brought against them for the first time may exercise on the
minds of the soldiers."
Presently along the straight road the black column of the enemy could
be seen. They were advancing in a heavy mass, some forty men abreast,
and were preceded at a distance of 300 yards by an advance guard of
200 men. When distant some 400 yards from them the midshipmen observed
the advance guard halt, and guessed that an obstacle of some sort or
other across the road had been made out. A mounted officer rode back
from the advance guard to the main body, and was there joined by
several other mounted men. After some conversation a movement was seen
in the column. A mounted officer rode back, and as he did so the
column divided, leaving a passage in the centre of the road.
There was a long pause, and then the lads could see the Russian guns
coming through the line. They halted and formed across the road
half-way between the main body and the advance guard, and,
unlimbering, prepared to open fire upon the unknown obstacle in their
front. The midshipmen had arranged with Stanislas that, as it would be
difficult for the parties on the flank of the Russian column to
distinguish between the sound of the enemy's guns and their own, a
white handkerchief should be hoisted on a long pole when they
themselves opened fire, and a chain of men were placed along back in
the wood to repeat the signal down to the spot where the Poles were
lying ready for attack.
The Russians opened fire over the heads of their advance guard, who
lay down in the road. The shot for the most part either struck the
slope or flew overhead, very few striking the upper part of the
battery face, which was alone exposed to their fire. For five minutes
the Russians continued to fire. Then, deceived by the absolute silence
which reigned, and supposing the obstacle was an accidental one, or
that the insurgents had retired, the guns were limbered up, the
advance guard again moved forward, and the main column marched on
close behind the guns.
The whole of the 200 men who had been placed behind the barricade were
armed with muskets, and each hidden behind the leafy screen rested his
piece on a branch, and prepared to pour his fire into the column as it
advanced. It was not until the advance guard was within fifty yards of
them that the lads, who had themselves trained the guns to sweep the
road, gave the signal, and the silence was broken by the roar of the
two guns loaded to the muzzle with grape-shot. The effect was
tremendous. Two lanes were literally mown through the ranks of the
Russian infantry, the shot which flew high doing terrible execution
among the artillery behind them.
The echoes had not died away when a tremendous fire of musketry was
opened by the Poles hidden behind the abattis. More than half of the
advance guard fell under that terrible discharge, and the artillery
crowded behind them fell into confusion.
The Russian officers strove by voice and example to gather the
survivors of the advance guard together; but the consternation which
the slaughter had caused was heightened by the sound of a tremendous
yell far behind, followed by a steady roll of musketry, showing that
the column was hotly engaged there also. The artillery attempted to
unlimber and to bring their guns to bear again, but the confusion that
prevailed in the crowded spot rendered this next to impossible, and
long before it could be accomplished the iron hail again swept through
the ranks, and two rattling volleys from their invisible foes behind
the flanking abattis again flashed out. The advance guard were
annihilated, the artillery in confusion, but the general commanding
the main column pushed his men on through the frightened horses of the
artillery, and, opening a heavy musketry fire on their unseen foes,
pressed forward to the assault.
The conflict now became a desperate one. The midshipmen fired their
guns alternately as fast as they could load, the Poles working as
steadily and coolly as if they had been long-trained artillerymen.
Several times the Russians advanced to within twenty yards of the
defences, but each time, shattered by the fire of grape-shot and by
the storm of bullets from the abattis, they recoiled. In vain they
flung themselves upon the trees and tried to hew a way through them.
In vain the officers called upon them to gather themselves together
and carry the battery at a rush. Receiving no aid from their own
artillery, which, mingled in the throng of infantry, were helpless,
shaken by the shouts of the assailants, and by the battle raging in
their rear which told them their retreat was menaced, the Russians
lost heart and began to fall back. Then, retaining only fifty men as a
guard to the battery, the midshipmen ordered the rest of the defenders
of the abattis to move forward among the trees on the flanks of the
Russians, keeping up a constant fire, until they joined the main body
in their attack on the Russian rear.
In the battery now they could see little of what was going forward.
The woods were full of dense smoke. The whole Russian column as it
fell back was maintaining a wild fire at random into the bushes around
But though the lads could see nothing, the road in front afforded them
a sure guide for their aim, and ceaselessly the guns kept up their
fire into the retreating mass of Russians.
For half an hour the roar of guns continued unabated, and then, as it
died away, the triumphant shouts of the Pole told them that the
victory was won, and that the Russian column, defeated and shattered,
had retired from the forest and gained the open country beyond. Then
the defenders of the battery raised an answering cheer to their
friends in the distance, and, exhausted with their exertions, threw
themselves on the ground.
Of those working the guns but three had been wounded by rifle bullets
which had passed through the embrasures.
Several of the riflemen had fallen shot through the head, as they
fired over the top of the battery, while thirty or forty lay killed
and wounded behind the abattis.
After a few minutes' rest the party advanced, and soon joined their
friends, who saluted them with loud acclamations. The victory had been
a complete one. The whole of the spare ammunition and stores had
fallen into the hands of the victors, upon overpowering the
rear-guard, had cut the traces and carried off the horses. The column
had made a sturdy resistance at this point, and although the desperate
onslaughts of the scythe-armed Poles had several times broken their
ranks and carried slaughter among them, they had yet stood firm, and
it was only the crushing of the head of the column, and its subsequent
retreat, which had at last decided the day.
For some hundred yards in front of the guns the ground was covered
with Russian dead. Most of the artillery horses had fallen, and but
two of the guns had been carried off the field. The loss of the enemy
in killed and wounded left upon the ground amounted to nearly 800, and
the wounded were all killed as soon as discovered by the infuriated
Of the Poles some 250 had been put _hors-de-combat_. The delight of
the insurgents was unbounded. It was by far the most important victory
which they had won. They had now come into possession of sufficient
muskets to arm the whole body, and an abundant supply of ammunition,
and had in all a complete battery of artillery, with enough horses,
taken from the wagons, to give two to each gun, and leave a sufficient
number for the ammunition wagons. The two midshipmen received the
warmest thanks of the Polish leader, who attributed his success
entirely to the slaughter which the guns had wrought, and to the
dispositions taken for their defence.
TO THE RESCUE
A consultation was held on the evening of the battle. As was the
custom of the Polish peasants after a success, many wished to return
for a while to their homes and families. Several plans were proposed
among the group of officers, and the leader asked the young midshipmen
for their opinion.
Dick said that in his ignorance of the circumstances and the geography
of the country he could offer none; but Jack, on being appealed to,
"It seems to me that you will never do any good if you confine
yourselves to beating back a Russian column occasionally, and then
dispersing until they again advance. My opinion is that it is
absolutely necessary to follow up the victory we have gained, and to
do something which will induce the whole country to believe that there
is a prospect of success. We have gained a very fair victory to-day. I
propose that while the men are all in high spirits, and the Russians
proportionately depressed, we take the offensive and fall upon one of
their garrisons. Hitherto, as you say, you have always contented
yourselves with attacking the columns sent out against you, and the
Russians will be altogether unprepared for an attack on them in their
own quarters. If we fall suddenly at night upon Piaski, we ought to
succeed in nearly annihilating them. There are about 1200 men of the
column whom we have fought, and about 2000 in the other column which
marched out against us this morning, but fell back when they heard of
the defeat of their comrades. It is probable that pretty nearly the
whole force in the town came out, so that altogether there cannot be
above 2500 men. If we can fall upon them at night, we ought to be able
to defeat them easily. At any rate before they rally we should inflict
tremendous damage upon them."
Jack's proposition was received with acclamation, and it was decided
that the attack should take place on the following night. The officers
therefore went among the men, and appealed to them to remain for
another forty-eight hours, in order that they might annihilate the
garrison of Piaski.
The men assented, the more readily that abundant supplies of bread and
spirits had been found in the captured wagons, the Russian commander
having deemed it probable that the expedition might extend over a
period of some days.
The next morning all were instructed in the use of the Russian
muskets, many of the peasants being wholly unacquainted with the
management of fire-arms. It was arranged that each peasant should, in
addition to his gun, carry his scythe, his favorite weapon for close
When night came on all was ready for the march. The bands were to
advance separately, each under orders of its own leader, and were to
unite in the market-place as the clock struck one. There were three
barracks, and a certain proportion were told off for the attack of
each. Three of the guns were hidden in the forest. The other three,
each drawn by four horses, accompanied the column, the duty assigned
to them being to blow in the gates of the several barracks. Coarse
grass was cut and swathed round the wheels, and the horses' feet were
also muffled. The peasants were all clad in sandals, and there was
therefore no fear of the noise of their advance being heard.
At nine o'clock the column set out for the town, which was nine miles
distant, and upon nearing it separated, so as to enter as arranged in
different directions. Each column was preceded at a distance of some
hundred yards by four or five men, chosen for their activity, their
duty being to seize and silence any watchmen they might meet in the
The town seemed absolutely asleep when the band of Stanislas, with
which for the time were the three cannon, entered it a few minutes
Once the lads thought that they could hear a stifled cry, but if so it
attracted no attention, for the streets were deserted, and not a
single window opened as they passed. The other hands had already
arrived in the market-place when that commanded by Stanislas reached
A few words were exchanged by the leaders, a gun told off to each
column, and the bands started to their respective destinations. The
contingent of Count Stanislas, to which Jack Archer was attached with
his gun, was intended to attack the principal barrack. This was built
in the form of a large quadrangle, and contained some seven or eight
hundred infantry and a battery of artillery.
As the head of the column entered the street leading to the gate, a
sentry on the outside challenged. No answer was made, and a moment
later a gun was fired.
There was no longer any need for concealment, and with a wild cheer
the column rushed forward. Some of the men threw themselves with axes
upon the postern gate, which the sentry had entered and closed behind
The gun, which was close to the head of the column, was brought up and
placed in position within a few feet of the gate, its muzzle directed
towards the lock. The explosion tore a hole in the gate, but a massive
bar still kept this in its place. Another discharge broke this also,
and the Poles with exulting shouts surged in.
As they entered, a scattered fire opened upon them from the windows,
but, without pausing, the band broke up into parties, each under its
chief, and rushed at the entrances leading to the staircases.
Then ensued a desperate conflict. The Russians, taken wholly by
surprise, appalled by the suddenness of the attack, and knowing the
ferocity with which their assailants fought, in some cases offered but
slight resistance, and leaped by scores from the windows at the back,
preferring the risk of death or broken limbs to awaiting the rush of
their enemies. Others defended themselves desperately, gathering on
the top of the stairs, barring the doors, and resisting foot by foot
until every man had been cut down.
The absence of their officers, who were quartered together in a
different part of the barracks, proved fatal to the defenders;
accustomed to act like machines, and to move only at the command of
their officers, they were bewildered at finding themselves under such
circumstances without head or direction, and in ten minutes after the
entry had been effected all resistance had ceased, and the barracks
remained in the hands of the victorious Poles.
The instant that his own part of the work was done, Jack Archer, with
a band of fifty men who had been told off to act under his orders,
proceeded to the stables. The artillery horses were all brought out
and harnessed to the guns and wagons, and by the time that the
resistance had ceased these were ready to depart.
The Poles, taking the muskets of the Russian soldiers, and lading
themselves with blankets and such other articles as they fancied,
swarmed out into the courtyard. In the store-rooms of the barracks
were found large quantities of uniforms ready for issue to the troops,
and a number of these Count Stanislas ordered to be brought out and
stowed in an empty wagon.
Three minutes later the barrack was set on fire in a dozen places.
Then the newly-captured artillery started at a trot for the forest,
while the Poles moved away to render any assistance which might be
necessary to the other columns.
The division to which Dick Hawtry was attached had experienced a
success as complete as that which attended the principal column, and
the flames were already rising in the air as the latter issued into
The other barrack was, however, successfully defending itself. It was
supposed that some watchman must have conveyed the news of the advance
of the insurgents, for the instant the column appeared within sight of
the barracks a musketry fire was opened upon it by the guard at the
gate, and two or three minutes later every window bearing upon it was
thrown up, and the Russian infantry opened a heavy fire. The gunners
in vain attempted to bring up their piece close to the gate. The
horses had been shot down, but scores of willing hands pushed forward
the gun; but so heavy was the destruction which the Russian bullets
wrought among them that these also were brought to a standstill, and
when Count Stanislas arrived he found that a furious musketry
encounter was raging between the Poles, now scattered all round the
barrack, and the Russians pouring from the upper windows. After a
hasty consultation with the other leaders, it was agreed that as the
victory had been complete so far, two out of the three barracks
carried and burnt, 1500 Russians killed, and a battery of artillery
taken, it would be a pity to risk a final repulse by an attack upon a
building which, now that the garrison were prepared for resistance,
could only be carried with a great loss of life.
The horns were accordingly sounded, and the assailants drawn off, and
the column marched through the town, now illuminated by the flames of
the two burning barracks. It was but half an hour since the attack had
begun, but the appearance of the town had changed as if by magic.
Every house was lit up, every window open, crowds of people thronged
the streets, while the windows were filled with women and children.
All were delirious with delight, and cheered, shouted, and waved their
handkerchiefs as the patriot band marched along. Not a few of the
younger men, bidding a hasty adieu to their friends, joined the ranks
of their countrymen, and, seizing one of the captured muskets,
prepared to take a part in the strife which had been so well begun.
Upon gaining the forest a halt was ordered. Great fires were lit, and
the companies mustered, when it was found that some eighty of those
present had received wounds, and that forty had fallen. All the
wounded unable to walk had been carried off, as to leave them where
they fell would be to expose them to certain death when found by the
Russians. A plentiful supply of spirits had been found in the stores,
and several barrels brought off. An ample allowance was now served
out, and after an hour's carouse in honor of the victory the band,
fatigued by their exertions, went off to sleep.
In the morning the guns--now amounting to two complete batteries--were
taken some miles farther into the forest. The greater part of the band
insisted upon returning to their homes for a few days, and their
leader, finding himself powerless to resist the determination gave
them leave to do so. All agreed to return at the end of ten days. Some
400 men remained, and from these the count requested the midshipmen to
choose a sufficient number to constitute two batteries, each eighty
strong, and to drill them as far as possible in the interval. He
himself started to visit his estates, which lay about eighty miles
from their present position. Here he hoped to raise a further
contingent of men, and all who went home were bidden to bring back
fresh recruits, and to spread everywhere the news of the victory.
Six days elapsed, and the band in the forest had already been
increased by many hundreds of new-comers, whom the news of the
successes which had been gained had induced to take up arms, and the
time of the various leaders was fully occupied in giving some notion
of drill and of the use of the musket to the new levies.
On the evening of the sixth day a peasant arrived with intelligence
which spread dismay in the encampment. Count Stanislas had been
captured by the Russians, having been surprised by a body of Russian
cavalry, who, doubtless by means of a spy, had obtained news of his
return home. He had been conveyed to Lublin, where he would doubtless
be at once tried and executed.
A council of the leaders was hastily summoned.
Lublin was a large town garrisoned by some 5000 Russian troops, and
even had the whole of the insurgent bands been collected, they would
not have been strong enough to attempt a repetition of their late
successful surprise, especially, as after that occurrence, the Russian
troops would be everywhere on the alert.
All agreed that the loss of their most successful leader would be a
death-blow to the revolt in that part of the country. The personal
popularity of the young leader was immense, and the prestige which he
had won by his several successes had excited the greatest confidence
among his followers. So important was his life considered that the
midshipmen urged that at all costs his rescue should be attempted, and
although the enterprise appeared a desperate one, their proposal was
finally agreed to.
A few men were at once despatched to Lublin to find out what was going
on, and when and where the execution would take place, while 500
chosen men prepared to march through the forests to a point within a
few miles of the town, where the spies were to rejoin them.
Just as they were starting the idea struck Dick that the Russian
uniforms might be utilized, and, much to their disgust, half the party
were ordered to dress themselves in the hated garb. The transformation
was soon effected, and the band set out on their march.
Upon the third evening they arrived at the indicated spot, where
several of the spies were already awaiting them. These informed them
that the trial would take place on the following day, and that it was
generally supposed that the count would be executed the next morning
as there could be no doubt what the finding of the court would be.
Next day the midshipmen, accompanied by several of the leaders, all in
peasants' dress, visited the town to learn its general features, and
make themselves acquainted with the approaches to the great square,
where it was considered probable the execution would take place. They
found the whole population moody and depressed. The news of the
successes of the patriot bands had already spread far and wide, and
had excited high hopes in every Polish breast. The fact, then, that
the most successful leader was in the hands of their enemies had
spread universal grief and consternation. After learning all the
particulars they desired, the party rejoined their friends in the
forest. The greatest difficulty existed from the fact that it would be
impossible for the rescuing party to carry either muskets or their
long scythes. Some twenty revolvers had fallen into their hands in the
two fights, and with these the officers had all armed themselves. A
certain portion of the men cut long sticks, like ox-goads, made to fit
the bayonets; others fitted short handles to their scythes, while
others carried short heavy sticks, to which again bayonets were
fitted. A hundred of those dressed as soldiers were to carry their
muskets, and, under the orders of one of their leaders, to march
boldly down the street, so timing their arrival as to reach the square
just at the time at which the execution was to take place, while the
rest were to mix with the crowd.
Late at night the news was brought to them that proclamations had been
posted through the town, saying that the execution would take place at
eight in the morning in the grand square. Orders had been issued, it
was learnt, that 1000 troops should be present, and the others were
ordered to be in readiness in their barracks, in case any sign of
popular feeling should be manifested. As it was evident, therefore,
that no soldiers in uniform would be loitering in the street, it was
determined that the 250 men so dressed should march together to the
square with their arms.
In the morning the insurgents, in twos and threes, started for the
town, and joined the town's-people assembling in the great square.
Across the square, within thirty or forty paces of one side, was
formed up a strong battalion of Russian infantry, the rest of the
square being occupied by the town's-people, all of whom had attired
themselves in mourning. In the centre of the square, behind the
soldiers, a scaffold had been erected, as by the sentence of the
court-martial the count was to die by hanging.
The midshipmen and their friends made their way through the crowd to
the front, the latter giving way upon a whisper being circulated that
an attempt was to be made to rescue the prisoner, and the 250
insurgents were soon gathered in a close body in front of the soldiers
standing before the scaffold. Each man had his scythe or bayonet
hidden under his long coat, the leaders grasping their pistols. The
men had been ordered to refrain from any expression of excitement, and
to assume, as far as possible, a look of quiet grief. Behind the
infantry were a number of mounted officers, among whom General
Borodoff, the governor of the town and district, was pointed out to
the midshipmen, and near the general, under a strong guard, the
prisoner was standing. All the insurgents, with the exception of those
forming the first line, quietly fitted their scythes and bayonets to
the handles and waited the signal.
Presently there was a movement behind the troops, who were drawn up
six deep. Then a man was seen mounting the scaffold followed by the
priest, behind whom came the prisoner between two warders. Just at
this moment there was a stir in the crowd at the end of the square,
and over the heads of the people a line of glittering bayonets could
be seen coming down the street. The general looked in that direction
with surprise, and immediately gave orders to a mounted officer beside
him, who, passing through the line of soldiers, tried to make his way
through the crowd. This, however, either from its denseness or an
unwillingness to move from the place it had gained, made way for him
but slowly, in spite of his angry shouts to the people to clear a way.
IN A LION'S DEN
Upon one side of the lane which the fugitives had entered ran a high
wall. Upon the other was a very large mansion. Its lower windows were
five feet from the ground. As the lads ran they saw an open window.
Without a moment's hesitation they placed their hands on the sill,
threw themselves into it, and flung down the window. There was a
scream as they entered, followed by an exclamation in English. The
boys looked round, and saw a young lady who had started back in terror
to a corner of the room.
"Are you English?" Jack exclaimed in astonishment. "We are English
officers escaping from a Russian prison. In heaven's name do not
As he spoke the Russian cavalry came along the lane at full gallop.
"I am English," the young lady said, as she recovered from her
astonishment, "I am governess to the younger daughters of the
governor. You are now in his palace. But what has taken place? I heard
the firing and went to the window to listen."
"We have been aiding in the rescue of a Polish leader who was to have
been executed this morning," Dick said. "We succeeded in that, but
were attacked and cut up afterwards, and had to scatter. I fear that
they will suspect we must have entered this place, for they were close
behind us, and there was no other escape possible. Can you conceal us?
It seems almost like a miracle finding an English lady here."
"A great many of the Russian nobility have English tutors or
governesses, and although some went back to England at the beginning
of the war, the greater number have remained quietly at their work. I
fear that the whole palace will be searched if it is suspected that
you have taken refuge here. How imprudent of you to have mixed
yourselves up in this rebellion!"
"We could hardly help ourselves," Jack said, "but it is too late to
discuss that now. Will you look out of the window and see if the lane
is empty? If so, we had best make off without delay."
The young lady went to the window.
"No," she replied at once, "there is a soldier on horseback a few
yards to the right."
"Don't open the window, then," Jack said. "They have evidently put a
line of patrols along the lane. We must not get you into trouble," he
continued, turning towards her. "If you will show us the way, we will
go at once and give ourselves up."
"Oh, no," the lady exclaimed. "That must not be. But where can I hide
you?" and she stood for a minute or two thinking. "I think the safest
place of all," she said at last, "the only place where you would have
a chance of escaping, if a search is made, is in the general's own
writing-room. It is very bare of furniture, but there are heavy
curtains to the windows. No one would think of searching that room,
and the chances are that no one will go near the windows."
The lads agreed that the plan was a good one, and the young lady
hurried away to see if the room, which was not far from her own, was
still empty. She returned in a minute, and beckoned to them to follow
her. They soon arrived at a room which was simply furnished with a few
chairs and an armchair placed at a table. Across the two windows hung
heavy curtains, and behind these the midshipmen took their places, the
curtains extending far enough beyond the windows for them to stand
between them and the walls; so that any one going to the windows would
not necessarily see them. Then leaving them with many injunctions to
remain quiet, and with a promise to return at the end of the day and
release them, she left, being, she said, due with her pupils at nine
For half an hour the boys conversed in low tones with each other as to
their chances of escape. Then footsteps were heard, and the governor
entered, followed by several officers. He took his seat at the table.
"If," he said to one of them, "your report, that you were so short a
distance behind these men that it was impossible they could have
reached the end of the lane before you entered it, be correct, it is
clear they must have taken refuge here. You did quite right to place a
cordon all round the palace. Write an order at once for the chief of
police to send down twenty men to search the house thoroughly from top
to bottom. Let them visit every room, not excepting even the
apartments of my wife and daughters. You say that they were most
conspicuous in the attack upon your cavalry, and I myself observed two
very young men leading the attack upon the infantry. Well, sir,"
turning to another officer, "what is your report of the losses?"
"Two hundred and three of the cavalry have been killed, sir. There are
only ten wounded. One hundred and sixty-three infantry killed, and 204
wounded. We have found the bodies of 133 armed men, who were killed
either in the square or in the pursuit, and 97 bodies, apparently
those of town's-people in the square."
"Put them all down as insurgents," the general said. "They are
traitors and rebels, the whole brood. Let strong bodies of infantry
patrol the streets. Order all shops to be shut and the inhabitants to
keep within doors, and let a body of troops be placed at the disposal
of the chief of police for a search from house to house. Some of these
scoundrels may be hidden in the town."
All day, officers, the bearers of reports, or who came to receive
orders, entered and left the room, among them the chief of police, who
reported that he had searched the palace from top to bottom, without
the omission of a single room, and had failed altogether to find any
traces of the fugitives.
"If they entered, they must be somewhere," said the general. "Let a
close cordon be kept around the house all night, with orders to shoot
down any one they may see leaving it. To-morrow you will repeat your
search of the house. If they are here, they must be found."
The hours seemed intolerably long to the lads, standing upright and
motionless against the wall. No one approached their hiding-place. At
four o'clock the general gave orders that his horse and escort should
be at the door, and a few minutes afterwards he went out, and the room
was left deserted. The midshipmen were now able to stand in easier
positions, but they did not venture to leave their hiding-places, in
case any one should suddenly return. The hours passed slowly on, and
it was nine o'clock before the door opened. It closed again, and a
voice asked in low tones whether they were still there.
The lads joyfully replied that they were.
"Follow me, then," she said, "as quietly as you can. There is no one
They were soon in the room where they had first entered. The curtains
were drawn, and candles burning on the table.
"You are safe here," the lady said. "I have just dined with my
charges, and my duties are over for the day. No one is likely to
disturb us here. This is my private sitting-room. My bedroom is next
door. If any one is heard coming, you must hide there. I will go in at
once and change my dress for a dressing-gown, and I can then lock the
door; so that if any one comes, there will be time for you to go in
there, and when I open it, and say I am preparing for bed, it will
account for the door being locked."
She did as she had said, and then produced from a cupboard a box of
biscuits and a decanter of wine, which she placed before them.
"You must be starving," she said. "I am sorry that I have nothing more
to offer you, but it was impossible for me to get any food. I have
been thinking all day," she went on, as the boys fell to at the
biscuits, "how you are to be smuggled out; I can only think of one
plan, and that is a fearfully dangerous one. But I do not know that it
is more so than your continued stay here. The palace is to be searched
to-morrow afternoon again, even more strictly than to-day, and that
was strict enough. They turned every room topsy-turvy, opened every
closet, and not only looked under the beds, but pulled the beds to
pieces, to assure themselves that nobody was hidden within them. I
hear that the general says that he is so convinced that you are here
somewhere, that he will keep the soldiers round the house, and search
it every day till you are found, if it is a month hence. Consequently,
great as is the risk of the plan I have thought of, it is scarcely as
great as that of remaining here."
The midshipmen expressed their willingness to try any plan, however
desperate, rather than remain day after day standing in the governor's
room, with the risk of betrayal by a cough or other involuntary
"This is my plan, then. The governor's eldest daughters are women as
old as myself. They are tall and stout, and as far as figure goes I
think you might pass in their places. They go out for a drive every
morning. I have this afternoon slipped into their rooms and have
borrowed two of their dresses, mantles and bonnets. Fortunately they
usually wear veils. They do not generally go to dress until the
carriage is at the door, and I propose that you shall boldly walk down
and take their places. Of course, the risk is dreadful, but I really
see no other chance for your escape. What do you say?"
The midshipmen at once agreed to make the attempt, and were soon
dressed in the clothes which their friend had brought them. Walking
about the room, she gave them lessons in carriage and manner, imitated
herself the air with which the general's daughters bowed to the
officers as they saluted them as they passed, and even gave them
instructions in the tone of voice in which they should order the
driver to take the way to the public promenade. At length she
pronounced that they ought to pass muster at a casual inspection, and
then, bidding them good-night, she retired to her own room, while the
lads were soon asleep, the one on the couch, the other on the
At seven o'clock their friend, who had told them that her name was
Agnes Sinclair, came into the room dressed, unlocked the door, and
then led them into her bedroom, as she said that at half-past seven
the servants would come to do up the sitting-room, light the fire, and
"I am my own mistress," she said, "till nine o'clock, and as the
servants do not go into my bedroom till I have gone to my pupils, you
will be quite safe. You must have some more biscuits for breakfast,
for I am a very small eater, and it would not do were it noticed that
a greater quantity of food than usual had disappeared."
The boys were now again dressed in the clothes prepared for them, and
this time put on gloves which Miss Sinclair had also brought, and into
which it needed all the boys' efforts to pass their hands. Fortunately
the bonnets of the time completely enveloped the head, concealing the
back half, and coming well forward over the face, and when the veils
were dropped Miss Sinclair said that unless she had known the truth,
she should not have suspected the deception.
When the servant knocked at the door, and said that breakfast was
ready, the governess left them, and presently returned, bringing them
"Now," she said, "in a quarter of an hour the carriage will be at the
door. It always comes punctually at nine. From the window of the
opposite room I can see when it arrives. Now, you quite understand?
You walk straight along this passage. At the end is a wider one to the
right, which will take you into the great hall. Here there will be
several servants, and perhaps some officers standing about. All will
bow as you pass through them. You are to bow slightly as I have shown
you. If any of the officers come up to speak, as is possible, though
not likely, for none of high enough rank to do so are likely to be
there so early, answer only in a word or two in the voice you
practised last night. Two servants will show you into the carriage. As
you take your seats, you will say to the coachman, 'To the promenade.'
After that you must do as you judge best. There is one drawback, I
forgot to tell you, an escort of two soldiers always rides fifty or
sixty yards behind the carriage."
"So that we once get through the town," Jack said, "we shan't care
much for the two soldiers, for we still have our revolvers. Now you
promise, Miss Sinclair, that when you come to England you will let our
people know. We have given you the addresses. They will want to thank
you for our escape if we get away, and for your kindness even if the
worst comes to the worst. I do hope that there is no possibility of a
suspicion falling upon you about the missing dresses."
"Oh, no," Miss Sinclair said, "I'm sure no one saw me go to their
rooms, and it will be supposed that you were hidden somewhere there,
and have taken them yourselves. I shall make the things you have taken
off into a bundle, slip into a room close to theirs, and throw them
under a bed. If it were known that you are English, it is possible
that some suspicion might fall upon me. As it is, there is no reason
why I more than any one else should have been concerned in the matter.
Now, it is just nine o'clock. I will go across into the other room,
and look out. Fortunately it is unoccupied."
Three minutes later she returned.
"It is at the door," she said. "Wait two or three minutes. I will go
straight now, hide your clothes, and take my place with my pupils as
usual. I am always punctual to the minute."
With another word or two of thanks the boys said good-bye to her, and
Miss Sinclair at once went on her way with a final warning, "Be sure
and be leisurely in your movements. Do not show the least haste. Peep
out before you start, so as to be sure there's no one in this passage,
as otherwise you might be seen coming from this room."
The boys waited another minute or two, and then, seeing that the
passage was clear, moved along it, walking slowly and stiffly as they
had been directed, with short steps and gliding movement. Both had
their pistols in their pockets ready to hand, as they were resolved to
be killed rather than taken. Fortunately there was no one in the next
passage into which they turned, and they reached the grand hall
unnoticed. Here were a number of servants and officers, who bowed
deeply on perceiving, as they supposed, the daughters of the governor.
Two servants threw open the grand door, and an official preceded them
to the carriage. The boys bowed slightly and passed on. No one
accosted them, and they took their seats in the carriage with the
deliberation and dignity which had been impressed upon them. The
official spread a bear-skin rug over their knees, and demanded which
way they would go.
Jack replied, "To the promenade." The carriage--which was an open
one--proceeded on its way at a rapid pace, and the boys' hopes rose
higher and higher. They had not gone far when they heard a horse's
hoofs behind them, and, turning round, saw an officer galloping
"Keep steady, Jack," Dick whispered.
When the officer reached the side of the carriage he reined in his
horse, and took off his cap. "Ladies," he said, "his excellency the
governor saw you drive away, and ordered me to ride after you, and
tell you that he did not know you were going out, and that he
considered it more prudent for you to remain at home for a day or two
until the excitement of the late events has cooled down."
"Thank you," Dick said in his best Russian, and speaking in a feigned
voice. "Will you tell my father that we will return in a few minutes?
Drive on," he said to the coachman.
The officer sat for a minute looking after them, for something in the
accent with which Dick spoke seemed strange to him, but being
fortunately unacquainted with the ladies of the general's family, he
suspected nothing wrong. It was evident to the boys, however, that the
coachman was struck with the sound of the voice, as he rapidly spoke
to the man sitting next him, and the latter once or twice endeavored
privately to glance back.
They had now reached the promenade, which, owing to the governor's
order that all inhabitants should keep their houses, was entirely
deserted, except by a few Russian officers walking or riding. These
all saluted as the general's carriage passed them. On reaching the end
of the drive the coachman was about to turn, when the lads jumped to
their feet, and commanded him to stop. The coachman looked round
astonished, but at the sight of two pistols pointed at their heads, he
and his fellow-servant, with a cry of alarm and astonishment, leaped
from the box. Jack in an instant scrambled over and seized the reins.
The soldiers had halted upon seeing the carriage stop, and remained
stupefied with astonishment as they saw the two servants leap off, and
one of the ladies climb into their seat. Nor did they move until the
servants, running up hastily, explained what had happened. Then,
putting the spurs into their horses, they galloped forward. Dick, who
was looking back, saw at the same moment several horsemen at full
gallop appear at the other end of the promenade.
"The general has found out the trick, Jack," he said. "Keep them going
steadily and steer straight. I can answer for those fellows behind.
They can't be sure yet what's up."
As the soldiers approached, Dick leaned his pistol on the back of the
carriage and took a steady aim, and when they were within twenty
yards, fired, aiming at the head of one of the horses. In an instant
there was a crash, and the horse and rider were on the ground. The
other soldier at once reined up his horse, bewildered at what had
happened, and not knowing even now that the carriage was not occupied
by the general's daughters.
"That's right, Jack," Dick said. "We have got nearly half a mile start
of the others, and the forest is, Miss Sinclair said, scarce three
miles away. Let them go it, but be sure you steer straight."
The horses were now tearing along at a furious gallop. Presently
another long, straight bit of road enabled them to see their pursuers
again. The horsemen had been increased in number by the officers who
had been riding in the promenade, and were now some twenty in number.
Of these, at least half whose helmets glistening in the sun showed
Dick that they were soldiers, had already fallen in the rear, the
others had gained upon them considerably. They were now, however,
fully half way to the forest.
"That's right, Jack, keep them going," Dick said, as Jack flogged the
animals to their highest speed. "We shall have plenty of time to get
away into the wood before they come up, only for goodness' sake keep
When they reached the forest their pursuers were still some hundreds
of yards in the rear. Checking the horses where the underwood was
thickest, the midshipmen leaped out, gave a parting lash to the
horses, which started them again at full speed, and then dashed into
Any one who had seen them would have been astounded and amused at the
spectacle of two fashionably-dressed ladies dashing recklessly through
the thick brushwood. After a quarter of an hour's run they paused
breathless. Jack dashed his bonnet to the ground.
"For goodness' sake, Dick!" he said, shaking off his mantle, "unhook
the back of my dress, and let me get rid of the thing. I used to laugh
at my sisters for not running as fast as I could. Now I wonder how on
earth they manage to run at all."
Their borrowed finery was soon got rid of, and in their shirts and
trousers the boys proceeded. Presently they came suddenly upon four
peasants seated on the ground, who upon seeing them leaped to their
feet and greeted them with signs of vehement joy, making signs to them
to follow them, and presently led them to a spot where the remains of
the insurgent band were gathered. A shout greeted them as soon as they
were recognized, and Count Stanislas, running forward, threw his arms
round their necks and embraced them, while the other leaders crowded
"It is indeed happiness to see you again," the count said. "We feared
you had fallen into the hands of the Russians. I sent spies last night
into the town, but they brought back word that the streets were
absolutely deserted, and they dared not enter. I resolved to wait for
a day or two until we could hear with certainty what had befallen you.
Now tell us all that has happened."
The midshipmen recounted their adventures, saying that they had
remained concealed in the very writing-room of the governor, and
giving full details of their escape dressed as his daughters; saving
only the part which Miss Sinclair had played, for they thought that in
case any of the band fell into the hands of the enemy, they might
under the influence of the torture, which the Russians freely
administered to their captives, reveal all that they had heard. They
then inquired what were the count's intentions.
"I shall move farther west," he said, "and after gathering my old band
together, move to join some others, who I hear have been doing good
work in that direction. We shall not be far from the frontier; and,
much as I shall regret to lose you, I will, if you wish it, lead a
party to the frontier, and cut a way through the cordon of troops
there for you."
The boys gladly accepted the offer. They had had more than enough of
insurrectionary warfare, and longed to be back again with their
comrades at Sebastopol.
Three days' marching took the band back to the forest, where some 1500
men were assembled, awaiting anxiously the return of the party.
A day was given for rest, and then horses were harnessed to the two
batteries of artillery, and moving by little-frequented roads through
the forest, the small army marched west.
For ten days the march continued, for the roads were heavy and the
horses unable to accomplish such marches as those of which the
peasants were capable. At last they effected a junction with the band
which they had come to join, whose numbers amounted to nearly 4000
men. Their arrival, and especially the advent of the artillery, was
greeted with enthusiasm, and it was at once proposed to take the
offensive. Count Stanislas said, however, that his horses were
completely knocked up with the fatigue they had undergone, and that a
rest of two or three days was necessary in order to recruit.
"Now," he said to the midshipmen, "I will redeem my promise. The
frontier is only fifty miles distant. I will send on a man at once to
ascertain some point at which there are boats on this side of the
river. I will march at daylight with 150 picked men, and no fear but
with a sudden attack we shall break through the patrols."
The plan was carried out. The boys, inured to marching, made the fifty
miles journey before nightfall. They were met by the spy, who stated
that the boats had almost all been removed, but that a number were
gathered at a village which was occupied by 200 Russian infantry.
The midshipmen proposed that they should steal through and endeavor to
get one of the boats, but their friend would not hear of their running
such a risk, and after taking some hours of rest the party proceeded
on their march. It was an hour before daybreak when they entered the
village. Just as they reached it a sentry fired his musket, and with a
rush the Poles charged forward. It had been arranged that the count
and the midshipmen with five men should run straight through the
village down to the water-side, and that the rest of the force were to
commence a furious attack upon the houses inhabited by the troops,
who, believing that they were assailed by superior forces, would be
some time before they took the offensive.
BACK AT THE FRONT
Aroused by the sound of the sentry's musket, the Russian soldiers
rushed to their windows and doors and opened a scattering fire, which
was heavily responded to by the Poles. The midshipmen with their party
ran hastily down the village. There were two sentries over the boats,
but these, alarmed by the din in the village and the sight of the
approaching figures, fired their muskets and fled. Dick uttered a low
"What is the matter, Dick? are you hit?"
"Yes," Dick said. "My arm is broken. Never mind, let us push on."
They leaped into a boat. Jack seized the sculls, the rope which
fastened them to the shore was cut, and with a last shout of farewell
to the count, they pulled off into the stream. For a few minutes the
sound of battle continued, and then suddenly died away, as Count
Stanislas, his object accomplished, drew off his men.
A few minutes' rowing brought the boat to the opposite bank. Here they
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