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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
yourself."

"Can you stand, do you think?" the doctor asked.

"Oh, I think so," Dick said; and rising, he managed to totter across
the cell.

"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
prison.

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
drunken sleep.

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
neighborhood."

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
provisions."

"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
of carts.




CHAPTER XVII.


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
boys.

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
dialect.

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
province.

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
incomplete.

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
an end.

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


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