“What is it?” Dick asked briefly.
“It is this,” the governor said. “I have here before me,” and he touched some documents lying on the table, “a report which I am about to forward to the Czar respecting Count Preskoff. The report is not altogether favorable, for the count is a man of what are called advanced opinions. He has curious ideas as to the treatment of serfs, and has, no doubt, in your hearing expressed himself favorable to their emancipation.”
The boys were silent.
“He has, I doubt not, done so, for he is rash and open of speech. I have here before me an information sworn to that effect, and if you will place your names as witnesses to it, I will not only pardon the indiscretion of which you have been guilty, but will do all in my power to make your stay pleasant.”
The boys were speechless with indignation at the infamy of the proposal, and doubted not that the document contained far weightier charges than those specified by the governor.
“Who has signed that document?” Jack asked.
“I do not know that the name can matter to you,” the governor said, “but it is one of the servants of the count, one Paul Petrofski.”
“Then,” Dick said, starting to his feet, “it is a forgery. Paul Petrofski never signed that document.”
“What do you mean?” the governor exclaimed, leaping to his feet also, and laying his hand on his sword, while his face grew white with passion. “Do you accuse me of forgery?”
“I repeat,” Dick said, his indignation altogether mastering his prudence, “that it is a forgery. You have never seen Paul Petrofski since I heard you offer him one thousand roubles at the cross-roads that night to betray his master.”
With a short cry which reminded Jack of the sharp snarl of the wolves in the night in the forest, the Russian drew his sword and rushed upon Dick. The latter threw up his arm to defend himself, but the blow fell, cutting his arm severely, and laying open a great gash on his cheek.
The Russian raised his arm to repeat the blow, when Jack sprang upon him from behind, seizing him round the waist, and pinning his arms to his side.
The count struggled furiously, but Jack was a strongly built English lad of nearly sixteen years old, and he not only retained his grasp, but lifted his struggling captive from his feet. “Open the window, Dick!” he shouted. “It’s his life or ours now.” Dick though nearly blinded with blood, sprang to the window and threw it up.
There was a short, desperate struggle, as the Russian shouting furiously for aid, strove with his feet to keep himself away from the window, but Dick struck these aside. With a mighty effort Jack pushed his captive forward, and in another moment he was thrown through the open window. A rush of heavy steps was heard on the stairs. In an instant Jack darted to the table, seized the documents upon it, and cast them into the fire in the stove, slammed the door, and was standing by the window with Dick, when an officer and several soldiers burst into the room.