“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.
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.