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.