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 here know?”
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 this?”
“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 camp.”
THE POLISH INSURGENTS