A few words from the leader explained to his followers that the new-comers were friends. Their money was instantly restored to them, and those who a few minutes before were so eager to hurry them to execution were profuse in their apologies and demonstrations of respect. The Poles regarded England as a friendly power, and were eagerly watching the war in the Crimea, hoping that the strength of Russia would be so exhausted there that she would be obliged to weaken her hold on Poland. So far, however, great as were the number of troops that Russia had poured down to meet the Allies, she had in no way weakened her hold upon Poland. Indeed even larger numbers of troops than usual were massed in that country. The insurrection at present going on was intended rather as a proof to Europe that Poland yet lived, ground down though she was under the heel of Russian tyranny, than as a movement from which success could be reasonably hoped for.
The lads were now able to look round at the wild group which filled the clearing. The greater portion were peasants, although the dress and bearing of several proclaimed that they belonged to a superior class. Some of the peasants were armed with guns, but these were quite in the minority, the greater portion carrying scythe blades fastened to long handles. These, although clumsy to look at, were terrible weapons in a close onslaught, and the Russian soldiers could seldom be kept firm by their officers when, in spite of their fire, the Polish peasantry rushed among them. The Poles were in high spirits. Their own loss had been small, and they had inflicted great slaughter upon the head of the Russian column, and had gained a considerable number of arms. A party which had attacked the rear of the column at the same moment when the main body fell upon its head, had for a time obtained possession of a wagon with spare ammunition, and had succeeded in carrying off the greater part of it.
The leader of the party, having given orders to his men and seen that the wounded were carried away on stretchers roughly formed of boughs, either to their own villages, or when these were too distant, to a collection of wood-cutters’ huts in the heart of the forest, returned and took a seat by the lads near the fire.
“We have not introduced ourselves yet,” he said in Russian, laughing. “My name is Stanislaus Chernatony.”
Dick named himself and his comrades.
“Tell me now,” the Pole said, “how you got here, and what are your plans.”
Dick in reply gave him a narrative of their adventures, and said that they were making their way to the Austrian frontier.