Late at night the news was brought to them that proclamations had been posted through the town, saying that the execution would take place at eight in the morning in the grand square. Orders had been issued, it was learnt, that 1000 troops should be present, and the others were ordered to be in readiness in their barracks, in case any sign of popular feeling should be manifested. As it was evident, therefore, that no soldiers in uniform would be loitering in the street, it was determined that the 250 men so dressed should march together to the square with their arms.
In the morning the insurgents, in twos and threes, started for the town, and joined the town’s-people assembling in the great square. Across the square, within thirty or forty paces of one side, was formed up a strong battalion of Russian infantry, the rest of the square being occupied by the town’s-people, all of whom had attired themselves in mourning. In the centre of the square, behind the soldiers, a scaffold had been erected, as by the sentence of the court-martial the count was to die by hanging.
The midshipmen and their friends made their way through the crowd to the front, the latter giving way upon a whisper being circulated that an attempt was to be made to rescue the prisoner, and the 250 insurgents were soon gathered in a close body in front of the soldiers standing before the scaffold. Each man had his scythe or bayonet hidden under his long coat, the leaders grasping their pistols. The men had been ordered to refrain from any expression of excitement, and to assume, as far as possible, a look of quiet grief. Behind the infantry were a number of mounted officers, among whom General Borodoff, the governor of the town and district, was pointed out to the midshipmen, and near the general, under a strong guard, the prisoner was standing. All the insurgents, with the exception of those forming the first line, quietly fitted their scythes and bayonets to the handles and waited the signal.
Presently there was a movement behind the troops, who were drawn up six deep. Then a man was seen mounting the scaffold followed by the priest, behind whom came the prisoner between two warders. Just at this moment there was a stir in the crowd at the end of the square, and over the heads of the people a line of glittering bayonets could be seen coming down the street. The general looked in that direction with surprise, and immediately gave orders to a mounted officer beside him, who, passing through the line of soldiers, tried to make his way through the crowd. This, however, either from its denseness or an unwillingness to move from the place it had gained, made way for him but slowly, in spite of his angry shouts to the people to clear a way.
IN A LION’S DEN