“That’s right, Jack, keep them going,” Dick said, as Jack flogged the animals to their highest speed. “We shall have plenty of time to get away into the wood before they come up, only for goodness’ sake keep us straight.”
When they reached the forest their pursuers were still some hundreds of yards in the rear. Checking the horses where the underwood was thickest, the midshipmen leaped out, gave a parting lash to the horses, which started them again at full speed, and then dashed into the thicket.
Any one who had seen them would have been astounded and amused at the spectacle of two fashionably-dressed ladies dashing recklessly through the thick brushwood. After a quarter of an hour’s run they paused breathless. Jack dashed his bonnet to the ground.
“For goodness’ sake, Dick!” he said, shaking off his mantle, “unhook the back of my dress, and let me get rid of the thing. I used to laugh at my sisters for not running as fast as I could. Now I wonder how on earth they manage to run at all.”
Their borrowed finery was soon got rid of, and in their shirts and trousers the boys proceeded. Presently they came suddenly upon four peasants seated on the ground, who upon seeing them leaped to their feet and greeted them with signs of vehement joy, making signs to them to follow them, and presently led them to a spot where the remains of the insurgent band were gathered. A shout greeted them as soon as they were recognized, and Count Stanislas, running forward, threw his arms round their necks and embraced them, while the other leaders crowded round.
“It is indeed happiness to see you again,” the count said. “We feared you had fallen into the hands of the Russians. I sent spies last night into the town, but they brought back word that the streets were absolutely deserted, and they dared not enter. I resolved to wait for a day or two until we could hear with certainty what had befallen you. Now tell us all that has happened.”
The midshipmen recounted their adventures, saying that they had remained concealed in the very writing-room of the governor, and giving full details of their escape dressed as his daughters; saving only the part which Miss Sinclair had played, for they thought that in case any of the band fell into the hands of the enemy, they might under the influence of the torture, which the Russians freely administered to their captives, reveal all that they had heard. They then inquired what were the count’s intentions.
“I shall move farther west,” he said, “and after gathering my old band together, move to join some others, who I hear have been doing good work in that direction. We shall not be far from the frontier; and, much as I shall regret to lose you, I will, if you wish it, lead a party to the frontier, and cut a way through the cordon of troops there for you.”
The boys gladly accepted the offer. They had had more than enough of insurrectionary warfare, and longed to be back again with their comrades at Sebastopol.