Three days’ marching took the band back to the forest, where some 1500 men were assembled, awaiting anxiously the return of the party.
A day was given for rest, and then horses were harnessed to the two batteries of artillery, and moving by little-frequented roads through the forest, the small army marched west.
For ten days the march continued, for the roads were heavy and the horses unable to accomplish such marches as those of which the peasants were capable. At last they effected a junction with the band which they had come to join, whose numbers amounted to nearly 4000 men. Their arrival, and especially the advent of the artillery, was greeted with enthusiasm, and it was at once proposed to take the offensive. Count Stanislas said, however, that his horses were completely knocked up with the fatigue they had undergone, and that a rest of two or three days was necessary in order to recruit.
“Now,” he said to the midshipmen, “I will redeem my promise. The frontier is only fifty miles distant. I will send on a man at once to ascertain some point at which there are boats on this side of the river. I will march at daylight with 150 picked men, and no fear but with a sudden attack we shall break through the patrols.”
The plan was carried out. The boys, inured to marching, made the fifty miles journey before nightfall. They were met by the spy, who stated that the boats had almost all been removed, but that a number were gathered at a village which was occupied by 200 Russian infantry.
The midshipmen proposed that they should steal through and endeavor to get one of the boats, but their friend would not hear of their running such a risk, and after taking some hours of rest the party proceeded on their march. It was an hour before daybreak when they entered the village. Just as they reached it a sentry fired his musket, and with a rush the Poles charged forward. It had been arranged that the count and the midshipmen with five men should run straight through the village down to the water-side, and that the rest of the force were to commence a furious attack upon the houses inhabited by the troops, who, believing that they were assailed by superior forces, would be some time before they took the offensive.
BACK AT THE FRONT
Aroused by the sound of the sentry’s musket, the Russian soldiers rushed to their windows and doors and opened a scattering fire, which was heavily responded to by the Poles. The midshipmen with their party ran hastily down the village. There were two sentries over the boats, but these, alarmed by the din in the village and the sight of the approaching figures, fired their muskets and fled. Dick uttered a low exclamation.
“What is the matter, Dick? are you hit?”
“Yes,” Dick said. “My arm is broken. Never mind, let us push on.”