The boys during the march were allowed to walk as they liked, but two soldiers with loaded muskets kept near them. They discussed the chances of trying to make their escape, but agreed that although they might be able to slip away from the convoy, the probability of their making their way through the Russian troops to their own lines at Balaklava or Sebastopol was so slight that the attempt would be almost madness. Their figures would be everywhere conspicuous on the snow, their footsteps, could be followed, they had no food, and were ignorant of the language and country. Altogether they determined to abandon any idea of escaping for the present.
There were but a dozen soldiers with the convoy, the officers being medical men in charge of the wounded. A halt was made in a sheltered spot near the river, and close to the village of Mamaschia, which was entirely deserted by its inhabitants.
The worst cases of sickness were carried into the houses, and the rest prepared to make themselves as comfortable as they could in or under the wagons. Stores of forage were piled by the village for the use of the convoys going up and down, and the drivers speedily spread a portion of this before their beasts.
The guard and such men as were able to get about went off among the orchards that surrounded the village, to cut fuel. The boys’ special guard remained by them. When the doctor whom they regarded as their friend came up to them, he brought with him another officer as interpreter, who said in broken French,—
“Voulez-vous donner votre parole pas essayez echapper?”
Jack was as ignorant of French as of Russian, but Dick knew a little. He turned to Jack and translated the question.
“Tell him we will give our words not to try and escape during the march, or till we tell him to the contrary.” This was almost beyond Dick.
“Nous donnons notre parole pour le present,” he said, “pour la marche, vous comprenez. Si nous changons notre—I wonder what mind is,” he grumbled to himself—“intention, nous vous dirons.”
This was intelligible, although not good French, and their friend, having shaken hands with them as if to seal the bargain, told the soldiers that they need no longer keep a watch on the prisoners, and then beckoned them to accompany him. The boys had, at starting, placed their bundles upon a cart to which they had kept close during the march. Putting these on their shoulders, they accompanied their friend to a cart which was drawn up three or four feet from the wall of a house. They set to work at once, and with the aid of some sticks and blankets, of which there was a good supply in the wagon, made a roof covering the space between it and the house, hung others at the end and side, and had soon a snug tent erected.