“I’ve seen wagons down in the country with them,” Jack said, “and very pretty the bells sounded on a still night. But the bells were not so clear-toned as these.”
From one shaft to another, in a bow, high over the horses’ necks, extended an arch of light wood, and from this hung a score of little bells, which tinkled merrily as the sledge glided along.
“It’s a delicious motion,” Jack said; “no bumping or jolting, and yet, even when one shuts one’s eyes, he feels that he is going at a tremendous pace.”
The boys were amused at the driver, who frequently cracked his whip, but never touched the horses, to whom, however, he was constantly talking, addressing them in encouraging tones, which, as Jack said, they seemed to understand just like Christians.
After an hour-and-a-half’s drive, in which they must have traversed some eighteen miles, they returned to the chateau. The servant at the door relieved them of their warm cloaks and of the loose, fur-lined boots, with which they had also been furnished, and then, evidently in accordance with orders, conducted them upstairs to the room where the countess and two of her daughters were working, while the third was reading aloud. It was already getting dusk, and lighted lamps burned on the tables, and the room, heated by a great stove in the corner, felt pleasantly warm and comfortable.
A NOMINAL IMPRISONMENT
The evening passed pleasantly. There was some music, and the three girls and their mother sang together, and Jack (who had learnt part-singing at home, for his family were very musical, and every night were accustomed to sing glees and catches) also, at their request, joined in, taking the part which their brother, when at home, had been accustomed to fill.
In the course of the evening the boys explained that they had said nothing to the commandant about their having picked up a little Russian, as they had thought that it was better to allow him to remain in ignorance of it, as they had had some idea of making their escape.
“Why, you foolish boys,” Paulina said, “where would you escape to? However, perhaps it is as well that you said nothing about it, for he only sent you here because he thought it would annoy mamma; and if he had thought you had known any Russian, he might have lodged you somewhere else.”
“We don’t want to escape now, you know,” Jack said in his broken Russian. “We are much more comfortable here than we should be in the cold before Sebastopol.”
The next few days passed pleasantly; sometimes the countess was not present, and then the girls would devote themselves to improving the boys’ Russian.
Sometimes two sledges would come to the door, and two of the girls accompanied the boys on their drive. On the fourth evening, Count Smerskoff called, and a cloud fell upon the atmosphere.