At times I wondered if Jean Le Marchant had not had his suspicions of Torode’s treacheries, and how he would regard the young Torode as suitor for Carette in that case. I was sure in my own mind that her father and brothers would never yield her to anything but what they deemed the best for her. But their ideas on that head might differ widely from my own, and I drew small comfort from the thought.
And Carette herself? I hugged to myself the remembrance of her last farewell. I lived on it. It might mean nothing more than the memory of our old friendship. It might mean everything. I chose to believe it meant everything. And I knew that even if I were dead she would never listen to young Torode if a glimmer of the truth came to her ears, for she was the soul of honour.
Then came a matter which at once added to my anxieties, and set work to my hands which kept my mind from dwelling too darkly on its own troubles.
So crowded were all the war prisons up and down the land, and so continuous was the stream of captives brought in by the war-ships, that death no sooner made a vacancy amongst us than it was filled at once from the overflowing quarters elsewhere.
We had fevers and agues constantly with us, and one time so sharp an epidemic of small-pox that every man of us, will he nil he, had to submit to the inoculation then newly introduced as a preventive against that most horrible disease. Some of us believed, and rightly I think, that as good a preventive as any against this or any ailment was the keeping of the body in the fittest possible condition, and to that end we subjected ourselves to the hardest exercise in every way we could contrive, and suffered I think less than the rest.
As the long hard winter drew slowly past, and spring brightened the land and our hearts, and set new life in both, my mind turned again to thoughts of escape. While that bleak country lay in the grip of ice and snow it had seemed certain death to quit the hard hospitality of the prison. It was better to be alive inside than dead outside. But now the stirrings of life without stirred the life within towards freedom, and I began to plan my way.
HOW I CAME ACROSS ONE AT AMPERDOO
I had worked hard at my carvings, and had become both a better craftsman and a keener bargainer, and so had managed to accumulate a small store of money. I could see my way without much difficulty over the first high wooden stockade, but so far I could not see how to pass the numberless sentries that patrolled constantly between it and the outer fence.
And while I was still striving to surmount this difficulty in my own mind, which would I knew be still more difficult in actual fact, that occurred which upset all my plans and tied me to the prison for many a day.
Among the new-comers one day was one evidently sick or sorely wounded. His party, we heard, had come up by barge from the coast. The hospital was full, and they made a pallet for the sick man in a corner of our long room.