Le Marchant urged, with some reason, that on the longer tramp to the south his presence with me would introduce a danger which would be absent if I were alone. For his English was not fluent, and he spoke it with an accent that would betray him at once. He even suggested our parting, if we ever did succeed in getting out—he to take his chance eastward, while I went south, lest he should prove a drag on me. But this I would not hear of, and the matter was still undecided when our chance came suddenly and unexpectedly.
HOW WE SAID GOOD-BYE TO AMPERDOO
We were well into the summer by the time Le Marchant was fully fit to travel, and we had planned and pondered over that outer stockade till our brains ached with such unusual exercise, and still we did not see our way. For the outer sentries were too thickly posted to offer any hopes of overcoming them, and even if we succeeded in getting past any certain one, the time occupied in scaling the outer palisades would be fatal to us.
Then our chance came without a moment’s warning, and we took it on the wing.
It was a black oppressive night after a dull hot day. We had been duly counted into our long sleeping-room, and were lying panting in our hammocks, when the storm broke right above us. There came a blinding blue glare which lit up every corner of the room, and then a crash so close and awful that some of us, I trow, thought it the last crash of all. For myself, I know, I lay dazed and breathless, wondering what the next minute would bring.
It brought wild shouts from outside and the rush of many feet, the hurried clanging of a bell, the beating of a drum, and then everything was drowned in a furious downpour of rain which beat on the roof like whips and flails.
What was happening I could not tell, but there was confusion without, and confusion meant chances.
I slipped out of my hammock, unhitched it, and stole across to Le Marchant.
“Come! Bring your hammock!” I whispered, and within a minute we were outside in the storm, drenched to the skin but full of hope.
One of the long wooden houses on the other side of the enclosure was ablaze, but whether from the lightning or as cover to some larger attempt at escape we could not tell. Very likely the latter, I have since thought, for the soldiers were gathering there in numbers, and the bell still rang and the drum still beat.
Without a word, for all this we had discussed and arranged long since, we crept to the palisade nearest to us. I took my place solidly against it. Le Marchant climbed up onto my shoulders, flung the end of his hammock over the spiked top till it caught with its cordage, and in a moment he was sitting among the teeth up above. Another moment, and I was alongside him, peering down into the danger ring below, while the rain thrashed down upon us so furiously that it was all we could do to see or hear. We could, indeed, see nothing save what was right under our hands, for the dead blackness of the night was a thing to be felt.