With a map which the groom had thoughtfully borrowed from an officer the previous day, Dick managed to gain fairly accurate information as to their position. By calculation he figured out that they had travelled seventeen or eighteen miles during the night, and identifying the main road on which they had come, he saw that after two or three miles it would take a rectangular turn to the right, running parallel to the line of battle. Four miles to the south-east of the turning-point there was a river, and this the fugitives decided to reach that night.
‘If we can locate that,’ said Dick eagerly, ’it is bound to lead us into the French lines.’
‘Werry good, sir,’ said the groom, with an air of resignation. His contempt for maps and their unintelligibility was deep-rooted, but if his young master thought he could locate a river with one, he would keep an open mind on the subject until it had, at least, been given a fair trial.
‘You see,’ said Durwent, ’a great many of these troops on the road are French, so when we follow that route we must get into French territory.’
‘Yezzir,’ said Mathews profoundly. ’I won’t go for to say as ’ow you mayn’t be right. All the same, Mas’r Dick, when it comes to enterin’ the ring wi’ them sausage-eaters I’d raither ’ave a dozen Lancashire or Devon lads about me than all the Frenchies you could put in Hyde Park. It ain’t that these here spec’mens don’t ’ave a good sound heart as far as standin’ up and takin’ knocks is concerned, but they be too frisky and skittish for my likin’. I see ’em all wavin’ their arms like as if a carriage and pair has run away, and talkin’ all at once and together, likewise and sim’lar. Wot’s more, they does it in a lingo that no one can’t go for to make out, not even a Frenchy hisself, because I never see one Frog listenin’ to another—did you, sir? Wot’s more, sir, they gets all of a lather over things which is only fit for women-folk to worry on—such as w’ether a hen has laid its egg reg’lar; or the coffee, was it black enough? From wot I see as puts a Frog in a dither, I sez to myself that if you was to take him to a real hoss-race, he’d never see the finish. No, sir; he’d be dead o’ heart-failure afore the hosses was off.’
Dick smiled at the tremendous seriousness of the old groom, and lay back wearily on the ground. ‘We had better both turn in for another nap,’ he said. ’We’ll need all our strength to-night, and if we stay awake we’re sure to get hungry.’
‘Werry sound advice, Mas’r Dick,’ said Mathews. ’But would I be presumin’, sir, to ask you a favour? I got a letter yesterday from my old woman, and wot with her writin’ and me bein’ nought o’ a scholar, I was wonderin’, Mas’r Dick, if you would just acquaint me with any fac’s that you might think the old girl would like me for to know.’
‘Willingly,’ said Dick, taking a sealed letter from the groom, who squatted solemnly on the ground, assuming an air of deep contemplation, as one who has to give an opinion on a hitherto unread masterpiece.