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- Won by the Sword - 50/68 -


"Yes, I don't see that that could be managed at all, master."

He stood thinking a minute.

"I have it!" he exclaimed joyfully. "You know, sir, sometimes a train of waggons containing faggots, or flour, or other things, comes in late. Those that are unloaded before the gate is closed go out at once; the others are unloaded that evening, but the empty carts have to remain in the castle till morning, as the great gates are never opened between sunset and sunrise, though officers come in by the postern. Now, if you could manage during the night to slip into one of the waggons, say one that has brought in flour, you might be so covered over by the empty sacks they take out, that no one would dream anyone was hidden there."

"Capital, Paolo! It is evident that your head is not so thick as you thought it was just now. Yes, I have noticed that as a rule if eight or ten waggons came in together, the full sacks are carried in, and the same number of empty ones are placed in one of the carts, being counted as they are put in. Certainly I could hide myself easily enough if you were there to assist in arranging the sacks as regularly as before over me. As I do not generally get up until eight o'clock, and my first meal is not brought to me till nine, I might be on my way two hours before it was discovered that I was missing. How would you manage?"

"I would get a countryman's suit, master, would go out soon after the gates were open, find some quiet spot where I should have hidden the clothes the day before, and slip them on over my own. Then I would join the carts as they came along. They don't generally begin to harness the horses up till the gates are open, so that I should get a quarter of an hour's start of them, and I should go out with them without question, as it would be thought that I belonged to the party. I should pay for some beer at the first cabaret we come to, and make signs that I wanted a lift in a waggon. I must, of course, pretend to be deaf and dumb, as, although I have picked up a little German since we came into these parts, I could not possibly pass as a countryman."

"It would be better still, Paolo, for you to put a blister on to your cheek, then before you join them put a great lump of tow into your mouth, so as to swell your cheek out almost to bursting point, and then tie a bandage round your face; you could then by pointing to it make out that you had so terrible a swelling that you were unable to talk."

"That would be better certainly, master, indeed, it would be a capital plan. Of course I should get into the waggon in which you were, and gradually shift the sacks so that you could crawl out. When we smuggled you in we would try and put in with you a couple of brace of pistols, and if we were armed with them the carters would not venture to interfere with us. Of course, master, I should have to get a disguise for you. We could never be tramping across the country with you dressed as a French officer."

"Get something that I could put over the clothes I wear. A long frock, some loose breeches, and rough cloth to wrap round the legs below them, and of course a pair of countryman's shoes. The best plan would be for you to stand treat again at a cabaret a few miles out of the town, get them all in there, then I could slip out of the waggon and throw the sacks back into their place. Of course you would choose some spot where the cabaret either stands alone or is at the end of a village, so that there may be no one standing by, and I could, when I got down, walk quietly back along the road. You can make signs to them that you live hard by, and would leave them there; then if there should be any suspicion that I had escaped in the waggons, and a troop of cavalry were sent in pursuit, the men would be all able to declare that they had seen nothing of me, and so could give no clue whatever that would set them on our track.

"Well, it is quite settled that we will try that way, but it may be some time before the opportunity occurs. However, you may as well get the two disguises and the two brace of pistols, and stow them away somewhere where they are not likely to be found."

"There are plenty of places where one can do that, master; there is a row of old trees inside the fortifications, and I warrant that if I cannot find one with a hollow large enough to stow them away in, I can hide them in the branches with small chance of their ever being seen."

Another month passed. Paolo made a point of occasionally going out soon after the gates were open, saying casually that his master had a fancy for a bottle of better wine with his breakfast, or that he was going to get some eggs to make an omelette for him. Hector was in no particular hurry, for the news had come that Turenne with his own troops and those of Hesse had, with the Swedes, marched away for the Rhine. It was rumoured that they would be joined by another army, for in no other way could the Imperialists account for Turenne having retired when he had a force at least equal to any that Merci could set in the field against him. Hector saw that at any rate there was no chance of a great battle being fought just then, and felt, therefore, no impatience to be off. Two or three times carts with faggots had been unloaded after the gates were closed, but as they took nothing out, it was impossible for him to conceal himself in them.

At last, to his satisfaction, a number of waggons of flour came in late one afternoon, and he determined to carry his plan into execution that night. The storehouses were not in the great court, but in a smaller one off it. Beyond two soldiers at the gate and a sentry at the commandant's door, no guards were kept in the courtyards, though a few sentries were placed upon the walls. Hector had his supper as usual, and Paolo brought in the news that eight of the waggons had not been unloaded in time to go out. A fatigue party of soldiers were now completing the work, which would be finished about nine o'clock. Taking off their boots a little after that hour they went quietly downstairs, then put them on again and boldly crossed the courtyard, for the night was so dark that there was no fear of their figures being perceived.

As they entered the inner yard they again took off their boots and walked up to the carts. In two of these the carters were fast asleep. They passed on quietly, feeling in each cart for the sacks, and were delighted to find that they were all placed in the one farthest up the yard, which would therefore be the last to go out. They were tidily piled in lines side by side at the forward end of the waggon. They cautiously removed the sacks of the middle lines; Hector lay down feet foremost, and Paolo laid the sacks regularly over him till they reached the level of the others. Half a dozen were doubled and packed neatly in at the end, so as to conceal his head and prevent its being noticed that any had been taken out. The rest were distributed evenly, so that the sacks were all as level as before, and no one would have suspected that they had been disturbed.

Paolo then returned to Hector's room. As the double sacks closing the orifice at his head had not been packed very tightly, enough air entered for Hector to breathe. He increased the opening somewhat by pressing one of the sacks a little aside, but left it so that he could readily pull it into its position in the morning. As soon as Paolo reached the room he applied a blistering plaster to his cheek and kept it on till he could no longer bear the pain, then he threw himself down on his pallet. But neither he nor his master slept much, Hector being kept awake by the heat and discomfort of his position, and Paolo by the smarting of his cheek. As soon as it was light the latter rose, and sat impatiently waiting for the time when the gates would open. Looking into the courtyard, he could see the troops coming out from their quarters and moving about, then the gates opened, and, tying a bandage over his cheek, he went down and crossed the yard.

"You are out early," the sergeant of the guard remarked.

He nodded. "I am nigh mad with pain," he said, pointing to his cheek, "and I am going to get some salve from an apothecary."

"You seem to be bad indeed," the sergeant said commiseratingly, "'tis a terrible inflammation."

Paolo went down to the spot where he had hidden the bundles in the hollow of a tree. It was an unfrequented place, and slipping his disguise over his clothes, after putting the pistols in his belt, he took the second bundle and returned to a street through which waggons leaving the castle must pass. A few minutes later he saw them coming along. He had already stuffed his cheek full of tow, and several people, struck with the raw and swollen appearance of his face, had compassionately asked him what was the matter. He had simply shaken his head, opened his lips, and pointed to his clenched teeth, signifying that he could not speak. He fell in with the waggons as they came along and passed through the gate without question. When a short distance away from the town he made signs to the driver of the last waggon, that if he would give him a lift in the cart he would pay for some drink. The carter nodded and told him to climb up. After they had gone four miles from the town, they came to a wayside inn.

"Now is the time, master, they are all going in to get some drink. There is no one about."

The waggons all stopped there, for there had been no opportunity for the drivers to obtain refreshments as they passed through the town. All therefore sauntered into the inn, their salutations to the host showing that they were accustomed to stop there. Paolo followed them i n, and putting down the money for a large jug of beer, handed it to the carter, and, shaking him by the hand, made a motion that he was going no farther. Then he went back to the end waggon. Hector had already pushed out the bags in front of him and had with great difficulty crawled out.

"It is all right, master, we have a good ten minutes; there is no one about, but you had better keep below the waggon rails until you have got your disguise on."

A couple of minutes sufficed for this, then Hector leapt to the ground, while Paolo replaced the sacks in their position; and then together they hurried across some twenty yards of broken ground and entered a wood.

"That was a capitally managed business, Paolo. Now we have to find our way across country. We cannot keep by the river, for it turns away to the south, and would take us far from the point we want to reach. At any rate, for a day or two we must travel at night, after that I think we can venture boldly along -- for it is not likely that the news that a prisoner has escaped will travel very far -- although no doubt a strict search will be kept up for a day or two. I think that for today we had better make our way north, keeping in the woods as much as possible; they are less likely to


Won by the Sword - 50/68

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