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HOME > Short Stories > Won by the Sword > CHAPTER XVI: AN ESCAPE
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 After being confined for a week in the prison at Kirchheim Hector was sent with a number of other prisoners to Ingolstadt. Here he was confined in the castle, a separate room being allotted to him in recognition of his rank, and Paolo was, at his request, allowed to remain with him. “I cannot but think, master, that we should have done better if you had given your parole not to try to escape. In that case we might have had comfortable quarters in the town instead of this somewhat bare chamber. If there had been a chance of escape it would have been different, but seeing the strength of the castle, methinks there is no prospect whatever of our being able to get out.”
“That remains to be seen, Paolo. I fancy there is always a chance of escape if one does but hit upon the right way. At present we know nothing of the castle or the vigilance of the guard, and no doubt it will take us some little time to find these matters out. The first thing we require is patience. No doubt they will allow me out to take exercise, and like enough, if I give my word that you will return every day at a certain hour, they will allow you to go in to the town, seeing that you can scarcely be called a prisoner, having no military rank or position, but being in their eyes only a lackey. If they will do that it will be a great step gained, for you will be able to bring in anything that we may require. However, I will not ask that you should be permitted to go in and out for some little time.
“Lose no opportunity of making yourself friendly with some of the soldiers, and if the chance should occur, be useful to any of the officers. The commandant is evidently disposed to be civil, and says that he will grant me any indulgence in his power short of passing the gates of the castle. I have no doubt that when the campaign is over and the army has gone into winter quarters Turenne will offer to exchange some prisoners of the same rank for me. But I have no wish to be cooped up here when perhaps a great battle may be fought. As far as I can see, the difficulty will not be so much in getting out of the castle, but out of the town itself, for this is one of the most strongly fortified places in the empire. One reason why I want you to go into the town is that you may be able to obtain shelter there for us should we find, as I expect we shall, that it is impossible for us to escape from the citadel and town at the same attempt.”
The place was indeed so strong that but a careless watch was kept over the prisoners in the castle. The soldiers were confined to their quarters save that they were allowed for an hour a day to take exercise in the courtyard, a company of troops being kept under arms while they were out; but the officers were free at all times to wander about. Hector was soon on friendly terms with many of the officers of the garrison, as in his case there was none of the hostile feeling with which the French officers were regarded. His youth, and the singularity of his having so soon attained the rank of colonel, also predisposed them in his favour. It was evident that this young soldier of fortune, unsupported by powerful family interest, must have distinguished himself in an altogether exceptional manner to have obtained the command of one of the best regiments of France.
Paolo was as popular among the sergeants and men as his master was with the officers. As an Italian, and as Hector's lackey, he was not regarded as a prisoner of war; and by his unfailing good humour, his readiness to enter into any fun that might be going on, or to lend a hand in cleaning accoutrements or completing a job that a soldier had left unfinished when his turn came for duty, he became quite a popular character. The colonel who commanded frequently walked with Hector in the courtyard, sent him dishes from his own table, and more than once invited him to dine with him. As he was very curious to learn how his young prisoner had so early attained his rank, Hector one evening gave him a sketch of his career, from the time when Turenne gave him his commission to that at which he was taken prisoner, omitting only the incident of the attempt to assassinate Mazarin.
“You have certainly been fortunate,” he said, “but it is equally certain that you have deserved it. The fact that, in addition to your military duties, you have learned Italian and German, besides transforming a newly raised regiment into one of the best in the French service, shows how assiduous you have been in your work. I trust that when the campaign is over you may be exchanged, and I think it is foolish of you not to give me your parole, for you must know well that you have no chance of escape from here.”
“They say everything comes to those who wait, colonel,” Hector laughed, “and if I see a chance I shall certainly avail myself of it. Even if no such chance comes I shall still be a gainer by not giving my parole. I am exceedingly comfortable as it is, and can wish for nothing better. The one drawback is that I have nothing to do, except perhaps to improve my German, and it would be just the same if I were living in the town. But if I were on my parole I should lose the amusement of planning methods for escape, which I do unceasingly; but up till now, I may tell you in confidence, I am as far from having hit upon a plan as I was when I entered. By the way, colonel, although it is clear that I cannot be allowed to go outside the castle gate, I should be glad if my lackey could be given leave to do so. He is not a soldier, neither is he a Frenchman, and can scarce be counted as a prisoner of war. He is a willing and cheerful fellow, and would enjoy a run in the city much more than I should. Besides, occasionally I may want a book or some other little thing which I cannot get here.”
“Such as a file, a rope, or a disguise, Colonel Campbell,” the commandant laughed.
“I am not thinking of that at present,” Hector said smiling. “Besides, you can give orders that he can always be strictly searched when he comes in.”
The colonel shook his head. “I will tell you what I will do,” he said; “I will let him have a pass to go in and out at will, if you will give me a promise, on your honour as a soldier, that he shall not bring in anything that can be used by you for facilitating your escape. I would much rather trust to your word than to any search the soldiers might make as your man comes in.”
“Thank you, colonel,” Hector said cheerfully, though at heart he felt considerably disappointed. “I give you my word of honour that he shall bring in nothing that may aid me in making my escape, and I am much obliged to you for letting him have the run of the town.”
The colonel at once wrote a pass authorizing Paolo Monti, lackey to Colonel Campbell, to enter and leave the castle at all times when the gates were open.
Paolo laughed when Hector told him the conditions on which the pass was granted.
“The commandant is a shrewd fellow, master, but he is not quite shrewd enough; he forgot that though I may bring in nothing myself I may be able to arrange with someone else to bring something in.”
“That flashed through my mind at once, Paolo; but at present neither file, rope, nor disguise would be of any use. However, they may be so later. The first thing for you to do when you get this pass will be to make yourself master of the plan of the town and the fortifications, and see if there is any place where you think an escape is possible. But even when you find one, and you think that it might be managed, you must afterwards find a place where I can be hidden for a time, at any rate for a few hours. You see, were I to go out in disguise I must do so in broad daylight, for my supper is served almost directly after the gates are closed; and were I missing there would be a search for me at once, the sentries on the wall would all be warned, and it would be impossible to get past them. If I could get out two or three hours before the gates are closed at nine o'clock I might, as soon as it became dark, attempt to get over the walls before the alarm was given, or I might possibly go out in the same disguise that I left here in, through the city gate and across the bridge.”
“I see that, sir, and it seems to me that this would be easier than trying to find a hiding place for you in the town. However, I will set my wits to work. I have been able to think of nothing in here; but one's eyes always help one's wits, and if I were in the town I might see something that would give me an idea how the matter might be set about.”
Day after day Paolo went into the town, always returning discouraged.
“I must be growing a downright numbskull,” he said one evening in disgust; “I have been three weeks at it and no single idea has come to me.”
“You need not be discouraged at that, Paolo; it's not such a simple thing to plan an escape from a fortress like this as it was to get into the citadel at Turin, where we also had the advantage of starting with disguises. I can no more think of a disguise in which I can pass the gates than you can. I am a good deal too tall to pass as a woman. My face is perfectly well known to every soldier in the castle, and even if we hit upon a disguise it would be very difficult to get it brought in. It struck me today that if I am to get out it must be in some vehicle that has come in with supplies.”
“That is a great idea, master; if I had not been a thick headed fool I should have thought of that before. But at the same time it will not be easy to manage.”
“I quite see that, Paolo; even if the driver were bought over it would be difficult indeed to manage to get into the cart with so many soldiers standing about.”
Paolo shook his head.
“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............
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