Chapter XVI: An Escape
 

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 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 search for us in that direction than to the west."

They found that the forest was fully two leagues across, and agreed that it was unlikely in the extreme that any attempt would be made to search so extensive an area, where two men could anywhere conceal themselves. Paolo had on the previous afternoon placed a couple of loaves and some cold meat in the bundles, and they now sat down by a little stream and ate a hearty meal, then, crawling into a thick growth of underwood, they lay down to sleep and did not awaken until the sun was setting.

"There must be some country tracks through this forest, Paolo. We cannot do better than keep along the edge of the stream until we come to one and then follow it. It is sure, sooner or later, to take us to some small hamlet, and I can go into a cabaret and get a couple of flasks of wine and buy enough bread to last us until tomorrow, and perhaps a sausage, they are not likely to have any other meat in a place of that sort. My German is good enough to pass muster, and even if it sounds strange to their ears, they will merely suppose that I have come from a different part of the country, for the dialects differ greatly from each other."

As soon as it became quite dark they found it impossible to follow the rough ground, and after one or two falls had to stop. Hector said, "This won't do, we shall twist an ankle or break a bone if we go on."

"Shall we light a fire, master? I have brought flint and steel with me, for I knew that we should want it."

"No, it is better to run no risks; there may be a road near for aught we know, and if anyone passing saw a fire among the trees, he might come to see who had made it."

"Not he, master; there are too many robbers about, deserters from their army, or men who have been ruined by the war. You may be sure that if any belated villager had the courage to go through this forest by night he would, on seeing a fire, hurry on as fast as his legs would carry him."

"Well, no doubt you are right, Paolo; and though the night is warm enough the air is damp under this thick covering of leaves, and it will certainly be more cheerful. We will go a short distance among the trees before we light it."

Feeling their way -- for it was pitch dark in the forest -- they went on until Hector stumbled over a fallen trunk.

"This is the best place for a halt," he said, "for here is wood ready to hand. This tree has been lying here for years, I can feel that it is quite rotten."

Paolo set to work -- took a handful or two of the crumbling wood, broke it up into dust, then struck a spark on to the tinder, touched it with a slow match and inserted this into the little pile of wood; a minute's blowing and the flames sprang up. He drew out the slow match and putting his foot upon it placed it in his wallet, then he broke off some more wood and soon had a blazing fire.

"We have enough food left for supper, master, and if I spit some of this cold meat on the ramrod of one of my pistols and hold it over the fire it will be all the more tasty. I wish we had those flasks of wine that you were speaking of. It seems to me that after sleeping for some ten hours we shall find it hard to go off again for some time, even though neither of us got any sleep last night. How furious the governor will be when he finds that you have escaped!"

"He is a good fellow," Hector said, "and save that he will be annoyed -- because he will be blamed for my escape -- I do not think he will be sorry that I have got off. I left a note for him on the table saying that I was about to make my escape, but that on my honour I had not obtained anything that would aid me, by your assistance, and that you had never brought anything into the castle save what you showed on entering to the guards. I should not like him to think for a moment that I had broken my promise and taken advantage of his kindness. How does your face feel?"

"It is mightily sore, but it does not smart as it did at first. I can tell you that I was very glad when I was able to slip that great lump of tow out of my mouth as soon as I entered the forest."

"I don't think in future that you need use so large a wad, Paolo; half that size will be ample; and of course you need only slip it into your mouth when we are going through a village, or meet a party likely to question us. As to your cheek, it will be days before that fiery mark disappears."

They talked until nearly midnight, and then lay down and slept till four, by which time day had broken, for it was now the first week in July. After walking for half an hour along the edge of the wood, they came to a track issuing out of it. This they followed, and in about two hours saw a village in front of them.

"I will go in and buy the things that we want, Paolo, and do you make a circuit round it. If the news has reached them of our escape they will have been told to look for two men; and the entry of a single countryman will excite no suspicion, for of course no one will know what disguise we have chosen.

"Do not be anxious if I do not come along for half an hour. It will be more natural that I should call for bread and cheese and beer and eat them there; then I can say carelessly that I may as well take some with me to eat later on."

"You are early!" the owner of the cabaret said as Hector entered.

"I ought to have been earlier," he replied in a grumbling voice; "but it was so late before I reached the other side of the forest, that instead of passing through it I thought it best to wait till daybreak, for it would be desperately dark under the trees, and sometimes there are pretty rough fellows to be met with there; so I slept in a shed until an hour before daybreak and then started, and I lost no time in getting through it, I can tell you. What can you give me now?"

"The usual thing," the man said, shrugging his shoulders. "Bread and beer and black sausage."

"It might be worse," Hector said as he seated himself. The food was soon placed before him. He ate a hearty meal.

"I have a long way to go," he said when he had finished, "and as I am blessed with a good appetite it will not be long before I am hungry again. I suppose there is no one in the village that sells bread and sausage, so if you will let me I will buy a whole one from you and a couple of loaves."

"I will sell them to you willingly enough; but you will come to another village three miles on."

"I sha'n't be hungry enough by that time," Hector laughed. "Besides, I like to choose my own place and time and sit down by the wayside and eat my meal. One need never go very far without coming upon a stream; and though I like beer better than water, I can put up with it when there is nothing stronger to be had."

"Nothing but bread and sausage again, Paolo," Hector said as he joined his comrade a quarter of a mile beyond the village.

"And good enough too for a hungry man. I have often longed for such a meal in the days before you took me, in spite of all warning."

"And we have often done no better since, Paolo, when we have been on the march. Will you start on it now, or wait until we get to a stream?"

"I will hold on for a bit, master. This black bread is so hard that it needs a lot of washing down."

Making several detours to avoid villages, they walked all day, and towards evening came upon a main road running west.

"Unless I am mistaken in the line that I have taken, this must be the road through Eichstadt. I can see some towers ahead, and I have no doubt that they are those of the town. There is a bridge there across the Altmuhl. The river makes a loop at this point, and the road cuts across it to the northwest to Gunzenhausen, where there is another bridge. From there the road runs to Hall. Thence we can cross the Neckar, either at Heilbronn or Neckarsulm, and we are then in our own country, and but a short distance from either Spires or Philippsburg, where we shall be likely enough to meet Turenne advancing again, or shall at any rate learn where he is. We will lie up now and not cross the bridge until it gets dusk."

"I wish we had swords, master."

"Yes, but they would not suit our disguises. But when we get into the town I will buy two woodmen's axes and a couple of the long knives that all the peasants here carry. I fancy from what I heard when we were at Hall with Turenne that the country between Eichstadt and there is for the most part a great forest, and there are rough hills to pass before we get to Hall. It will be just as well to have some weapons that we can use with effect if we should come upon any bands of robbers."

"Quite so, master. A good axe is as good as a sword in a rough sort of fight; but is there not some way we can travel so as to avoid this great forest that you speak of?"

"Not without making a great detour, and that through a country where there will be bodies of Merci's troops quartered everywhere."

"Very well, master. Then I think that the risk will be less with the robbers, especially as we have not apparently much worth stealing upon us."

"Not only apparently, but really, Paolo. Fortunately my purse was pretty well filled when we were taken prisoners; but we spent a good deal at Ingoldstadt, principally in buying articles we could have done without, but which we got in order to give an excuse for your going into the town, and in these disguises and pistols. However, we shall not, I hope, require much more outlay; and after getting axes and knives we shall have enough to pay for our food, such as it is, for some time. However, there is certainly nothing in our pockets to tempt robbers."

"No, master; but if they searched you they would notice your clothes. They would show at once that you are a person of quality; and although, as you left your scarf behind you, they might not know that you are an officer, they would see that there was a mystery about you."

"That is true, and I think that perhaps it would be as well if both of us were to take off our own clothes when we get beyond the town tonight, and go on only in those you got for us. When we rejoin our friends we can get money and replace them."

"I have money with me, master," Paolo said. "I have had no occasion to spend aught for a long time, and have changed my wages as you paid them into gold, and have forty pistoles sewn up in the waistbelt of my breeches. I heard you say that it was always a good thing to carry a certain amount about with one in case of being taken prisoner or laid up wounded."

"It was a wise precaution, Paolo; but just at the present moment I would rather that you did not have it about you. However, I do not suppose we shall be interfered with. You may as well continue to wear your breeches under those you have outside, but leave your doublet when I change. After all, if you were to be searched the pistoles would show that we are not what we seem, unless we could make up some plausible tale as to how we came possessed of them."

"Oh, we could manage that easily enough, master! There are other ways of getting pistoles than by earning them."

Thus chatting they had crossed the bridge and were now entering Eichstadt. Going to a quiet cabaret they ate a hearty meal, and Hector afterwards bought the axes and knives, and they left the town just before the gates were closed. They had walked some miles when a thunderstorm, which had for some time been threatening, broke over them.

"We must get some shelter if we can," Hector said. "I see a light on ahead. Let us push on and take refuge before we are wet to the skin."

On reaching the house they saw that it was a wayside inn.

"We are in luck, Paolo," Hector said as he lifted the latch.

The door, however, was fastened, and on his knocking a voice asked, "Who is there at this time of night?"

"Travellers," Hector replied. "Come, open the door quickly or we shall be wet to the skin!" and he emphasized his words by kicking at the door. It was, however, a minute or two before it was opened, and Hector, who was becoming furious at this delay, had just taken his axe from his belt and was about to break the door in when it opened, and a man with a torch in one hand and a sword in the other stood on the threshold.