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The Girl's Own Paper, Vol. XX. No. 1003, March 18, 1899

The Girl's Own Paper, Vol. XX. No. 1003, March 18, 1899
Author: Various
Title: The Girl's Own Paper, Vol. XX. No. 1003, March 18, 1899
Release Date: 2018-08-07
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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“OUR HERO.”

By AGNES GIBERNE, Author of “Sun, Moon and Stars,” “The Girl at the Dower House,” etc.

“PUTTING UP THE PONY AND CART ATA WAYSIDE INN.”

All rights reserved.]

{386}

CHAPTER XXV.

ROY BARON A FUGITIVE.

On theedge of alittle clearingin thecentre of the woodstood a smallsquare charcoal-burner’scottage,built of stone.Near behind might be seen a good-sizedouthouse or woodhouse; and to one sidewas the pile of slowly-burning charcoal.Round and about were heaps of unsightlyrubbish and of blackened moss.

Nobody seemed to be within or athand. Jean opened the cottage doorwithout difficulty; and when they hadpassed through, he bolted it in theirrear.

Then in the darkness he found hisway to a corner, struck a light with flintand steel, made a “dip” to burn, andgroped anew. The one window wasclosely shuttered.

Roy flung himself upon a smallbench, glad to get his breath, andwatched the other’s doings curiously.

“Are we to stop here?” he asked.“But if the gendarmes come?”

“We must circumvent them,M’sieu.”

“How? What are you going todo?”

Jean was too busy to reply. He produceda blouse, such as would be wornby a French labouring lad, with shirtand trousers to match, and broughtthem to Roy. “M’sieu must changehis clothes,” he said. “Rest afterwards.”

“All right,” once more assented Roy,though the cottage was swimming andhis ears were buzzing with fatigue. Hestood up, and promptly divested himselfof what he wore, to assume a differentguise. Jean brought from the samecorner a small bottle of dark liquid,which he mixed with a little water in abasin, and then dyed Roy’s hair andeyebrows, thereby altering his look tosuch an extent that even his mothermight almost have passed him by. Roylaughed so much under this operation,as to discompose the operator.

“Tenez, M’sieu! Taisez-vous, donc,s’il vous plait! M’sieu, I entreat. Iassure Monsieur it is no matter forlaughter.”

“If you knew what it is tobe free again, you’d laughtoo,” declared Roy, and thenhis merriment passed into abig yawn. “But I’m awfullysleepy.”

“Deux minutes, and Monsieurshall rest. Monsieur ishungry.”

Monsieur undoubtedly was,though the craving to lie downwas even greater than thecraving to eat. Jean handedhim a hunch of bread andcheese and a glass of milk;and while Roy was occupiedwith the same, he proceededto array himself in holidaycostume. He donned an oldand shabby but once gorgeouscoat, with standing collar andgay buttons, which, as he informedRoy, had many long years beforebeen the best holiday coat of his esteemedgrandfather.

“I go to the wedding of my niece,”he remarked, with so much satisfactionthat, for a moment, Roy really thoughthe meant it. “Does Monsieur perceive?And Monsieur will be the boy—Joseph—whogoes with me in the little cart.”

“But where is the little cart?”

“All in good time, M’sieu. Now wehave for the moment to get rid of thesethings.”

Jean rolled the discarded clothes intoa bundle, with which he disappeared outof the cottage for a few minutes. Royconjectured that he might have buriedit in the bushes, or under heaps of blackrubbish, abundance of which lay readyto hand. Jean then took Roy into theouthouse, which was more than two-thirdsfull of heavy logs and faggotsof wood—the winter supply—piledtogether.

“Am I to get underneath all that,Jean?”

“Oui, M’sieu. The gendarmes willnot easily find you there.”

“And you too?”

“Non, M’sieu. I betake myself tothe soupente.”

The soupente in a French cottage isa kind of upper cupboard, a smallcorner cut off from the one room, nearthe ceiling, descending only half-wayto the ground, and reached by a ladder.

“And if they find you there——”

“M’sieu, if they find me, they will notknow me—see, in this dress! I am notlike the Jean who chopped wood atBitche. And I hope then to draw theirattention from M’sieu! Voyez-vous?”

Roy wrung his hand. “I don’t knowwhat makes you so good to me,” theboy said huskily. “I—I don’t thinkit’s fair upon you, though. And—Ican’t think why!”

“It is not difficult to tell M’sieuwhy!” Jean looked abstractedly atthe roof of the wood-hut. “It is for thesake of my mother—for the sake of thatkind Monsieur le Capitaine, who wouldnot leave her unhappy. Does M’sieuremember—how Monsieur le Capitaineregarded my mother that day?”

Roy remembered—and understood.

“Now, Monsieur! We may not losetime. The light grows fast.”

Jean pulled down and hauled asidelogs and masses of wood, making a kindof little cave or hollow far back, whereRoy could creep in and lie close to thewall. Jean wrapped round him an oldcoat, for warmth; and then, when hehad laid himself down, threw lightblack rubbish over him as an additionalsecurity, before carefully heaping upanew the logs and faggots, till not thefaintest sign remained of any humanbeing beneath. Jean did his utmost todeface all tokens that the wood-pile hadbeen disturbed.

“M’sieu must lie still,” he said.“On no account must M’sieu move orspeak. If by chance I should have togo away, M’sieu must wait till nightfall,when the cart will come to takeM’sieu elsewhere.”

“But I say, Jean—you must not getinto trouble for me,” called Roy, hisvoice sounding far and muffled.

“Bien, M’sieu. Trust Jean to dohis best. Can M’sieu breathe easily?”

“Rather stuffy, but it’s all right.”

“Au revoir, M’sieu. I go to thesoupente. M’sieu will remain in thebûcher, till I or my friend come again.”

Then silence. Jean returned to thecottage, where he rinsed the basin whichhad been used for dyeing purposes, putthings straight, unbolted the front door,climbed up into the little soupente,drawing the ladder after him, and therelaid himself flat, under a pile of looserubbish. Soon he was or pretended tobe asleep.

Roy’s sleep was no pretence. Despitehis hard bed, and the “stuffiness” ofthe limited atmosphere which he had tobreathe, despite fear of gendarmes andrisks of discovery, he was very soonpeacefully sound asleep, and knew nomore for the next two hours.

Something roused him then. In amoment he was wide awake; his heartthumping unpleasantly against his side.

The gendarmes had come.

Roy of course could see nothing; hecould only hear; and he heard a gooddeal more than might have been expectedfrom his position, since hissenses were quickened by the exigencyof the moment. Also, the men made agood deal of noise, after the manner ofgendarmes. Roy imagined that threeor four of them must be there.

They made their way first into thecottage, surprised to find the door onthe latch, and nobody within. The factof finding the door thus tended to allaytheir suspicions, as Jean had hoped.On the face of matters, nothing wasless probable than that fugitives hidingwithin should not so much as havedrawn the bolt. They walked roundthe one room, knocking things abouta little. One of them looked vaguelyabout for a ladder, but seeing nonehe did not trouble himself further as tothe soupente.

Then they left the cottage, andentered the bûcher, where the woodwas solidly and firmly piled together,as for the winter’s use. No signs hereof human life. Roy below the pile laymotionless, every faculty concentratedinto listening. One of the men kickeddown a few faggots, and another pulled{387}at a log. To Roy it sounded as if theywere making their way to where hewas. But the search stopped at last,after what seemed to Roy a small centuryof suspense, and they took themselvesoff. He heard them mount their horsesand trot away.

“Safe!” murmured Roy, and in hisheart there was a fervent “ThankGod!” not spoken in words.

He wondered whether Jean wouldcome to him; but Jean remainedabsent; and Roy obeyed orders, stayingwhere he was. Presently hedropped asleep again, and rememberednothing more for hours.

How many hours he had no means ofknowing. Where he lay, he was inpitch darkness. When he woke, hehad the consciousness which we oftenhave after sleep, of a considerable timehaving elapsed; but whether it wasnow morning or afternoon or eveninghe could not even guess. He onlyknew that he was growing frightfullyweary of his constrained position, longingto get out and exert himself. Tosleep more was not possible. Hewaited, minute after minute, wonderingif the long slow day would ever cometo an end. At length a voice sounded—

“M’sieu!”

“All right,” called Roy.

“Can M’sieu wait a little longer? Ihope to get Monsieur out soon—afterdark. It is not safe before then.”

“I’ll wait, Jean. Only as soon aspossible, please.”

“Oui, M’sieu.”

Jean disappeared anew. Roy put aquestion, and had no answer. He waswildly hungry, but there was nothing tobe done except to endure.

The wisdom of Jean’s caution becameapparent. Before darkness settled downthe same party of gendarmes againgalloped up and sprang to the ground.They walked as before through cottageand shed, once more kicking the furnitureabout. This time one of them found theladder, went up it, and stepped inside thesoupente; but Jean had betaken himselfto another hiding-place outside thecottage, and the search bore no fruit.The men entered the wood-hut again,in a perfunctory manner, knockingdown a log or two carelessly, and usingone to another rough language as tothe escaped prisoner, which boded nogentle treatment for Roy should he fallinto their clutches. Then they vanished,and silence settled down anew upon thescene.

“Not likely to come again, I hope,”murmured Roy. “O I am tired ofthis!”

One more hour he had to endure; andthen came the welcome sound of Jeanremoving the wood-piles.

“Can M’sieu stand?” asked Jean.

Roy crept out slowly, made the effort,and fell flat. Jean pulled him up, andheld him on his feet.

“All right, I’m only stiff,” declaredRoy. “They won’t come back, Isuppose.”

“Non, M’sieu.”

“Why, it’s night, I declare! Beenso dark in there, I didn’t know thedifference between night and day.There, now I can walk.” Roy managedto reach the cottage on his own limbsunassisted. “What a desperately longday it has been.”

“M’sieu has found it wearying, sansdoute.”

“But as if that mattered! As ifanything mattered—only to get awaysafely!” Roy said energetically.“Jean, you are a good fellow! Isthis for me to eat? I’m as hungry asa bear! Jean, I shall always thinkbetter of Frenchmen for your sake.”

“Yet M’sieu will doubtless fight usone day.”

“I shall fight Buonaparte, not theFrench nation. I like some of yourpeople awfully—some at Fontainebleau,and some at Verdun. And Mademoisellede St. Roques most of all.”

“Oui, M’sieu. M’sieu had bettereat.”

“All right, I’m eating, and you musttoo. Oh, lots of French have been asgood and as kind to us détenus as theypossibly could be. And I only knowone single lodging-house keeper whobehaved like a brute. Most of themhave been just the other way. Why,they have kept on lodgers month aftermonth, out of sheer kindness, when theycouldn’t pay anything because no moneyreached them from England. I knowall that! And I like the French—onlynot Boney!”

Jean smiled to himself.

“Cependant, M’sieu, the army of theEmperor is made of French soldiers.”

“Can’t help that,” retorted Roy.“And they can’t help it either, poorfellows—most of them. I say, thischeese is uncommonly good. Wheredid you manage to hide it away, so asto keep it from the gendarmes? Jean,were you long at Bitche? Tell meabout it.”

Jean was cautious. He evidentlypreferred not to enter into details. Itwas better for Roy’s own sake that heshould not know too much. It seemed,however, that on Jean’s arrival atBitche, he had found one of the gendarmesto be an old acquaintance; andthrough this gendarme, not through hissoldier-friend, he had obtained a temporarypost in the fortress. A man whodid rough work, chopping and carryingwood and so on, had fallen ill and hadgone home for a fortnight to a neighbouringvillage. Meanwhile, Jean wasallowed to undertake his work.

This gave Jean a good opportunity tostudy the fortress and to make himselfacquainted with the surrounding country.He did not fully explain to Roy thematuring of his plans during that fortnight,nor precisely what those planshad been. The careful manner in whichhe avoided speaking of his soldier-friendmade Roy pretty sure that the saidfriend had had some sort of hand inaiding his escape;

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