As sailors, the men were somewhat better able to support the dull hopelessness of their lives than others would have been. Most of them were handy in some way or other, and as they were permitted by the authorities to make anything they could, they passed much of their time in working at something or other. Some cut out and rigged model ships, others knitted, some made quilts from patches purchased for a trifle by the warders for them in the town, some made fancy boxes of straw, others carved walking-sticks, paper-cutters, and other trifles.
"Not at all," the Pole replied. "We are able to talk freely now, and it is very seldom that you are at a loss for a word. I can say conscientiously that you are now able to converse rapidly and well in it. I could not say that your writing leaves nothing to be desired. Having acquired it so much by ear and conversation, you are not perfect in your grammar or construction when you write it; but that is of little consequence. Sir Robert Wilson will naturally write in his own language, and is not likely to have despatches to send in Russian. You are quite fit to act as an interpreter to deliver messages, and to carry on any ordinary conversation. There is a report that there has been a duel this morning, and that an officer was carried through the town on a stretcher."
Julian looked at the speaker as if unable to take in the sense of his words.
Julian was instructed in the Russian words to reply if asked by any of the postmasters whether he was the Ivan Meriloff mentioned in the passport, and, on the day after the return of the priest, they started in a sledge filled with hay and covered with sheep-skins.
"Then he dismounted, and was coming to me, when his eye fell on El Chico. 'Sergeant,' he said to a non-commissioned officer,' take four men and march that fellow well outside the village, and then stand and watch him; and see that he goes on, and if he doesn't, shoot him.' Then he came over to me. 'It is well that I arrived in time, my lad,' he said in French.' How did you get into this scrape?'
"I have been thinking of nothing else all the night, Mr. Henderson. I put myself in Julian's position, and it seemed to me that, hearing a gun fired so close at hand, even if he did not hear a cry, Julian knowing how often the man had been threatened, might at once have run to the spot, and might have behaved just as Faulkner says he did. All that seemed to me simple enough; Julian's absence was the only difficulty, and the only way I could possibly account for it, was that he had followed the murderer."
Hitherto he had supposed that the man was keeping away from the cliff to avoid meeting any of the coast-guards who would be on duty there, but this change of direction puzzled him completely. Keeping his eye on the poacher, he saw him enter a small clump of bushes, from which he did not emerge. Julian at once slackened his pace down to a walk. It was likely enough that the man had noticed that he was being pursued, and had determined to rid himself of the pursuer. It was not a pleasant idea, that the fellow might now be kneeling among the bushes with his gun at his shoulder.
"'Monsieur le Colonel,' I said, 'I thank you from my heart. I should have felt disgraced for ever if I were to go into the camp unarmed. Now, I shall be able to go in with my head erect, and take my punishment for having got drunk, and failing to fall in at the assembly, like a man. On the honour of a French soldier, I swear that I shall for ever regard the English as the most generous of foes.'
"It does not matter to anyone, Wyatt. I am quite willing to grant it, but for all that, I am afraid, if you stick to it, you will have to put up with a great deal of chaff, and not always of a good-natured kind."
"The man with the hob-nailed boots is taking to the hills," the chief constable remarked.