In Honour’s Cause is a Webnovel created by George Manville Fenn.
This lightnovel is currently completed.
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Then, and then only, did he begin to think in the way a boy muses when his senses grow more and more awake. First of all he began to wonder why it was that the window was wide-open–not that it mattered, for the air was very cool and sweet; then why it was his bedroom looked so strange; then why it was that the blanket was close up to his face without the sheet; and, lastly, he sat up feeling that horrible sense of depression which comes over us like a cloud when there has been trouble on the previous day–trouble which has been forgotten.
For a moment or two he felt that he must be dreaming. But no, he was dressed, this was Captain Murray’s room, there was the door open leading into the chamber where Andrew Forbes lay, and yes–Then it all came with crushing force–he lay wounded after that mad attempt to escape, while the friend who had offered to sit with him and watch had calmly lain down and gone to sleep.
“Oh, it is monstrous!” panted the boy, as he threw the blanket aside, and stepped softly, and trembling with excitement, toward the chamber.
For now the dread came that something might have happened during the night, in despite of the doctor’s calm way of treating the injury.
The idea was so terrible that, as he reached the door, he stopped short, and turned a ghastly white, not daring to look in. But recalling now that he had heard his friend’s breathing quite plainly over-night, he listened with every nerve on the strain. Not a sound, till the lark burst forth again.
He hesitated no longer, but, full of shame and self-reproach for that which he could not help, he stepped softly into the room, and then stood still, staring hard at the bed, and at a blood-stained handkerchief lying where it had been thrown upon the floor.
For a few moments the lad did not stir–he was perfectly stunned; and then he began to look slowly round the room for an explanation.
The bed was without tenant. Had Captain Murray, or some other officer, come with a guard while he slept and taken the prisoner away?
Then the truth came like a flash:–
The window in the next room–it was open!
He darted back and ran to the window to thrust out his head and look down. Yes, it was easy enough; he could himself have got out, hung by his hands, and dropped upon the pavement, which would not have been above eight feet from the soles of his boots as he hung.
But the wound! How could a lad who was badly wounded in the arm manage to perform such a feat?
He must have been half wild, delirious from fever, to have done such a thing. No.
Fresh thoughts came fast now. It stood to reason that if Drew had been half wild with delirium he must have been roused; and he now recalled how coolly the doctor had taken the injury, and Captain Murray’s half-contemptuous manner, which he had thought unfeeling. Then, too, it was strange that Drew should have lain as he did, with his eyes tightly closed, just as if he were perfectly insensible, and never making the slightest sign when he had spoken to him.
For a few minutes Frank battled with the notion; but it grew stronger and stronger, and at last he was convinced.
“Then he was shamming,” he muttered indignantly, “pretending to be worse than he really was, so as to throw people off their guard, and then try again to escape.”
Once more he tried to prove himself to be in the wrong and thoroughly unjust to the wounded lad; but facts are stubborn things, and one after the other they rose up, trifles in themselves, but gaining strength as the array increased, and at last a bitter feeling of anger filled the boy’s breast, as he felt perfectly convinced of the truth that Drew had lain there waiting till he was asleep, and then, in spite of his wound, had crept out of the window, dropped, and gone.
But how could he? The sentries had stopped him before; why did they not do so at the second attempt?
And besides, there was the sentry just outside the door. Why had not he heard?
Frank went to the window again, and looked out, to find that it was not deemed necessary to place a guard over the guardroom and the officers’
quarters, save that there was one man at the main doorway, and this was beyond an angle from where he stood, while the next sentries were in the courtyard to his left, and the stable-yard, to his right. So that, covered by the darkness, it was comparatively an easy task to drop down unnoticed, though afterwards it was quite a different thing.
“Then he has gone!” said Frank softly; and he shrank away from the window, to stand thinking about how the lad could have managed to get away unseen by the sentries.
Thoughts came faster than ever; and he, as it were, put himself in his companion’s position, and unconsciously enacted almost exactly what had taken place. For Frank mentally went through what he would have done under the circ.u.mstances if he had been a prisoner who wished to get away.
He would have waited till all was still, and when the sentry at the door was pacing up and down, and his footsteps on the stone landing would help to dull any noise he made, he would slip out of the window, drop on to his toes, and then go down on all fours, and creep along close to the wall beneath the windows, right for the piazza-like place, and along beneath the arches, making not for either of the entrance gates, but for the private garden. There he would be stopped by the wall; but there was a corner there with a set of iron spikes pointing downward to keep people from climbing over, but which to an active lad offered good foot-and hand-hold, by means of which he felt that he could easily get to the top. From there he could drop down, go right across the garden to the outer wall, which divided it from the Park, and get on that somewhere by the help of one of the trees. Once on the top, he could choose his place, and crawl to it like a cat. Then all he had to do was to lower himself by his hands, and drop down, to be free to walk straight away, and take refuge with his friends.
“Oh, I could get out as easily as possible, if I wanted to,” muttered Frank. “Poor Drew! what’s to become of him now?”
Frank stood thinking still, and saw it all more and more plainly. Drew would know where his father was, and go and join him. And then?
Frank shuddered, for he seemed to see ruin and misery, and the destruction of all prospects for his friend; and, in spite of the indignation he felt against him for his deceit, his heart softened, and he muttered, as he turned to go once more into the bed-chamber:
“Poor old Drew! I did like him so much, after all.”
As the boy entered the bedroom something caught his eye on the dressing table, and he looked at it wonderingly. It was the book he had been reading in the other room; the book, he knew, was there on the table when he lay down. Could he have taken it into the bed-chamber? No, he was sure he had not. Besides, there was a pen laid upon it, and it was open at the fly-leaf. Frank panted with excitement, for there, written in his friend’s hand, were the words:
“_Good-bye, old Frank. We’ll shake hands some day, when I come back in triumph. I can’t forget you, though we did fall out so much.
You’ll be wiser some day. I can’t write more; my wound hurts so much.
I’m going to escape. If they shoot me, never mind; I shall have died like a man, crying, ‘G.o.d save King James_!’
The tears rose to Frank’s eyes, and he did not feel ashamed of them, as he closed the book and thrust it into his pocket.
“Poor old Drew!” he said softly; “he believes he is doing right, and it is, after all, what his father taught him. My father taught me differently, so we can’t agree.”
What should he do? He must speak out, and it could make no difference now, for Drew must be safe away. He did not like to summon the sentry, and he shrank too, for he felt that he might be accused of aiding in the escape; but while he was thinking he heard steps crossing the open s.p.a.ce in front, and glancing through the chamber window, he saw Captain Murray and the doctor coming toward the place.
The next minute their steps were on the stairs, the sentry challenged, the key rattled in the door, and the doctor entered first, to say jocularly as Frank advanced from the chamber:
“Morning, Gowan. Wounded man’s not dead, I hope.”
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.
IN MORE HOT WATER.
Frank gazed sharply at the doctor, but remained silent, his countenance being so fixed and strange that Captain Murray took alarm.
“Hang it, Frank lad, what’s the matter? Why don’t you speak?”
He did not wait to hear the boy’s answer, but rushed at once into his bed-chamber and returned directly.
“Here, what is the meaning of this?” he cried. “Where is young Forbes?”
“Gone, sir,” said Frank, finding his voice.
“Gone? What do you mean?”
“I sat up watching him till I could not keep my eyes open. Then I lay down, and when I awoke this morning the window was open, and he had escaped.”
“Impossible!” cried Captain Murray angrily.
“Humph! I don’t know so much about that, Murray,” said the doctor, after indulging in a grunt. “The young rascal was gammoning us last night, pretending to be so bad.”
“But there was no deceit about the wound.”
“Not a bit, man; but he was making far more fuss about it than was real.
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