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"Certainly," Frank agreed; "he ran up to the hedge and then turned. Why should he have done that?"
"They tried kicking and punching me with their guns, but finding that I was obstinate, one of them called to a woman down by the village to bring some water. I drank pretty near a bucketful, and then said I was ready to go on. We went up the hill and then on some ten miles to a village standing in the heart of a wild country. Here I was tied to a post. Two of them went away and returned in a few minutes with a man they called El Chico. I felt before that I had not much chance, but I knew now that I had none at all, for the name was well enough known to us as that of one of the most savage of the guerilla leaders. He abused me for ten minutes, and told me that I should be burnt alive next morning, in revenge for some misconduct or other of a scouting party of ours. I pointed out that as I was not one of that scouting party it was unfair that I should be punished for their misdeeds; but, of course, it was of no use arguing with a ruffian like that, so he went away, leaving me to my reflections.
"I lost my way, and was found by a lot of peasants, who would have made very short work of me, but the child stepped forward like a little queen and told them that she was the Countess of Woronski, and that her father was a friend of the Czar's, and that if they sent us to him they would get a great reward. Thinking that it was good enough, they took us to their village and dressed me up in peasant's clothes, and kept us there a fortnight. Then the head man and the village Papa came with us here by post. The child's father and mother had given her up as dead, and their gratitude to me is boundless. It has been deemed unadvisable to say anything about my ever being with the French, and I am simply introduced by the count as an English gentleman whom he regards as his very dear friend. I sent letters home to you and Aunt a fortnight since, and if I had heard that the charge of murder was still hanging over me I should probably have remained here for good. The count has already hinted that there is an estate at my disposal. He is as rich as Cr?sus, and he and the countess would be terribly hurt if I were to refuse to accept their tokens of gratitude. They have no other child but Stephanie, and she is, of course, the apple of their eye."
"Would you go so far as to say that you would consider it to be a disgraceful and cowardly act?"
"Yes, Jules, that is what is vexing us, that everyone runs away at our approach."