Mrs. Troutbeck was, as Julian had predicted, astounded upon the arrival of his baggage. "I never saw such a thing!" she exclaimed, as trunk after trunk was carried into the house. "That Russian count of yours, Julian, must be a little cracked, I should think. Why, my dear boy, if you were to get stout what in the world would you do with all these things?"
"That is true enough, Frank. I was a great ass in those days, but I think that now I have learnt something."
Just at this moment one of the sailors came down from the look-out above, and said that the signal had just been made from the offing, and that the lugger's boat would be below in a quarter of an hour. All prepared for departure; the lower door was unbolted, the lights extinguished, and they went down to the lower entrance. It was reached by a staircase cut in the chalk, and coming down into a long and narrow passage, at the further end of which was the opening Julian had seen from the sea. The party gathered at the entrance. In a few minutes a boat with muffled oars approached silently; a rope was lowered, a noose at its upper end being placed over a short iron bar projecting three or four inches from the chalk a foot or two inside the entrance.
"That I cannot say."
"He was certainly going straight in that direction, but whether intentionally or not I am unable to say."
In the attack on Smolensk 12,000 of Napoleon's best soldiers had fallen. Loubino cost him 6000 more, and although these numbers were but small in proportion to the total strength of his army, they were exclusively those of French soldiers belonging to the divisions in which he placed his main trust. It was now a question with him whether he should establish himself for the winter in the country he occupied, accumulate stores, make Smolensk a great dep?t that would serve as a base for his advance in the spring, or move on at once against Moscow. On this point he held a council with his marshals. The opinion of these was generally favourable to the former course. The desperate fighting of the three previous days had opened their eyes to the fact that even so great a force as that led by Napoleon could not afford to despise the Russians. The country that was at present occupied was rich. There were so many towns that the army could go into comfortable quarters for the winter, and their communications with the frontier were open and safe. It was unquestionably the safer and more prudent course.
"I owe fully as much to you as you owe to me, Strelinski," Frank said. "Putting aside the interest there has been in witnessing such mighty events, it has been a splendid thing for me in my profession. I shall be gazetted captain this week, while I am pretty sure of a brevet majority at the end of the next campaign, and of further employment in the same line afterwards."
The weather at first was fine. On the 24th the vanguard, under the Viceroy, came in contact with Doctorow's division, and a fierce fight took place near Malo Jaroslavets. The French were checked, and Kutusow, coming up with the main army, it was apparent to all, that the French vanguard could be overwhelmed and Napoleon's retreat brought to a standstill. But, just as the generals were all expecting the order to attack, Kutusow, whose previous conduct in entering into secret negotiations with Napoleon had excited strong suspicions of his good faith, announced that he had changed his mind, and ordered the Russian army to draw off, thus for a time saving the French from complete disaster.
"I cannot blame you, Mr. Wyatt. Yours is a singular and most unfortunate story, and it seems to me that, had I been in your place, I should have acted precisely the same, and should have been glad to take service under any flag rather than have remained to rot in a prison. Certainly you had a thousand times better excuse than had the Austrians and Prussians, who, after having been our allies, entered upon this savage war of invasion without a shadow of excuse, save that it was the will of Napoleon. However, I think that it will be as well, in order to save any necessity for explanation, that I should introduce you to my friends as an English gentleman who has come to me with the warmest recommendations, and whom I am most anxious to serve in any way. This is not a time when men concern themselves in any way with the private affairs of others. There is not a family in Russia, high or low, who has not lost one or more members in this terrible struggle. Publicly, and as a nation, we rejoice at our deliverance, and at the destruction of our enemies. Privately, we mourn our losses.