"I can put up with any amount of chaff," Frank replied; "I mean chaff in its proper sense. Anything that goes beyond that, I shall, I hope, be able to meet as it deserves. Perhaps it would be better if I were to take half an hour a day off my Russian studies and to spend that time in the pistol-gallery."
"They got a good start of us, but we followed, and three nights after Talavera two companies of us were quartered for the night in the village right out on the flank of the line we were following. Well, I got hold of a skin of as good wine as ever I drank. Two or three of us stole out to enjoy it quietly and comfortably, and so thoroughly did we do it, that I suppose I somehow mistook my way back to my quarters, wandered aside, and then lay down to sleep. I must have slept soundly, for I heard neither bugle nor drum. When I awoke the sun was high, and there was a group of ugly-looking Spaniards standing near me. I tried to jump up on to my feet, but found that my arms and legs were both tied. However, I managed to sit up and looked round. Not a sign of our uniform was there to be seen; but a cloud of dust rising from the plain, maybe ten miles away, showed where the army had gone.
"It was not exactly for taking things easy, but for keeping up the men's spirits. Discipline was getting terribly relaxed, and they were losing their military bearing altogether. A lot of us non-commissioned officers were talking round a fire, and I suggested that we should start marching songs again as we used to do on our way through Germany. It would cheer the men up, get them to march in military order and time, and shorten the road. Ney and some of his staff happened to be within hearing, and he praised the idea much more than it deserved. However, the men took it up, and the effect was excellent. Other regiments followed our example, and there can be no doubt that, for a time, it did have a good effect. Ney reported the business to Napoleon, who issued an order praising the Grenadiers of the Rhone for the example they had set the army, bestowing the Legion of Honour on me, and ordering that henceforth marching songs should be sung throughout the army. However, singing was dropped at Smolensk. After leaving there we were reduced to such a handful that we had not the heart to sing, but it did its work, for I believe that the improvement effected by the singing in the morale of Ney's troops had at least something to do with our being able to keep together, and to lessen the fatigues of those terrible marches.
"'There are your fires, lad,' he said. 'I don't fancy there is any village between us and the spot where your people are encamped. However, as there is a moon, you will be able to avoid one if you come upon it; and seeing you are armed, any peasants you may meet will scarcely venture to attack you within musket-shot of your own lines. Here is a note I have written to the colonel of your regiment telling him of the plight I found you in, and expressing a hope that what you have gone through may be considered a sufficient punishment for your indulgence in too much wine. Good-night.'
Frank returned home in much better spirits than he had left. His aunt was standing at the window, and hurried to the door to let him in.
This conversation came back to Julian's memory, as he stood by the clump of bushes wondering what had become of the man that he had pursued, and it flashed upon him that the spot where he was standing could not be far from the smugglers' cavern, and that the entrance to this might very well be among these bushes. The man knew where that entrance was, and nothing was more likely than that he should make for it as a place of concealment until an opportunity occurred to get on board a lugger and cross the channel. It was a very likely place; men could come and go at night without risk of being seen or heard by any of the coast-guardsmen on the cliff, and would not be likely to encounter anyone within two or three miles of it. Years might pass without anyone happening to enter the bushes.
Julian was delighted with the brightness and gaiety of St. Petersburg, with its broad streets, its stately palaces, its fine cathedrals, and its busy population. The universal use of furs prevented the symbols of mourning being apparent, and, as they drove along in the luxurious equipage, even he, like the child, could scarce believe that the desperate fight at Smolensk, the even longer and more obstinate contest at Borodino, and the terrible scenes on the retreat, were realities. On his return to the palace, Julian understood the object of the Count in having taken him for a drive, for he found the armoires and wardrobes of his room crammed with garments of all descriptions.
"And no fools either," Julian replied, "considering the villainous way in which they have been harried. Even peasants have some feeling, and when they are treated like wild beasts they will turn. It seems to me that instead of ill-treating them we ought, with such a march as this before us, to have done everything in our power to show them that, although we were going to fight any armies that opposed us, we had no ill-feeling against the people at large. If they had found us ready to pay for everything we wanted, and to treat them as well as if they had been our own country people, there would have been no running away from us. Then, as we advanced we could have purchased an abundant supply of food everywhere. We should have had no fear as to our communications, and might have wandered a hundred yards outside our sentries without the risk of having our throats cut. However, it is of no use going over these arguments again. The thing has been done and cannot be undone, and we have but to accept the consequences, and make the best of them. A man who burns a wood mustn't complain a month afterwards because he has no fuel. However, I hope that in another day or two we shall be moving on. As long as we are going there is no time to feel it dull; it is the halt, after being so long in motion, that gives us time to talk, and puts fancies into our heads. We did not expect a pleasure excursion when we started."