"Yes, they were," Julian said. "I have a guinea and some odd silver. I will keep the odd silver for the present, for it may come in handy later on; but here is the guinea, and if there are any means of getting anything with it, order what you like."
On the 6th of November a bitter frost set in, and the soldiers awoke chilled to the bone, and with gloomy anticipations of what would happen when the full rigour of a Russian winter was upon them. In some respects the frost was an advantage, for it hardened the roads, that were before often almost impassable from the amount of heavy traffic that had passed over them. But, upon the other hand, floating masses of ice speedily covered the rivers, rendering the work of fording them painful and difficult in the extreme. A Russian division had, on the 3rd, pressed hotly on the retreating column just as they reached the Wiazma river. A sanguinary conflict took place, the corps of the Viceroy passed through the town on its banks, and crossed the river in fair order, but that of Davoust broke and crossed in great confusion, covered by Ney's division, which retreated steadily, facing about from time to time, and repulsing the infantry attacks, but suffering heavily from the artillery. Ney set the town on fire to cover his retreat, crossed the bridges, and there stemmed the further advance of the Russians.
"It is a very painful matter, Mr. Wyatt; but it is useless trying to hide the truth from you, for you must know it shortly. I hold a warrant for your brother's arrest on the charge of attempted wilful murder."
The solicitor sat down. Then the chairman asked the witness if any arms were found on the prisoner.
"I have a flask," the major replied. "I will get it for you at once."
"I firmly believe that it was so."
For an hour the Russians held their advanced works, and then were forced to fall back; and the French, following up their advantage, crossed a ravine and occupied the village of Semianotsky, which had been partially destroyed on the previous day by the Russians, so that if captured it would afford no cover to the French. It was but for a short time that the latter held it. Coming up at the head of his grenadiers, Touchkoff drove them out, recrossed the ravine, and recaptured the advance works they had before so obstinately contested. In turn the French retook the three redoubts; but, again, a Russian division coming up wrested the position from them, and replanted their flag there. Napoleon, seeing that no impression could be made on the Russian left, now sent orders to the Viceroy to carry the great redoubt before Gorki. In spite of the difficulties presented by the broken ground, the three French divisions pressed forward with the greatest gallantry, and, heedless of the storm of grape poured upon them, stormed the redoubt. But its late defenders, reinforced by some battalions from Doctorow's corps, dashed forward to recover the position, and fell with such fury upon the French that the regiment that had entered the redoubt was all but annihilated, and the position regained, while at the same moment two regiments of Russian cavalry fell upon reinforcements pressing forward to aid the defenders, and threw them into disorder.
Frank landed with Captain Downes. Taking a trap they drove to the magistrate's, where fortunately they found Mr. Henderson, who had gone up to arrange for the examination of the prisoners. Both were greatly pleased when, on the letter being opened, it was found to contain a full confession of the murder, attested by a French magistrate, and corroborating in every respect the facts contained in Julian's letter, and as proved by the evidence given at the coroner's inquest. "I will give this letter to the Weymouth paper to insert," Colonel Chambers said, "and will send copies to the London papers, with a few lines recalling the facts of the murder and the proofs that had accumulated of Markham's share in it, and which show beyond all doubt the bona-fides of the confession."
"It was to his suggestion when I first joined, Julian, and to nearly a year's steady work on my part. He got me gazetted into his old regiment, the 15th Light Dragoons, and at the same time told me that if, as was already anticipated, Russia broke off her alliance with Napoleon, he was likely to be offered his former position of British commissioner at the Russian headquarters. He said that if by the time that came off I had got up Russian, he would apply for me to go with him, so I got hold of a Russian Pole in London, a political exile, a gentleman and an awfully good fellow. I took him with me down to Canterbury, where our dep?t was, and worked five or six hours a day with him steadily, so that when, at the outbreak of war, Sir Robert got his appointment he was able to apply for me upon the ground, that I had a thoroughly good colloquial knowledge of Russian."
"He would, too, act as my secretary. It may possibly be a year before Napoleon's preparations are completed; but even in a year I should hardly be justified in choosing so young an officer from my old regiment, unless he had some special qualifications for the post. Now, for your father's sake, Frank, and because I like you and feel sure that you are just the man I require, I should like to take you, but could not do so unless you had some special knowledge that I could urge as a reason for applying for you. There is only one such qualification that I know of, namely, that you should be able to speak the Russian language. When I spoke to you about learning French and German I did so on general principles, and not with a view to this, for it did not seem to me that I could possibly select you to go with me on this service; but I have since thought it over, and have come to the conclusion that I could do so, if you did but understand Russian. It is a most difficult language, and although I can now get on with it fairly after my stay out there, I thought at first I should never make any headway in it. It would, therefore, be of no use whatever for you to attempt it unless you are ready to work very hard at it, and to give up, I should say, at least four hours a day to study."
"We have a bad prospect before us," Julian went on. "There is no denying that; but it will make all the difference how we face it. Above all things we have got to keep up our spirits. I have heard that the captains of the whalers in the northern seas do everything in their power to interest and amuse their crews. They sing, they dance, they tell stories of adventures, and the great thing is to keep from brooding over the present. I am but a young sergeant, and most of you here have gone through many a campaign, and it is not for me to give advice, but I should say that above all things we ought to try to keep up the spirits of our men. If we could but start the marching songs we used to sing as we tramped through Germany, it would set men's feet going in time, would make them forget the cold and hunger, and they would march along erect, instead of with their eyes fixed on the ground, and stumbling as if they could not drag their feet along. We should tell them why we sing, or they might think it was a mockery. Tell them that the Grenadiers of the Rhone mean to show that, come what may, they intend to be soldiers to the last, and to face death, whether from the Russians or from the winter, heads erect and courage high. Let us show them that, as we have ever done our duty, so we shall do it to the end, and that it will be a matter of pride that throughout the division it should be said, when they hear our songs, 'There go the Grenadiers of the Rhone, brave fellows and good comrades; see how they bear themselves.'"
Smolensk, a town of considerable size, on the Dnieper, distant 280 miles from Moscow, was surrounded by a brick wall thirty feet high and eighteen feet thick at the base, with loopholed battlements. This wall formed a semicircle of about three miles and a half, the ends resting on the river. It was strengthened by thirty towers, and at its forts was a deep dry ditch. The town was largely built of wood. There were no heavy guns upon the walls, and the city, which was completely commanded by surrounding hills, was in no way defensible, but Barclay de Tolly felt himself obliged to fight.