"She is not in yet," Bill said. "She would not start until daylight; and I don't suppose she will be round for another two hours. You see she is not clear of Portland Bill yet."
After the meal was over, Frank gave the details of the examination, the narrative being very frequently stopped by exclamations and questions on the part of Mrs. Troutbeck.
"I don't know, Julian," the boy said sturdily; "you are not looking half as well as you used to do. I am sure late hours don't suit you, and there is no good to be got out of billiards. I know the sort of fellows you meet there are not the kind to do you any good, or that father would have liked to see you associate with if he had been alive. Just ask yourself honestly if you think he would. If you can say 'yes,' I will shut up and say no more about it; but can you say 'yes'?"
"I have no wish not to go with the rest," Frank protested. "When there is anything to be done, whether it is hunting or any sort of sport, I shall certainly take my share in it; but don't you think yourself, Captain Lister, that it is much better for a fellow to spend part of his time reasonably than in lounging about, or in playing billiards or cards?"
"Lastly, although the Russians are discontented at their continued retreat, their morale does not seem to have suffered in any way, and it is probable that the long marches, the inability to bring on a general engagement, the distance from home, and the uncertainty about the future has told heavily upon that of the French, who are vastly more susceptible to matters of this kind than are the Russians. You will remain with the headquarter staff, and I wish you, while I am away, to obtain accurate details of the movements of the various columns, and to write a full report every evening of the march and of all matters of interest. I do not want you to forward these to me, but to keep them for future reference. I hope to rejoin before any further fighting takes place."
"It is horrible to see a fellow like you wasting your life as you do, Julian. If you don't care for the army, why don't you do something else? I should not care what it was, so that it but gave you something to occupy yourself, and if it took you out of here, all the better. You know that you are not doing yourself any good."
As soon as the Russian army had repulsed the attacks of the French and resumed its march towards Moscow, Sir Robert Wilson left it and proceeded to St. Petersburg, where he had promised the Russian generals to inform the Czar of the opinion and disposition of the army, their dissatisfaction with the general, and their determination to continue the combat and to refuse to recognize any negotiations or armistice that might be made with the enemy.
A few of the sailors tossed off their allowance without water, but most of them took it half and half, so as to make it go further. Undoubtedly if the warder would have sold more than one allowance to each man the whole of the guinea would at once have been laid out, but he was firm on this point. Soon afterwards the prisoners' dinner was brought in. It consisted of a slice of black bread to each man and a basin of very thin broth, and Julian was not surprised at the hungry look that he had noticed on the men's faces.
As the army approached the Berezina, scarce a hundred men of the Grenadiers of the Rhone still hung together, and these were so feeble that they staggered rather than marched along. Rations had ceased to be issued, and the troops depended solely upon the flesh of the horses of the waggons conveying the military chests, treasure, and artillery, and from what they could gather in the deserted villages. So desperate were they now that even the fear of falling into the hands of the peasants was insufficient to deter them from turning off, whenever a village appeared in sight, in the hope of finding food, or, if that failed, at least a few hours' shelter. Not one of them was in such good condition as Julian, who had been sustained not only by his naturally high spirits, but by the prattle of the child, and by the added warmth of her sleeping close to him at night.