"After the invasion began I sent off several letters to the same effect, two by my own couriers, but owing to our army falling back so rapidly, I imagine that none of the letters ever reached the nurse. Of course, the whole postal communication of the country has been thrown into confusion. At last, two months ago, a messenger from Kieff brought me a letter from her making no allusion to those I had sent her, but saying that as she heard that the French army was at Moscow she felt sure I should wish her to bring Stephanie to us, and that, after a consultation with my steward, she would in three days start direct after sending off her letter. We were, of course, thunderstruck. She apparently had the idea that the whole of the French were at Moscow, and that it would, therefore, be perfectly safe to cross the roads between them and the frontier. The poor woman said that should they by any chance come across any body of her countrymen, she was sure that they would not interfere with a woman and child. Her anxiety seemed to relate solely to the weather and food, but she assured me that she would bring an abundance of wraps of all sorts, and a supply of provisions in the fourgon sufficient for the journey.
"It is a very sad business, a very sad business, Mr. Wyatt. Your brother is not at home, I hear?"
"We have a rough time before us, Jules," one of the veterans said. "I should not say as much to any of the youngsters, but your spirits seem proof against troubles. You see, in the first place, we know really nothing of what is going on. For the last four days we have heard the sound of cannon in the air. It is a long way off, and one feels it rather than hears it; but there has certainly been heavy and almost constant fighting. Well, that shows that there are Russians ahead of us. Never was I in a country before where we could get no news. It is all guess-work. There may be 50,000 Russians already between us and Davoust's division, and there may be only a handful of Cossacks. It is a toss-up. Nothing seems to go as one would expect in this country. We are at a big disadvantage; for the skill of our generals is thrown away when they are working altogether in the dark.
Followed by the village priest and the peasant they entered a room fitted as a library.
Barbarously as the French army behaved on its advance to Smolensk, things were even worse as they left the ruined town behind them and resumed their journey towards Moscow. It seemed that the hatred with which they were regarded by the Russian peasantry was now even more than reciprocated. The destruction they committed was wanton and wholesale; the villages, and even the towns, were burnt down, and the whole country made desolate. It was nothing to them that by so doing they added enormously to the difficulties of their own commissariat; nothing that they were destroying the places where they might otherwise have found shelter on their return. They seemed to destroy simply for the sake of destruction, and to be animated by a burning feeling of hatred for the country they had invaded.
All this time Julian was standing behind her, musket in hand, determined to sell his life dearly. The peasants stood irresolute; they conferred together; then one of them advanced, and took off his fur cap and bowed to the child.
The child nodded brightly. "You said it would all seem like a dream, Julian," she remarked presently, as they dashed swiftly down the broad street of the Nevsky, crowded with vehicles of all kinds, from the splendidly-appointed sledges, like their own, to the lumbering vehicles of the peasants piled up with firewood. "It almost seems like a dream already, and yet you know I was very comfortable with you."
The Emperor was greatly moved. However, the manner in which the general fulfilled the mission with which he was charged, and his assurances that the act of seeming insubordination and defiance of the imperial authority was in no way directed against him, but against his advisers, whom they believed to be acting in the interests of Napoleon, had their effect, and the Emperor promised to give the matter every consideration, and to answer him definitely on the following day. At the next meeting he gave Sir Robert his authority to assure the army of his determination to continue the war against Napoleon while a Frenchman remained in arms on Russian soil, and that, if the worst came to the worst, he would remove his family far into the interior, and make any sacrifice rather than break that engagement. At the same time, while he could not submit to dictation in the matter of his ministers, he could assure them that these should in no way influence him to break this promise.
"Of course it is. It is always a good thing for a fellow to serve on the staff. You have ten times as good a chance of getting mentioned in the despatches, as have the men who do all the fighting. Still, I have no doubt you will deserve any credit you may get, which is more than is the case nine times out of ten."