"He is big," Frank agreed, looking up at him. "I feel quite small beside him. He was always a great deal taller than I was, and he has grown a good bit since I saw him last. But he looks rather big for a nurse."
"Oh, that is nothing, Aunt; it will go off in a few days, and until it has I must either stay indoors or keep out of the town altogether."
The child repeated this to the peasants. One of them went into the hut, and looked round; and then securing Julian's musket, rejoined the others, who at once started across the snow, one of the party carrying Stephanie. On her telling them that she was hungry, some black bread was produced. She gave the first piece handed her to Julian, and then sat contentedly munching another. The peasants had now come to the conclusion that the capture would bring good fortune to them, and one of them took from the pocket of his sheep-skin caftan a bottle, which he handed to Julian. The latter took a drink that caused him to cough violently, to the amusement of the peasants, for it was vodka, and the strong spirit took his breath away after his long abstinence from anything but water. It did him good, however, and seemed to send a glow through every limb, enabling him to keep pace with the peasants. Their course lay north, and after four hours' walking they arrived at a good-sized village at the edge of a forest.
"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."
"Again a mere matter of opinion."
"He got me two years' imprisonment," the man said, "which to my mind was a good reason for shooting him when I got the chance; and another thing was he would never leave us alone, but was always on our heels. There are two or three men in prison now that he got sent there, and eight more are waiting their trial. He made war on us, and I have turned the tables on him.
Frank looked rather surprised.
Suddenly the voices hushed, and Julian was about to look round to see the cause of their silence, when a hand was laid on his shoulder, and, turning, he saw Ney standing beside him, with three or four of his staff. They had come up unobserved, and had stopped a few paces away just as Julian began to speak.
A portion of the French cavalry now made a desperate attempt to break through the Russian left, but two regiments of the Imperial Guard, throwing themselves into squares, maintained their position until five regiments of Russian cuirassiers came up and forced their assailants back. At this critical moment the great mass of Russian cavalry that had been sent round to attack the Viceroy fell upon his rear, drove his cavalry into the village with great loss, and pressed the infantry so hard that the Viceroy himself had to take refuge in one of his squares. Having thus succeeded in distracting the enemy's attention, arresting his tide of battle, and giving time to the Russians to reform and plant their batteries afresh, the Russian cavalry withdrew. The Viceroy recrossed the stream again, and prepared to make another attack upon the great bastion he had before captured, and the whole line again advanced. While the Viceroy attacked the great redoubt in front, Murat sent a division of his cavalry round to fall upon its rear, and, although swept by artillery and infantry fire, the brave horsemen carried out their object, although almost annihilated by the fire of the defenders of the redoubt.