During the next few days the divisions intended to form the advance moved down towards the Niemen, which marked the frontier, and on the 24th of June three bridges were thrown across the river near Kovno, and the passage began. The French cavalry drove off the Cossacks who were watching the passage, and the same evening the Emperor established his headquarters at Kovno, and the corps of Davoust, Oudinot, and Ney crossed the bridges, and with the cavalry under Murat, composing altogether a force of 350,000 men, marched forward at a rapid pace on the 26th for Wilna, seventy-five miles distant. It was not until a few days before Napoleon crossed the frontier that the Russians obtained any definite information as to the force with which he was advancing, and their commander-in-chief at once saw that it would be hopeless to attempt to oppose so large a body. A great mistake had been committed in occupying a position so near the frontier, but when the necessity for retreat became evident, no time was lost in carrying it into effect, and orders were despatched to the commanders of the various armies to fall back with all speed. Thus, although the French accomplished the wonderful feat of marching seventy-eight miles in two days, which was done in the hope of falling upon the Russians before they had time to concentrate, they found the town already evacuated, and the whole of the immense magazines collected there destroyed.
WITH THE REAR-GUARD
"He's a bad un that, Master Frank, and I wish your brother had chucked him into that fire. A bit of burning might have done him good; and, if ever a chap deserved it, he did."
"What is it, doctor? I aimed at his hand. I hope it has not done any serious damage, except there." The latter was too busy to answer. "Bring the tourniquet," he said to Rankin, and as he ran off he looked up at the major.
"A terrible look-out, there is no denying it," Julian agreed. "It is impossible for the army to stay here without food, without forage, without shelter, with our communications threatened, and the Russian army on our flank. I see nothing for it but to retreat, and the sooner we are out of it the better. Were I the Emperor I would issue orders for the march to begin at daylight. In another month winter will be on us, and none can say what disasters may befall the army."
"I couldn't," the lad replied in a broken voice, "but I shall see you before you start."
Frank was a good deal surprised at first to see how much more difficult it was to hit a mark, even at the distance of twelve paces, than he imagined that it would be. Woodall would not allow him to take aim.
Julian had, in fact, been thinking so, but as he saw that unless he gave his promise he would have to remain in the cords that were cutting into his wrists, he at once took the required oath. Joe told the Frenchmen, and they then unfastened Julian's cords.
"Job himself would have lost his temper if he had been a revenue officer at Weymouth," Lieutenant Downes would exclaim angrily. "Why, sir, I would rather lie for three months off the mouth of an African river looking for slavers, than be stationed at Weymouth in search of smuggling craft, for a month; it is enough to wear a man to a thread-paper. Half the coast population seem to me to be in alliance with these rascals, and I am so accustomed to false information now, that as a rule when one of my men gets a hint that a cargo is going to be run near Swanage I start at once for the west, knowing well enough that wherever the affair is to come off it certainly will not be within ten miles of the point named. Even in Weymouth itself the sympathy of the population lies rather with the smugglers than the revenue men."
"The gracious countess is not well, little mistress, but when she knows that you are back, she will soon regain her health. His excellency, your father, is not ill, but he is sorely troubled. He has been away for a fortnight searching for news of you, and returned but last week. I don't know what his news was, but it was bad, for the countess has been worse since he returned."
Julian looked at the speaker as if unable to take in the sense of his words.下载
On the same day Tchichagow attacked in front with his army, but, animated by Napoleon's presence, and by despair, the French fought so fiercely that he was repulsed with much loss, and the way lay open to Wilna. The intensity of the cold increased daily, and the sufferings of the army were proportionately great. On the 5th of December Napoleon handed over the wreck of the army, now reduced to 45,000 men, to Murat; while the Viceroy was to have the chief command of the infantry.下载
"So you see, Count," he concluded, "the kindness that I had shown your child has already been repaid to me many fold. Not only did she save my life from the peasants, but I have no doubt that her pretty talk, and the occupation she offered to my thoughts, and her warmth as she nestled close to me at night, were the means of my retaining my strength to a far greater degree than was the case with most of my comrades, and enabled me to survive when so many dropped dead from cold and exhaustion."下载
"I have marched into a good many capitals," the old sergeant said. "I was with the first company that entered Madrid. I could never make out the Spaniards. At one time they are ready to wave their hats and shout "Viva!" till they are hoarse. At another, cutting your throat is too good for you. One town will open its gates and treat you as their dearest friends, the next will fight like fiends and not give in till you have carried the last house at the point of the bayonet. I was fond of a glass in those days; I am fond of it now, but I have gained wit enough to know when it is good to drink. I had a sharp lesson, and I took it to heart."