G. A Henty
Through Russian Snows: A Story of Napoleon's Retreat from Moscow
There are few campaigns that, either in point of the immense scale upon which it was undertaken, the completeness of its failure, or the enormous loss of life entailed, appeal to the imagination in so great a degree as that of Napoleon against Russia. Fortunately, we have in the narratives of Sir Robert Wilson, British commissioner with the Russian army, and of Count Segur, who was upon Napoleon's staff, minute descriptions of the events as seen by eye-witnesses, and besides these the campaign has been treated fully by various military writers. I have as usual avoided going into details of horrors and of acts of cruelty and ferocity on both sides, surpassing anything in modern warfare, and have given a mere outline of the operations, with a full account of the stern fight at Smolensk and the terrible struggle at Borodino. I would warn those of my readers who may turn to any of the military works for a further history of the campaign, that the spelling of Russian places and names varies so greatly in the accounts of different writers, that sometimes it is difficult to believe that the same person or town is meant, and even in the narratives by Sir Robert Wilson, and by Lord Cathcart, our ambassador at St. Petersburg, who was in constant communication with him, scarcely a name will be found similarly spelt. I mention this, as otherwise much confusion might be caused by those who may compare my story with some of these recognized authorities, or follow the incidents of the campaign upon maps of Russia.
Yours sincerely,G.A. HENTY.
When Colonel Wyatt died, all Weymouth agreed that it was a most unfortunate thing for his sons Julian and Frank. The loss of a father is always a misfortune to lads, but it was more than usually so in this case. They had lost their mother years before, and Colonel Wyatt's sister had since kept house for him. As a housekeeper she was an efficient substitute, as a mother to the boys she was a complete failure. How she ever came to be Colonel Wyatt's sister was a puzzle to all their acquaintances. The Colonel was quick and alert, sharp and decisive in speech, strong in his opinions, peremptory in his manner, kindly at heart, but irascible in temper. Mrs. Troutbeck was gentle and almost timid in manner; report said that she had had a hard time of it in her married life, and that Troutbeck had frightened out of her any vestige of spirit that she had ever possessed. Mrs. Troutbeck never argued, and was always in perfect agreement with any opinion expressed, a habit that was constantly exciting the wrath and indignation of her brother.
The idea of controlling the boys never once entered her mind. So long as the Colonel was alive there was no occasion for such control, and in this respect she did not attempt after his death to fill his place. It seemed, indeed, that she simply transferred her allegiance from the Colonel to them. Whatever they did was right in her eyes, and they were allowed to do practically whatever they pleased. There was a difference in age of three years and a half between the brothers; Julian at the time of his father's death being sixteen, while Frank was still a few months short of thirteen. Casual acquaintances often remarked that there was a great likeness between them; and, indeed, both were pleasant-looking lads with somewhat fair complexions, their brown hair having a tendency to stand up in a tuft on the forehead, while both had grey eyes, and square foreheads. Mrs. Troutbeck was always ready to assent to the remark as to their likeness, but would gently qualify it by saying that it did not strike her so much as it did other people.
"Their dispositions are quite different," she said, "and knowing them as I do, I see the same differences in their faces."
Any close observer would, indeed, have recognized it at once. Both faces were pleasant, but while Julian's wore an expression of easy good temper, and a willingness to please and to be pleased, there was a lack of power and will in the lower part of the face; there was neither firmness in the mouth nor determination in the chin. Upon the other hand, except when smiling or talking, Frank's lips were closely pressed together, and his square chin and jaw clearly indicated firmness of will and tenacity of purpose. Julian was his aunt's favourite, and was one of the most popular boys at his school. He liked being popular, and as long as it did not put him to any great personal trouble was always ready to fall in with any proposal, to take part in every prank, to lend or give money if he had it in his pocket, to sympathize with any one in trouble.
"He has the most generous disposition of any boy I ever saw!" his aunt would frequently declare. "He's always ready to oblige. No matter what he is doing, he will throw it aside in a moment if I want anything done, or ask him to go on an errand into the town. Frank is very nice, he is very kind and all that sort of thing, but he goes his own way more, and I don't find him quite so willing to oblige as Julian; but then, of course, he is much younger, and one can't expect a boy of twelve to be as thoughtful to an old woman as a young fellow of nearly seventeen."
As time went on the difference in their characters became still more marked. Julian had left school a year after his father's death, and had since been doing nothing in particular. He had talked vaguely of going into the army, and his father's long services would have given him a claim for a commission had he decided upon writing to ask for one, but Julian could never bring himself to decide upon anything. Had there been an old friend of his father's at hand ready to settle the matter for him he would have made no opposition whatever, but his aunt was altogether opposed to the idea, and so far from urging him to move in the matter she was always ready to say, whenever it happened to be mentioned, "There is no hurry, my dear Julian. We hear terrible stories of the hardships that the soldiers suffer in Spain; and although, if you decide upon going, of course I can't say no, still there can be no hurry about it."
This was quite Julian's own opinion. He was very comfortable where he was. He was his own master, and could do as he liked. He was amply supplied with pocket-money by his aunt; he was fond of sailing, fishing, and shooting; and as he was a general favourite among the boatmen and fishermen he was able to indulge in his fondness for the sea to as large an extent as he pleased, though it was but seldom that he had a chance of a day's shooting. Julian had other tastes of a less healthy character; he was fond of billiards and of society, he had a fine voice and a taste for music, and the society he chose was not that most calculated to do him good. He spent less and less of his time at home, and rarely returned of an evening until the other members of the household were in bed. Whatever his aunt thought of the matter she never remonstrated with him, and was always ready to make the excuse to herself, "I can't expect a fine young fellow like that to be tied to an old woman's apron-strings. Young men will be young men, and it is only natural that he should find it dull at home."
When Julian arrived at the age of nineteen it was tacitly understood that the idea of his going into the army had been altogether dropped, and that when a commission was asked for, it would be for Frank. Although Julian was still her favourite, Mrs. Troutbeck was more favourably disposed towards Frank than of old. She knew from her friends that he was quite as popular among his schoolmates as his brother had been, although in a different way. He was a hard and steady worker, but he played as hard as he worked, and was a leader in every game. He, however, could say "no" with a decision that was at once recognized as being final, and was never to be persuaded into joining in any forbidden amusement or to take share in any mischievous adventure. When his own work was done he was always willing to give a quarter of an hour to assist any younger lad who found his lessons too hard for him, and though he was the last boy to whom any one would think of applying for a loan of money, he would give to the extent of his power in any case where a subscription was raised for a really meritorious purpose.
Thus when the school contributed a handsome sum towards a fund that was being raised for the relief of the families of the fishermen who had been lost, when four of their boats were wrecked in a storm, no one except the boys who got up the collection knew that nearly half the amount for which the school gained credit came from the pocket of Frank Wyatt.
The brothers, though differing so widely in disposition, were very fond of each other. In his younger years Frank had looked up to his big brother as a sort of hero, and Julian's good-nature and easy-going temper led him to be always kind to his young brother, and to give him what he valued most – assistance at his lessons and a patient attention to all his difficulties. As the years went on, Frank came to perceive clearly enough the weak points in his brother's character, and with his usual outspokenness sometimes remonstrated with him strongly.
"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."
"I am not doing myself any harm, you young beggar," Julian replied good temperedly.
"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'?"
Julian was silent. "I don't know that I can," he said after a pause. "There is no harm in any of them that I know of, but I suppose that in the way you put it, they are not the set father would have fancied, with his strict notions. I have thought of giving it up a good many times, but it is an awkward thing, when you are mixed up with a lot of fellows, to drop them without any reason."
"You have only got to say that you find late hours don't agree with you, and that you have made up your mind to cut it altogether."
"That is all very well for you, Frank, and I will do you justice to say that if you determined to do a thing, you would do it without minding what any one said."
"Without minding what any one I did not care for, said," Frank interrupted. "Certainly; why should I heed a bit what people I do not care for say, so long as I feel that I am doing what is right."
"I wish I were as strong-willed as you are, Frank," Julian said rather ruefully, "then I should not have to put up with being bullied by a young brother."
"You are too good tempered, Julian," Frank said, almost angrily. "Here are you, six feet high and as strong as a horse, and with plenty of brain for anything, just wasting your life. Look at the position father held here, and ask yourself how many of his old friends do you know. Why, rather than go on as you are doing, I would enlist and go out to the Peninsula and fight the French. That would put an end to all this sort of thing, and you could come back again and start afresh. You will have money enough for anything you like. You come into half father's £16,000 when you come of age, and I have no doubt that you will have Aunt's money."
"Why should I?" Julian asked in a more aggrieved tone than he had hitherto used.
"Because you are her favourite, Julian, and quite right that you should be. You have always been awfully good to her, and that is one reason why I hate you to be out of an evening; for although she never says a word against you, and certainly would not hear any one else do so, I tell you it gives me the blues to see her face as she sits there listening for your footsteps."
"It is a beastly shame, and I will give it up, Frank; honour bright, I will."
"That is right, old fellow; I knew you would if you could only once peep in through the window of an evening and see her face."
"As for her money," Julian went on, "if she does not divide it equally between us, I shall, you may be sure."
"I sha'n't want it," Frank said decidedly. "You know I mean to go into the army, and with the interest of my own money I shall have as much as I shall possibly want, and if I had more it would only bother me, and do me harm in my profession. With you it is just the other way. You are the head of the family, and as Father's son ought to take a good place. You could buy an estate and settle down on it, and what with its management, and with horses and hunting and shooting, you would be just in your element."
"Well, we will see about it when the time comes. I am sure I hope the old lady will be with us for a long time yet. She is as kind-hearted a soul as ever lived, though it would have been better for me, no doubt, if she held the reins a little tighter. Well, anyhow, Frank, I will cut the billiards altogether."
They exchanged a silent grip of the hand on the promise, and Julian, looking more serious than usual, put on his hat and went out. There was a curious reversal of the usual relations between the brothers. Julian, although he always laughed at his young brother's assumption of the part of mentor, really leant upon his stronger will, and as often as not, even if unconsciously, yielded to his influence, while Frank's admiration for his brother was heightened by the unfailing good temper with which the latter received his remonstrances and advice. "He is an awfully good fellow," he said to himself when Julian left the room. "Anyone else would have got into a rage at my interference; but he has only one fault; he can't say no, and that is at the root of everything. I can't understand myself why a fellow finds it more difficult to say no than to say yes. If it is right to do a thing one does it, if it is not right one leaves it alone, and the worst one has to stand, if you don't do what other fellows want, is a certain amount of chaff, and that hurts no one."
Frank, indeed, was just as good tempered as Julian, although in an entirely different way. He had never been known to be in a passion, but put remonstrance and chaff aside quietly, and went his own way without being in the slightest degree affected by them.
Julian kept his promise, and was seen no more in the billiard saloon. Fortunately for him the young fellows with whom he was in the habit of playing were all townsmen, clerks, the sons of the richer tradesmen, or of men who owned fishing-boats or trading vessels, and others of that class – not, indeed, as Frank had said, the sort of men whom Colonel Wyatt would have cared for his son to have associated with – but harmless young fellows who frequented the billiard-rooms as a source of amusement and not of profit, and who therefore had no motive for urging Julian to play. To Mrs. Troutbeck's delight he now spent four or five evenings at home, only going out for an hour to smoke a pipe and to have a chat with the fishermen. Once or twice a week he would be absent all night, going out, as he told his aunt, for a night's fishing, and generally returning in the morning with half a dozen mackerel or other fish as his share of the night's work.
Sometimes he would ask Frank to accompany him, and the latter, when he had no particular work on hand, would do so, and thoroughly enjoyed the sport.
Smuggling was at the time carried on extensively, and nowhere more actively than between Weymouth and Exmouth on the one hand, and Swanage on the other. Consequently, in spite of the vigilance of the revenue men, cargoes were frequently run. The long projection of Chesil Beach and Portland afforded a great advantage to the smugglers; and Lieutenant Downes, who commanded the revenue cutter Boxer, had been heard to declare that he would gladly subscribe a year's pay if a channel could be cut through the beach. Even when he obtained information that a cargo was likely to be run to the west, unless the winds and tides were alike propitious, it took so long a time to get round Portland Bill that he was certain to arrive too late to interfere with the landing, while, at times, an adverse wind and the terrors of the "race" with its tremendous current and angry waves would keep the Boxer lying for days to the west of the Island, returning to Weymouth only to hear that during her absence a lugger had landed her cargo somewhere to the east.
"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."