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"Drive out into the country," Julian said to the coachman as he took his seat. "This is little short of a miracle, old fellow," he said, as they drove off. "I thought you were living quietly at Weymouth; you thought I was rotting in a French prison, and here we run against each other in the heart of Russia."
"Don't say much to the others when you go out," Frank said. "You can tell them that, from what I say, it won't be such a one-sided affair as they seem to think."
Had the order been given that day the French army might have made its way back to the frontier, with heavy loss doubtless, but without disaster. But Napoleon could not bring himself to believe that the Russians would refuse to enter into negotiations. He tried through various sources to send proposals to Alexander, and even opened secret negotiations with Kutusow, and had arranged for a private meeting with him, when the matter was stopped by Sir Robert Wilson, who had received specific instructions from the Emperor Alexander to interpose in his name to prevent any negotiations whatever being carried on. Thus week after week of precious time passed, and then a portion of the army moved against the Russians. Several engagements took place, the advantage generally resting with the Russians, especially in an engagement with Murat, who suffered a decisive repulse.
The same day that the post brought Frank the news of his commission, it brought a letter from Colonel Wilson saying that he was at present in town, and giving him a warm invitation to come up and stay with him for a week, while he procured his necessary outfit. A fortnight later Frank arrived in town and drove to Buckingham Street, where Colonel Wilson was lodging. He received Frank very kindly, and when the lad would have renewed the thanks he had expressed in the letter he had written on receiving the news of his having obtained his commission, the Colonel said:
The Russians, perceiving the magnitude of the movement, despatched large reinforcements to the defenders, and at the same time, to effect a diversion, sent the greater portion of their cavalry round to menace the French rear at Borodino. Three hundred Russian guns opposed the four hundred of the French, and amidst the tremendous roar of the guns, the great mass of French infantry hurled themselves upon the Russians. For a time no impression could be made, so sternly and fiercely did the Russians fight, but Bagration, their commander, with several other generals, were badly wounded and forced to retire. Konownitsyn assumed the command, but the loss of the general, in whom they placed implicit confidence, told upon the spirits of his troops, and Konownitsyn was forced to abandon the three redoubts, and to take up a new position behind Semianotsky, where he re-established his batteries and checked the progress of the enemy.
"Well, yes, it was I. The fellow insulted a young comrade in my regiment, knowing well that he could not shoot; so I took it up, and there was an end of it."
There was now a short pause in the attack, but the roar of artillery and musketry continued unbroken. Poniatowski now emerged from the wood, and fell upon the Russian left rear, capturing the village of Outitska. Touchkoff, a brother of the general who had been captured at Loubino, who commanded here, fell back to a height that dominated the village and the ground beyond it, and maintained himself until mid-day. On the French left, where the Viceroy Beauharnois commanded, the advance was stubbornly opposed, and the French artillery was several times silenced by the guns on the eminence. At last, however, the Russians were driven across the rivulet, and the French occupied Borodino. Leaving a division of infantry to protect his rear, the Viceroy crossed the stream and advanced against a great battery in front of the village of Gorki. Davoust and Ney remained motionless until nine o'clock, as Napoleon would not forward the reinforcements they had asked for until he learned that Poniatowski had come into action, and that the Viceroy had crossed the stream and was moving to the attack of the Russian centre. Now, reinforced by the division of Friant, they moved forward.
The horrors of the hospitals at Wilna and other places affected him even more than the scenes of carnage that he had witnessed at Borodino. At Wilna the Earl of Tyrconnel was seized with a fever and died, and Frank lay for some time ill, and would probably have succumbed had not Sir Robert obtained a lodging for him at the house of a landed resident, three or four miles from the infected city. He was, in a sense, thankful for the illness, because it spared him the sight of the last agony of the broken remains of Napoleon's army. Quiet and rest soon did their work. The breakdown was the result more of over-fatigue, and of the horrors of which he was so continually a witness, than of actual fever. Frank, therefore, rapidly recovered, and declared after a fortnight that he could again sit on his horse.
"Really, Julian, there was nothing to tell about. It was a disagreeable incident altogether, and I considered then, as I have considered since, that it was hardly fair of me to go out with him when I was so certain of my shooting, and it was a hundred to one in my favour. I should never have done it if he had not forced the quarrel upon young Wilmington; for the young fellow must either have gone out, which would have been throwing away his life, or left the service."
"Eh! what? Do you mean to say, Henderson, that you think the young fellow did not fire the shot after all? I would give a hundred pounds if I could think so, but, with Faulkner's deposition before us, I don't see how there can be any possible doubt in the matter. Besides, I was present when he gave it, and though it may have been coloured a good deal by his feeling against young Wyatt, I am convinced that he believed, at any rate, that he was speaking the truth."
"No; he remains in command of the dep?t for the present. Of course, he will go out if a vacancy occurs above him; but in any case he will go with the next draft, and the next two troops will be wound up to service pitch in another couple of months, so I expect by the spring he will be out there. I should not have minded if we too had waited until then, for of course the army have gone into its winter quarters, and there will be nothing doing for the next three or four months; and I take it we should be a good deal more comfortable here, than posted in some wretched little Spanish town till operations commence again. No doubt you will be out there long before the first shot is fired."