"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."
Three weeks passed without change. Then they were told that next morning they would be marched away to make room for another batch of prisoners that had been brought into the fort that afternoon. All were glad of the change, first, because it was a change, and next, because they all agreed they could not be worse off anywhere than they were at Nantes. They were mustered at daybreak, formed up in fours, and with a guard of twenty soldiers with loaded muskets marched out from the prison gates. The first day's journey was a long one. Keeping along the north bank of the Loire, they marched to Angers, which they did not reach until night was falling. Many of the men, wholly unaccustomed to walking, were completely worn out before they reached their destination, but as a whole, with the exception of being somewhat footsore, they arrived in fair condition. Julian marched by the side of the first mate, and the lesson in French was a long one, and whiled away the hours on the road.
Leaving the other two talking together, Frank went on home. Mrs. Troutbeck was greatly shocked at the news.
At the end of ten months, Julian was able to speak French fluently. Large bodies of troops were continually marching through the town bound for the east, and the prisoners learned from the guards that the general belief was that Napoleon intended to invade Russia.
"This is better luck than I looked for, comrade," he said as they cooked the food they had found in the village, filled their pipes, and sat down by a blazing fire. "Peste! I was frightened as we crossed the river last night. We knew the ice was not strong, and if it had given way as we crossed, not a man upon it would have reached the other side. However, it turned out for the best, and here we are again, and I believe that we shall somehow get through after all. Ney always has good luck. There is never any hesitation about him. He sees what has to be done and does it. That is the sort of man for a leader. I would rather serve under a man who does what he thinks best at once, even if it turns out wrong, than one who hesitates and wants time to consider. Ney has been called 'the child of victory,' and I believe in his star. Anyone else would have surrendered after that fight yesterday, and yet you see how he has got out of the scrape so far. I believe that Ney will cross the frontier safe, even if he carries with him only a corporal's guard."
"There is an end of our search, Mr. Wyatt. We must return to the town. The magistrates will meet at eleven o'clock, and I and the constables must be there. But I will send off two men directly we get back, to go along the cliffs and question all the men who were on duty yesterday afternoon as to whether they saw two men with guns crossing the hills, one being probably some distance behind the other. I think, perhaps, you had better come to the court. I don't say that it will be absolutely necessary, but I think it would be better that you should do so; and you see it would be useless for you to be hunting over those hills alone. As soon as the court is over I will take four men and will myself start to search for him. There is no saying whether we may not find some sign or other. I shall be glad if you will go with me; you have shown yourself a born detective this morning, for had you been trained to it all your life you could not have followed the scent up more unerringly."
"I don't know. You see he knows about my shooting Faulkner. I would trust him not to peach about this cavern or the trap-door, but I don't know as I would about the other thing. It seems to me that he is just as likely to be suspected of having a hand in it as I am. His row with Faulkner is the talk of the place, and when Faulkner is found with a bullet in him, he will be the first fellow to be suspected. Well, if that was so, and you see he would not be able to account for himself for three or four hours afterwards, he might be driven to peach on me to save his own life, and he would be obliged to give all the story about following me and coming down here. There would be an end of the best hiding-place in the country, and I should not be able to show my face on this side of the Channel again."
"Are you mostly men-of-war's men?"
Mr. Faulkner's face was white with rage. "I have a dozen other witnesses," he said hoarsely, "but I have no doubt they will all follow the lead their officer has set them. I shall therefore call no more."