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.
"Is that so? Well, that ought to be good enough for anything," Lister said. "It sounds almost miraculous. Now, let us have a look at your pistols, lad."
Thinking it over, an idea suddenly occurred to him. When sailing along the coast with Bill, the latter had one day pointed out to him a hole in the cliff some twenty feet above high-water mark. "Do you see that hole, Mr. Julian?"
"What for? I have done you a good service as well as myself. You had no reason to bear him any good-will, and some of the men who were there told me that though Downes got you off, it was true that you were going to throw Faulkner into the fire."
She was indeed changed. A rosy flush had taken the place of the bluish-gray tint on her cheeks; her eyes were bright, and she looked round at the strange scene with a face devoid of all fear.
"I should say the safest plan would be to cut his throat and chuck him into the sea, and have done with it."
"I am very pleased, Frank," he said as he lighted a cigar, "both with what I have heard of you and with what I see for myself. Now I will speak to you more freely than I did before, but mind, what I say is strictly confidential. Government have obtained secret information which points surely to the fact that Napoleon is meditating an offensive war against Russia. He is accumulating troops in Germany and Poland out of all proportion to the operations he has been carrying on against Austria. When that war will break out is more than I or anyone can say, but when it does take place I have Lord Wellesley's promise that I shall go out there in the same position I held during their last war, that is, as British commissioner with the Russian army. Now, lad, in that position I shall be entitled to take a young officer with me as my assistant, or what, if engaged on other service, would be called aide-de-camp. One cannot be everywhere at once, and I should often have to depend upon him for information as to what was taking place at points where I could not be present.
"It may be," he thought, "that some other prisoner has been confined here at some time or other, or possibly this has been done in order that if the trap-door above should be found, and the revenue men come down that way, the smugglers in their flight might lock the door behind them and so have time to get away in a boat or along at the foot of the cliffs before their pursuers could get down to the lower entrance and open fire upon them."
"There is nothing to do, Aunt, that I can see. As to the disgrace, that is nothing very dreadful. No end of people are mixed up in smuggling; and I have heard that many of the gentry wink at it, and are glad enough to buy a keg of brandy cheap without asking any questions where it comes from. So the mere fact that Julian went to have a look at a cargo being run is not anything very serious. I suppose it was against the law even to be present, but there was nothing disgraceful about it. It is lucky my holidays began last week, and if there is anything to be done I can do it."