"I should incline to advise you to write them in duplicate, for the packet might be captured by a French privateer on its way, and it would be safer therefore to despatch copies of your letters ten days after those you first send off. In five weeks, if all goes well, you may expect an answer. In the meantime, I hope you will find enough to amuse you here, although the opera is closed, and there will be nothing like gaieties this season; still, there will be dinner parties and the club; and when you feel that you want a change I have an estate some five hours' sledge drive from here. It consists largely of forest, but there is plenty of game, elk and bears. If you are fond of shooting I can promise you good sport."
"Splendid, comrade! That is a first-rate fit-out. I am obliged to you indeed."
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.
"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."
"They got a good start of us, but we followed, and three nights after Talavera two companies of us were quartered for the night in the village right out on the flank of the line we were following. Well, I got hold of a skin of as good wine as ever I drank. Two or three of us stole out to enjoy it quietly and comfortably, and so thoroughly did we do it, that I suppose I somehow mistook my way back to my quarters, wandered aside, and then lay down to sleep. I must have slept soundly, for I heard neither bugle nor drum. When I awoke the sun was high, and there was a group of ugly-looking Spaniards standing near me. I tried to jump up on to my feet, but found that my arms and legs were both tied. However, I managed to sit up and looked round. Not a sign of our uniform was there to be seen; but a cloud of dust rising from the plain, maybe ten miles away, showed where the army had gone.
It was an hour before the Count returned to the nursery. "Ah, my friend," he said, "what happiness have you brought to us. Already my wife is a new creature. I had begun to think that I should lose her too, for the doctors told me frankly that they feared she would fall into a decline. Now her joy is so great that it was with difficulty that I could tear myself away from contemplating her happiness, but the doctor came in and recommended that she should try and sleep for a time, or if she could not sleep that she should at least lie absolutely quiet, so Stephanie has nestled down by her side, and I was able to come to you." He now led the way to a luxuriously furnished smoking-room.
"There was a great noise," she said gravely, "and guns fired, and the coachman fell off the box, and then nurse called out and opened the door and jumped out, and then the horses plunged and the carriage fell over, and I don't know any more."