Chapter 2

ON THE 28TH of May Napoleon left Dresden, where he had been spending three weeks surrounded by a court that included princes, dukes, kings, and even one emperor. Before his departure, Napoleon took a gracious leave of the princes, kings, and emperor deserving of his favour, and sternly upbraided the kings and princes with whom he was displeased. He made a present of his own diamonds and pearls— those, that is, that he had taken from other kings—to the Empress of Austria. He tenderly embraced the Empress Marie Louise—who considered herself his wife, though he had another wife still living in Paris— and left her, so his historian relates, deeply distressed and hardly able to support the separation. Although diplomatists still firmly believed in the possibility of peace, and were zealously working with that object, although the Emperor Napoleon, with his own hand, wrote a letter to the Emperor Alexander calling him “Monsieur mon frère,” and assuring him with sincerity that he had no desire of war, and would always love and honour him, he set off to join the army, and at every station gave fresh commands, hastening the progress of his army from west to east. He drove a travelling carriage, drawn by six horses and surrounded by pages, adjutants, and an armed escort, along the route by Posen, Thorn, Danzig, and Königsberg. In each of these towns he was welcomed with enthusiasm and trepidation by thousands of people.

The army was moving from west to east, and he was driven after it by continual relays of six horses. On the 10th of June he overtook the army and spent the night in the Vilkovik forest, in quarters prepared for him on the property of a Polish count.

The following day Napoleon drove on ahead of the army, reached the Niemen, put on a Polish uniform in order to inspect the crossing of the river, and rode out on the river bank.

When he saw the Cossacks posted on the further bank and the expanse of the steppes—in the midst of which, far away, was the holy city, Moscow, capital of an empire, like the Scythian empire invaded by Alexander of Macedon—Napoleon surprised the diplomatists and contravened all rules of strategy by ordering an immediate advance, and his troops began crossing the Niemen next day.

Early on the morning of the 12th of June he came out of his tent, which had been pitched that day on the steep left bank of the Niemen, and looked through a field-glass at his troops pouring out of the Vilkovik forest, and dividing into three streams at the three bridges across the river. The troops knew of the Emperor’s presence, and were on the lookout for him. When they caught sight of his figure in his greatcoat and hat standing apart from his suite in front of his tent on the hill opposite, they threw up their caps and shouted, “Vive l’Empereur!” And one regiment after another, in a continuous stream, flowed out of the immense forest that had concealed them, and split up to cross the river by the three bridges. “We shall make some way this time. Oh, when he takes a hand himself things begin to get warm!…Name of God!… There he is!… Hurrah for the Emperor! So those are the Steppes of Asia! A nasty country it is, though. Good-bye, Beauché; I’ll keep the finest palace in Moscow for you. Good-bye! good-luck!… Have you seen the Emperor? Hurrah for the Emperor! If they make me Governor of the Indies, Gérard, I’ll make you Minister of Cashmere, that’s settled. Hurrah for the Emperor! Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah! The rascally Cossacks, how they are running. Hurrah for the Emperor! There he is! Do you see him? I have seen him twice as I am seeing you. The little corporal…I saw him give the cross to one of the veterans.…Hurrah for the emperor!” Such was the talk of old men and young, of the most diverse characters and positions in society. All the faces of those men wore one common expression of joy at the commencement of a long-expected campaign, and enthusiasm and devotion to the man in the grey coat standing on the hill opposite.

On the 13th of June Napoleon mounted a small thoroughbred Arab horse and galloped towards one of the bridges over the Niemen, deafened all the while by shouts of enthusiasm, which he obviously endured simply because they could not be prevented from expressing in such shouts their love for him. But those shouts, invariably accompanying him everywhere, wearied him and hindered his attending to the military problems which beset him from the time he joined the army. He rode over a swaying bridge of boats to the other side of the river, turned sharply to the left, and galloped in the direction of Kovno, preceded by horse guards, who were breathless with delight and enthusiasm, as they cleared the way

  By PanEris using Melati.

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