Chapter 26

ON THE 25TH of August, on the eve of the battle of Borodino, the prefect of the French Emperor’s palace, M. de Beausset, and Colonel Fabvier, arrived, the former from Paris, and the latter from Madrid, at Napoleon’s encampment at Valuev.

After changing into a court uniform M. de Beausset ordered the package he had brought for the Emperor to be carried before him, and walked into the first compartment of Napoleon’s tent, where he busied himself while conversing with the aides-de-camp in unpacking the box.

Fabvier stood talking with generals of his acquaintance in the entrance of the tent.

The Emperor Napoleon had not yet left his bedroom, he was finishing his toilet. With snorts and grunts of satisfaction, he was turning first his stout back and then his plump, hirsute chest towards the flesh- brush with which a valet was rubbing him down. Another valet, holding a bottle with one finger on it, was sprinkling eau de cologne on the Emperor’s pampered person with an expression which seemed to say that he alone knew where and how much eau de cologne must be sprinkled. Napoleon’s short hair was wet and matted on his brow. But his face, though puffy and yellow, expressed physical satisfaction.

“Go on, hard, go on …” he said, shrugging and clearing his throat, to the valet brushing him. An adjutant, who had come into the bedroom to report to the Emperor the number of prisoners taken in the last engagement, was standing at the door, after giving his message, awaiting permission to withdraw. Napoleon, frowning, glanced up from under his brows at the adjutant. “No prisoners,” he repeated the adjutant’s words. “They are working their own destruction. So much the worse for the Russian army,” said he. “Harder, brush harder,” he said, hunching his fat shoulders before the valet. “Good. Let Beausset come in and Fabvier too,” he said to the adjutant, nodding.

“I obey, sire,” and the adjutant disappeared.

The two valets rapidly dressed his majesty, and in the blue uniform of the guards he walked into the reception-room with firm, rapid steps.

Beausset meanwhile was in great haste setting up the present he had brought from the Empress on two chairs just before the Emperor as he entered. But the Emperor had been so unaccountably rapid over getting dressed and coming in that he had not time to have the surprise ready for him.

Napoleon at once noticed what they were about, and guessed they were not ready. He did not want to deprive them of the pleasure of preparing an agreeable surprise for him. He pretended not to see M. de Beausset, and beckoned Fabvier to him. Napoleon, frowning sternly, listened in silence to what Fabvier was saying of the gallantry and devotion of his army, fighting before Salamanca, at the other end of Europe; they had, he said, but one dream—to be worthy of their Emperor, and one fear—to displease him. The result of the battle had been disastrous. Napoleon made ironical remarks during Fabvier’s account of it, as though he had not expected it to be otherwise in his absence.

“I must make up for it at Moscow,” said Napoleon. “A tantôt,” he added, and summoned Beausset, who had by this time succeeded in preparing his effect, had stood something on the chairs and thrown a cover over it.

Beausset made a courtier’s low bow, such as only the old retainers of the Bourbons knew how to make, and approached him, handing him a letter.

Napoleon addressed him gaily and pinched him by the ear.

“You have been quick, delighted to see you. Well, what is Paris saying?” he said, his look of sternness suddenly changing to the most cordial expression.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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