Chapter 34

NAPOLEON’S GENERALS, Davoust, Ney, and Murat, who were close to that region of fire, and sometimes even rode into it, several times led immense masses of orderly troops into that region. But instead of what had invariably happened in all their previous battles, instead of hearing that the enemy were in flight, the disciplined masses of troops came back in undisciplined, panic-stricken crowds. They formed them in good order again, but their number was steadily dwindling. In the middle of the day Murat sent his adjutant to Napoleon with a request for reinforcements.

Napoleon was sitting under the redoubt, drinking punch, when Murat’s adjutant galloped to him with the message that the Russians would be routed if his majesty would let them have another division.

“Reinforcements?” said Napoleon, with stern astonishment, staring, as though failing to comprehend his words, at the handsome, boyish adjutant, who wore his black hair in floating curls, like Murat’s own. “Reinforcements!” thought Napoleon. “How can they want reinforcements when they have half the army already, concentrated against one weak, unsupported flank of the Russians?”

“Tell the King of Naples,” said Napoleon sternly, “that it is not midday, and I don’t yet see clearly over my chess-board. You can go.”

The handsome, boyish adjutant with the long curls heaved a deep sigh, and still holding his hand to his hat, galloped back to the slaughter.

Napoleon got up, and summoning Caulaincourt and Berthier, began conversing with them of matters not connected with the battle.

In the middle of the conversation, which began to interest Napoleon, Berthier’s eye was caught by a general, who was galloping on a steaming horse to the redoubt, followed by his suite. It was Beliard. Dismounting from his horse, he walked rapidly up to the Emperor, and, in a loud voice, began boldly explaining the absolute necessity of reinforcements. He swore on his honour that the Russians would be annihilated if the Emperor would let them have another division.

Napoleon shrugged his shoulders, and continued walking up and down, without answering. Beliard began loudly and eagerly talking with the generals of the suite standing round him.

“You are very hasty, Beliard,” said Napoleon, going back again to him. “It is easy to make a mistake in the heat of the fray. Go and look again and then come to me.” Before Beliard was out of sight another messenger came galloping up from another part of the battlefield.

“Well, what is it now?” said Napoleon, in the tone of a man irritated by repeated interruptions.

“Sire, the prince …” began the adjutant.

“Asks for reinforcements?” said Napoleon, with a wrathful gesture. The adjutant bent his head affirmatively and was proceeding to give his message, but the Emperor turned and walked a couple of steps away, stopped, turned back, and beckoned to Berthier. “We must send the reserves,” he said with a slight gesticulation. “Whom shall we send there? what do you think?” he asked Berthier, that “gosling I have made an eagle,” as he afterwards called him.

“Claparède’s division, sire,” said Berthier, who knew all the divisions, regiments, and battalions by heart.

Napoleon nodded his head in assent.

The adjutant galloped off to Claparède’s division. And a few moments later the Young Guards, stationed behind the redoubt, were moving out. Napoleon gazed in that direction in silence.

“No,” he said suddenly to Berthier, “I can’t send Claparède. Send Friant’s division.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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