Though there was no advantage of any kind in sending Friant’s division rather than Claparède’s, and there was obvious inconvenience and delay now in turning back Claparède and despatching Friant, the order was carried out. Napoleon did not see that in relation to his troops he played the part of the doctor, whose action in hindering the course of nature with his nostrums he so truly gauged and condemned.

Friant’s division vanished like the rest into the smoke of the battlefield. Adjutants still kept galloping up from every side, and all, as though in collusion, said the same thing. All asked for reinforcements; all told of the Russians standing firm and keeping up a hellish fire, under which the French troops were melting away.

Napoleon sat on a camp-stool, plunged in thought. M. de Beausset, the reputed lover of travel, had been fasting since early morning, and approaching the Emperor, he ventured respectfully to suggest breakfast to his majesty.

“I hope that I can already congratulate your majesty on a victory,” he said.

Napoleon shook his head. Supposing the negative to refer to the victory only and not to the breakfast, M. de Beausset permitted himself with respectful playfulness to observe that there was no reason in the world that could be allowed to interfere with breakfast when breakfast was possible.

“Go to the…” Napoleon jerked out gloomily, and he turned his back on him. A saintly smile of sympathy, regret, and ecstasy beamed on M. de Beausset’s face as he moved with his swinging step back to the other generals.

Napoleon was experiencing the bitter feeling of a lucky gambler, who, after recklessly staking his money and always winning, suddenly finds, precisely when he has carefully reckoned up all contingencies, that the more he considers his course, the more certain he is of losing.

The soldiers were the same, the generals the same, there had been the same preparations, the same disposition, the same proclamation, “court et énergique.” He was himself the same,—he knew that; he knew that he was more experienced and skilful indeed now than he had been of old. The enemy even was the same as at Austerlitz and Friedland. But the irresistible wave of his hand seemed robbed of its might by magic.

All the old manœuvres that had invariably been crowned with success: the concentration of the battery on one point, and the advance of the reserves to break the line, and the cavalry attack of “men of iron,” all these resources had been employed; and far from victory being secure, from all sides the same tidings kept pouring in of killed or wounded generals, of reinforcements needed, of the troops being in disorder, and the Russians impossible to move.

Hitherto, after two or three orders being given, two or three phrases delivered, marshals and adjutants had galloped up with radiant faces and congratulations, announcing the capture as trophies of whole corps of prisoners, of bundles of flags and eagles, of cannons and stores, and Murat had asked leave to let the cavalry go to capture the baggage. So it had been at Lodi, Marengo, Arcole, Jena, Austerlitz, Wagram, and so on, and so on. But now something strange was coming over his men.

In spite of the news of the capture of the flèches, Napoleon saw that things were not the same, not at all the same as at previous battles. He saw that what he was feeling, all the men round him, experienced in military matters, were feeling too. All their faces were gloomy; all avoided each others’ eyes. It was only a Beausset who could fail to grasp the import of what was happening. Napoleon after his long experience of war knew very well all that was meant by an unsuccessful attack after eight hours’ straining every possible effort. He knew that this was almost equivalent to a defeat, and that the merest chance might now, in the critical point the battle was in, be the overthrow of himself and his troops.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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