Chapter 19

ON THE NIGHT of the 1st of September Kutuzov gave the Russian troops the command to fall back across Moscow to the Ryazan road.

The first troops moved that night, marching deliberately and in steady order. But at dawn the retreating troops on reaching the Dorogomilov bridge saw before them, crowding on the other side, and hurrying over the bridge, and blocking the streets and alleys on the same side, and bearing down upon them from behind, immense masses of soldiers. And the troops were overtaken by causeless panic and haste. There was a general rush forward towards the bridge, on to the bridge, to the fords and to the boats. Kutuzov had himself driven by back streets to the other side of Moscow.

At ten o’clock in the morning of the 2nd of September the only troops left in the Dorogomilov suburbs were the regiments of the rear-guard, and the crush was over. The army was already on the further side of Moscow, and out of the town altogether.

At the same time, at ten o’clock in the morning of the 2nd of September, Napoleon was standing in the midst of his troops on Poklonny Hill, gazing at the spectacle that lay before him. From the 26th of August to the 2nd of September, from the day of Borodino to the entrance into Moscow, all that agitating, that memorable week, there had been that extraordinarily beautiful autumn weather, which always comes as a surprise, when though the sun is low in the sky it shines more warmly than in spring, when everything is glistening in the pure, limpid air, so that the eyes are dazzled, while the chest is braced and refreshed inhaling the fragrant autumn air; when the nights even are warm, and when in these dark, warm nights golden stars are continually falling from the sky, to the delight or terror of all who watch them.

At ten o’clock on the 2nd of September the morning light was full of the beauty of fairyland. From Poklonny Hill Moscow lay stretching wide below with her river, her gardens, and her churches, and seemed to be living a life of her own, her cupolas twinkling like stars in the sunlight.

At the sight of the strange town, with its new forms of unfamiliar architecture, Napoleon felt something of that envious and uneasy curiosity that men feel at the sight of the aspects of a strange life, knowing nothing of them. It was clear that that town was teeming with vigorous life. By those indefinable tokens by which one can infallibly tell from a distance a live body from a dead one, Napoleon could detect from Poklonny Hill the throb of life in the town, and could feel, as it were, the breathing of that beautiful, great being. Every Russian gazing at Moscow feels she is the mother; every foreigner gazing at her, and ignorant of her significance as the mother city, must be aware of the feminine character of the town, and Napoleon felt it.

“This Asiatic city with the innumerable churches, Moscow the holy. Here it is at last, the famous city! It was high time,” said Napoleon; and dismounting from his horse he bade them open the plan of Moscow before him, and sent for his interpreter, Lelorme d’Ideville.

“A city occupied by the enemy is like a girl who has lost her honour,” he thought (it was the phrase he had uttered to Tutchkov at Smolensk). And from that point of view he gazed at the Oriental beauty who lay for the first time before his eyes. He felt it strange himself that the desire so long cherished, and thought so impossible, had at last come to pass. In the clear morning light he gazed at the town, and then at the plan, looking up its details, and the certainty of possessing it agitated and awed him.

“But how could it be otherwise?” he thought. “Here is this capital, she lies at my feet awaiting her fate. Where is Alexander now, and what is he thinking? A strange, beautiful, and grand city! And a strange and grand moment is this! In what light must I appear to them?” he mused, thinking of his soldiers. “Here is the city—the reward for all those of little faith,” he thought, looking round at his suite and the approaching troops, forming into ranks.

“One word of mine, one wave of my arm, and the ancient capital of the Tsar is no more. But my clemency is ever prompt to stoop to the vanquished. I must be magnanimous and truly great. But no, it is not true that I am in Moscow,” the idea suddenly struck him. “She lies at my feet, though, her golden domes and

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.