Chapter 26

AT FOUR O’CLOCK in the afternoon, Murat’s troops entered Moscow. In front rode a detachment of Würtemberg hussars, behind, with an immense suite, rode the King of Naples himself.

Near the middle of Arbaty, close to Nikola Yavlenny, Murat halted to await information from the detachment in advance as to the condition in which the citadel of the city, “le Kremlin,” had been found.

A small group of inhabitants of Moscow had gathered about Murat. All stared with timid astonishment at the strange figure of the long-haired commander, decked in gold and feathers.

“Why, is this their Tsar himself? Nought amiss with him,” voices were heard saying softly.

An interpreter approached the group of gazers.

“Caps … caps off,” they muttered, turning to each other in the little crowd. The interpreter accosted one old porter, and asked him if it were far to the Kremlin. The porter, listening with surprise to the unfamiliar Polish accent, and not recognising the interpreter’s words for Russian, had no notion what was being said to him, and took refuge behind the others.

Murat approached the interpreter, and told him to ask where were the Russian troops. One of the Russians understood this question, and several voices began answering the interpreter simultaneously. A French officer from the detachment in advance rode up to Murat and reported that the gates into the citadel were blocked up, and that probably there was an ambush there.

“Good,” said Murat, and turning to one of the gentlemen of his suite, he commanded four light cannons to be moved forward, and the gates to be shelled upon.

The artillery came trotting out from the column following Murat, and advanced along Arbaty. When they reached the end of Vosdvizhenka the artillery halted and drew up in the square. Several French officers superintended the placing of the cannon some distance apart, and looked at the Kremlin through a field- glass. A bell was ringing in the Kremlin for evening service, and that sound troubled the French. They supposed that it was the call to arms. Several infantry soldiers ran to the Kutafyev gateway. A barricade of beams and planks lay across the gateway. Two musket shots rang out from the gates, just as an officer with some men were running up to them. The general standing by the cannons shouted some words of command to the officer, and the officer and the soldiers ran back.

Three more shots were heard from the gate. One shot grazed the leg of a French soldier, and a strange shout of several voices rose from behind the barricade. Instantaneously, as though at the word of command, the expression of good humour and serenity on the faces of the French general, officers, and men was replaced by a stubborn, concentrated expression of readiness for conflict and suffering. To all of them, from the marshal to the lowest soldier, this place was not Vosdvizhenka, Mohova, Kutaf, and the Troitsky gates; it was a new battlefield, likely to be the scene of a bloody conflict. And all were ready for that conflict. The shouts from the gates died away. The cannons were moved forward. The artillerymen quenched the burning linstocks. An officer shouted “Fire!” and two whistling sounds of clinking tin rang out one after another. The grapeshot fell rattling on the stone of the gateway, on the beams and screens of planks, and two clouds of smoke rolled over the square.

Some instants after the echoes of the shots had died away over the stone Kremlin, a strange sound was heard over the heads of the French. An immense flock of jackdaws rose above the walls and swept round in the air with loud caws, and the whir of thousands of wings. Together with this sound, there rose a solitary human cry at the gate, and the figure of a man bareheaded, in a long peasant’s coat, came into sight through the smoke. Holding a gun up, he took aim at the French. “Fire!” repeated the artillery officer, and at the same instant one rifle shot and two cannon shots were heard. The gate was again hidden in smoke.

  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.