Chapter 3

NINE DAYS after the abandonment of Moscow, a courier from Kutuzov reached Petersburg with the official news of the surrender of Moscow. This courier was a Frenchman, Michaud, who did not know Russian, yet was, “though a foreigner, Russian in heart and soul,” as he used to say of himself.

The Tsar at once received the messenger in his study in the palace of Kamenny island. Michaud, who had never seen Moscow before the campaign, and did not know a word of Russian, yet felt deeply moved when he came before “notre très gracieux souverain” (as he wrote) with the news of the burning of Moscow, whose flames illumined his route.

Though the source of M. Michaud’s sorrow must indeed have been different from that to which the grief of Russian people was due, Michaud had such a melancholy face when he was shown into the Tsar’s study that the Tsar asked him at once:

“Do you bring me sad news, colonel?”

“Very sad, sire, the surrender of Moscow,” answered Michaud, casting his eyes down with a sigh.

“Can they have surrendered my ancient capital without a battle?” the Tsar asked quickly, suddenly flushing.

Michaud respectfully gave the message he had been commanded to give from Kutuzov, that is, that there was no possibility of fighting before Moscow, and that seeing there was no chance but either to lose the army and Moscow or to lose Moscow alone, the commander-in-chief had been obliged to choose the latter.

The Tsar listened without a word, not looking at Michaud.

“Has the enemy entered the city?” he asked.

“Yes, sire, and by now the city is in ashes. I left it all in flames,” said Michaud resolutely; but glancing at the Tsar, Michaud was horrified at what he had done. The Tsar was breathing hard and rapidly, his lower lip was twitching, and his fine blue eyes were for a moment wet with tears.

But that lasted only a moment. The Tsar suddenly frowned, as though vexed with himself for his own weakness; and raising his head, he addressed Michaud in a firm voice:

“I see, colonel, from all that is happening to us that Providence requires great sacrifices of us. I am ready to submit to His will in everything; but tell me, Michaud, how did you leave the army, seeing my ancient capital thus abandoned without striking a blow? Did you not perceive discouragement?”

Seeing that his most gracious sovereign had regained his composure, Michaud too regained his; but to the Tsar’s direct question of a matter of fact which called for a direct answer, he had not yet an answer ready. “Sire, will you permit me to speak frankly, as a loyal soldier?” he said, to gain time.

“Colonel, I always expect it,” said the Tsar. “Hide nothing from me; I want to know absolutely how it is.”

“Sire!” said Michaud, with a delicate, scarcely perceptible smile on his lips, as he had now had time to prepare his answer in the form of a light and respectful play of words. “Sire! I left the whole army, from the commanders to the lowest soldier without exception, in extreme, in desperate terror.”

“How so?” the Tsar interrupted, frowning sternly. “My Russians let themselves be cast down by misfortune?…Never…”

This was just what Michaud was waiting for to get in his phrases.

“Sire,” he said, with a respectful playfulness of expression, “they fear only that your majesty through goodness of heart may let yourself be persuaded to make peace. They burn to fight,” said the plenipotentiary of the Russian people, “and to prove to your majesty by the sacrifice of their lives how devoted they are…”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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