ON RETURNING from a second careful inspection of the lines, Napoleon said:
“The pieces are on the board, the game will begin to-morrow.”
He ordered some punch, and sending for Beausset began talking of Paris with him, discussing various changes he intended to make in the Empress's household, and surprising the prefect by his memory of the minutest details of court affairs.
He showed interest in trifles, jested at Beausset's love of travel, and chatted carelessly, as some renowned, skilful and confident surgeon will often chat playfully while he tucks up his sleeves and puts on his apron, and the patient is being bound down on the operating-table. “I have the whole business at my finger-tips, and it's all clear and definite in my head. When I have to set to work, I will do it as no one else could, but now I can jest, and the more serenely I jest the more calm and confidence and admiration for my genius you ought to feel.”
After emptying a second glass of punch, Napoleon went to seek repose before the grave business which, as he imagined, lay before him next day.
He was so preoccupied with what lay before him that he could not sleep, and in spite of his cold, which got worse with the damp of evening, he got up at three o'clock, and went out into the principal compartment of the tent, sneezing violently. He asked whether the Russians had not retreated. He was told that the enemy's fires were still in the same places. He nodded approval.
The adjutant on duty came into the tent.
“Well, Rapp, do you think we shall do good business to-day?” he said to him.
“Without doubt, sire!” answered Rapp.
Napoleon looked at him.
“Do you remember what you did me the honour to say at Smolensk?” said Rapp: “the wine is drawn, it must be drunk.”
Napoleon frowned, and sat for a long while in silence, his head in his hand.
“This poor army, it has greatly diminished since Smolensk. La fortune est une franche courtisane, Rapp. I have always said so, and I begin to feel it; but the Guard, Rapp, the Guard is intact?” he said inquiringly.
“Yes, sire,” replied Rapp.
Napoleon took a lozenge, put it in his mouth, and looked at his watch. He was not sleepy, and morning was still far off; and there were no instructions to be drawn up to get through the time, for all had been already given, and were even now being put into execution.
“Have the biscuits and the rice been distributed to the regiments of the Guard?” Napoleon asked severely.
“The rice, too?”
Rapp answered that he had given the Emperor's orders about the rice; but Napoleon shook his head with a dissatisfied air, as though he doubted whether his command had been carried out. A servant came in with punch. Napoleon ordered another glass for Rapp, and took a few sips from his own in silence. “I have neither taste nor smell,” he said, sniffing at the glass. “I am sick of this cold. They talk about medicine. What is medicine, when they can't cure a cold? Corvisart gave me these lozenges, but they do no good. What can they cure? They can't cure anything. Our body is a machine for living. It is organised for that, it is its nature; leave life to it unhindered, let life defend itself in it; it will do more than if you paralyse it, encumbering it with remedies. Our body is a perfect watch, meant to go for a certain time; the watchmaker has not the power of opening it, he can only handle it in fumbling fashion, blindfold. Our body is a machine for living, that's all.” And apparently because he had dropped into making definitions, which he had a weakness for doing, he suddenly hazarded one on a fresh subject. “Do you know, Rapp, what the military art consists in?” he asked. “It is the art of being stronger than the enemy at a given moment. That is all.”
Rapp made no reply.
“To-morrow we shall have to do with Kutuzov,” said Napoleon. “We shall see! Do you remember, he was in command at Braunau, and never once in three weeks mounted a horse to inspect his entrenchments. We shall see!”
He looked at his watch. It was still only four o'clock. He was not sleepy; the punch was finished, and there was still nothing to do. He got up, walked up and down, put on a warm coat and hat and went out of the tent. The night was dark and damp; a slight drizzle was falling almost inaudibly. Close by in the French Guard, the camp-fires burned dimly, and far away they were blazing brightly through the smoke along the Russian line. The air was still, and a faint stir and tramp could be distinctly heard from the French troops beginning to move to occupy the position.
Napoleon walked to and fro before the tent, looked at the fires, listened to the tramp, and passed by a tall guardsman in a fur cap, a sentinel at his tent, who drew himself up like a black post on seeing the Emperor. The latter stood still, facing him.
“Since what year have you served?” he asked, with that affectation of military bluntness and geniality with which he always addressed the soldiers. The soldier answered.
“Ah! one of the veterans! Have you all had rice in the regiment?”
“Yes, your majesty.”
Napoleon nodded and walked away.
At half-past five Napoleon rode to the village of Shevardino.
It began to get light; the sky cleared, only a single storm cloud lay on the eastern horizon. The deserted camp-fires burned down in the pale light of morning.
A solitary, deep cannon shot boomed out on the right, hovered in the air, and died away in the stillness. Several minutes passed. A second, and a third shot was heard, the air was full of vibration; a fourth and a fifth boomed out majestically, closely on the right.
The first shots had not died away, when others rang out, and more and more, their notes blending and overtaking one another.
Napoleon rode with his suite to the Shevardino redoubt, and dismounted there. The game had begun.