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 crosses flashing and twinkling in the sun. But I will spare her. On the ancient monuments of barbarism and despotism I will inscribe the great words of justice and mercy … Alexander will feel that more bitterly than anything; I know him.” (It seemed to Napoleon that the chief import of what had happened lay in his personal contest with Alexander.) “From the heights of the Kremlin—yes, that's the Kremlin, yes—I will dictate to them the laws of justice, I will teach them the meaning of true civilisation, I will make the generations of boyards to enshrine their conqueror's name in love. I will tell the deputation that I have not sought, and do not seek, war; but I have been waging war only with the deceitful policy of their court; that I love and respect Alexander, and that in Moscow I will accept terms of peace worthy of myself and my peoples. I have no wish to take advantage of the fortune of war to humiliate their honoured Emperor. ‘Boyards,' I will say to them, ‘I do not seek war; I seek the peace and welfare of all my subjects.' But I know their presence will inspire me, and I shall speak to them as I always do, clearly, impressively, and greatly. But can it be true that I am in Moscow! Yes, there she is!”
“Let the boyards be brought to me,” he said, addressing his suite. A general, with a brilliant suite of adjutants, galloped off at once to fetch the boyards.
Two hours passed. Napoleon had lunched, and was again standing on the same spot on the Poklonny Hill, waiting for the deputation. His speech to the boyards had by now taken definite shape in his mind. The speech was full of dignity and of greatness, as Napoleon understood it. Napoleon was himself carried away by the magnanimity with which he intended to act in Moscow. In imagination he had already fixed the days for a “réunion dans le palais des Czars,” at which the great Russian nobles were to mingle with the courtiers of the French Emperor. In thought he had appointed a governor capable of winning the hearts of the people. Having heard that Moscow was full of religious institutions, he had mentally decided that his bounty was to be showered on these institutions. He imagined that as in Africa he had had to sit in a mosque wearing a burnous, in Moscow he must be gracious and bountiful as the Tsars. And being, like every Frenchman, unable to imagine anything moving without a reference to sa chère, sa tendre, sa pauvre mère, he decided finally to touch the Russian heart, that he would have inscribed on all these charitable foundations in large letters, “Dedicated to my beloved mother,” or simply, “Maison de ma mère,” he decided. “But am I really in Moscow? Yes, there she lies before me; but why is the deputation from the city so long in coming?” he wondered.
Meanwhile a whispered and agitated consultation was being held among his generals and marshals in the rear of the suite. The adjutants sent to bring the deputation had come back with the news that Moscow was empty, that every one had left or was leaving the city. The faces of all the suite were pale and perturbed. It was not that Moscow had been abandoned by its inhabitants (grave as that fact appeared) that alarmed them. They were in alarm at the idea of making the fact known to the Emperor; they could not see how, without putting his majesty into the terrible position, called by the French ridicule, to inform him that he had been waiting so long for the boyards in vain, that there was a drunken mob, but no one else in Moscow. Some of the suite maintained that come what may, they must anyway scrape up a deputation of some sort; others opposed this view, and asserted that the Emperor must be carefully and skilfully prepared, and then told the truth.
“We shall have to tell him all the same,” said some gentleman of the suite.… “But, gentlemen …”
The position was the more difficult as the Emperor, pondering on his magnanimous plans, was walking patiently up and down before the map of the city, shading his eyes to look from time to time along the road to Moscow, with a proud and happy smile.
“But it's awkward …” the gentlemen-in-waiting kept repeating, shrugging their shoulders and unable to bring themselves to settle the terrible word in their minds: “le ridicule.…”
Meanwhile the Emperor, weary of waiting in vain, and with his actor's instinct feeling that the great moment, being too long deferred, was beginning to lose its grandeur, made a sign with his hand. A solitary cannon shot gave the signal, and the invading army marched into Moscow—at the Tver, the Kaluga, and the Dorogomilov gates. More and more rapidly, vying with one another, at a quick run and a trot, the troops marched in, concealed in the clouds of dust they raised, and making the air ring with their deafening shouts.
Tempted on by the advance of the army, Napoleon too rode as far as the Dorogomilov gate, but there he halted again, and dismounting walked about the Kamerkolezhsky wall for a long time, waiting for the deputation.