It is true, however, that a considerable number of inhabitants, less excitable than these I have described, remained quietly at home, well knowing that if the fleet had really been on fire, there would have been no time to give an alarm. These persons made every effort to quiet the excited crowd. Madame F——, the very pretty and very amiable wife of a clockmaker, was in her kitchen making preparations for supper, when a neighbor, thoroughly frightened, entered, and said to her, “Save yourself Madame; you have not a moment to lose!”—“What is the matter?”—“The fleet is on fire!”—“Ah-pshaw!”—“Fly then, Madame, fly! I tell you the fleet is on fire.” And the neighbor took Madame F—— by the arm, and endeavored to pull her along. Madame F—— held at the moment a frying-pan in which she was cooking some fritters. “Take care; you will make me burn my fritters,” said she, laughing. And with a few half serious, half jesting words she reassured the poor fellow, who ended by laughing at himself.
At last the tumult was appeased, and to this great fright a profound calm succeeded. No explosion had been heard; and they saw that it must have been a false alarm, so each returned home, thinking no longer of the fire, but agitated by another fear. The robbers may have profited by the absence of the inhabitants to pillage the houses, but as luck would have it no mischance of this kind had taken place.
The next day the poor commandant who had so inopportunely taken and given the alarm was brought before the council of war. He was guilty of no intentional wrong; but the law was explicit, and he was condemned to death. His judges, however, recommended him to the mercy of the Emperor, who pardoned him.
Many of the brave soldiers who composed the army of Boulogne had earned the cross (of the Legion of Honor) in these last campaigns, and his Majesty desired that this distribution should be made an impressive occasion, which should long be remembered. He chose the day after his fete, Aug. 16, 1804. Never has there been in the past, nor can there be in the future, a more imposing spectacle.
At six o’clock in the morning, more than eighty thousand men left the four camps,—at their head drums beating and bands playing,—and advanced by divisions towards the “Hubertmill” field, which was on the cliff beyond the camp of the right wing. On this plain an immense platform had been erected, about fifteen feet above the ground, and with its back toward the sea. It was reached by three flights of richly carpeted steps, situated in the middle and on each side. From the stage thus formed, about forty feet square, rose three other platforms, the central one bearing the imperial armchair, decorated with trophies and banners, while that on the left held seats for the brothers of the Emperor, and for the grand dignitaries, and that on the right bore a tripod of antique form, surmounted by a helmet (the helmet of Duguesclin, I think), covered with crosses and ribbons. By the side of the tripod had been placed a seat for the arch-chancellor.