Long after this the Emperor and Empress Marie Louise visited together the manufacture of Sevres porcelain, and the Duchess of Montebello accompanied the Empress as lady of honor. The Emperor, seeing a fine bust of the marshal, in bisque, exquisitely made, paused, and, not noticing the pallor which overspread the countenance of the duchess, asked her what she thought of this bust, and if it was a good likeness. The widow felt as if her old wound was reopened; she could not reply, and retired, bathed in tears, and it was several days before she reappeared at court. Apart from the fact that this unexpected question renewed her grief, the inconceivable thoughtlessness the Emperor had shown wounded her so deeply that, her friends had much difficulty in persuading her to resume her duties near the Empress.
The battle of Essling was disastrous in every respect. Twelve thousand Frenchmen were slain; and the source of all this trouble was the destruction of the bridges, which could have been prevented, it seems to me, for the same accident had occurred two or three days before the battle. The soldiers complained loudly, and several corps of the infantry cried out to the generals to dismount and fight in their midst; but this ill humor in no wise affected their courage or patience, for regiments remained five hours under arms, exposed to the most terrible fire. Three times during the evening the Emperor sent to inquire of General Massena if he could hold his position; and the brave captain, who that day saw his son on the field of battle for the first time, and his friends and his bravest officers falling by dozens around him, held it till night closed in. “I will not fall back,” said he, “while there is light. Those rascally Austrians would be too glad.” The constancy of the marshal saved the day; but, as he himself said, he was always blessed with good luck. In the beginning of the battle, seeing that one of his stirrups was too long, he called a soldier to shorten it, and during this operation placed his leg on his horse’s neck; a cannon-ball whizzed by, killed the soldier, and cut off the stirrup, without touching the marshal or his horse. “There,” said he, “now I shall have to get down and change my saddle;” which observation the marshal made in a jesting tone.