We entered by the light of the flames, but it was nothing in comparison to what awaited us at Moscow. I remarked at Smolensk two buildings which seemed to me of the greatest beauty,—the cathedral and the episcopal palace, which last seemed to form a village in itself, so extensive are the buildings, and being also separated from the city.
I will not make a list of the places with barbarous names through which we passed after leaving Smolensk. All that I shall add as to our itinerary during the first half of this gigantic campaign is that on the 5th of September we arrived on the banks of the Moskwa, where the Emperor saw with intense satisfaction that at last the Russians were determined to grant him the great battle which he so ardently desired, and which he had pursued for more than two hundred leagues as prey that he would not allow to escape him.
The day after the battle of the Moskwa, I was with the Emperor in his tent which was on the field of battle, and the most perfect calm reigned around us. It was a fine spectacle which this army presented, calmly re-forming its columns in which the Russian cannon had made such wide gaps, and proceeding to the repose of the bivouac with the security which conquerors ever feel. The Emperor seemed overcome with fatigue. From time to time he clasped his hands over his crossed knees, and I heard him each time repeat, with a kind of convulsive movement, “Moscow! Moscow!” He sent me several times to see what was going on outside, then rose himself, and coming up behind me looked out over my shoulder. The noise made by the sentinel in presenting arms each time warned me of his approach. After about a quarter of an hour of these silent marches to and fro, the sentinel advanced and cried, “To arms!” and like a lightning flash the battalion square was formed around the Emperor’s tent. He rushed out, and then re-entered to take his hat and sword. It proved to be a false alarm, as a regiment of Saxons returning from a raid had been mistaken for the enemy.
There was much laughter over this mistake, especially when the raiders came in sight, some bearing quarters of meat spitted on the ends of their bayonets, others with half-picked fowls or hams which made the mouth water. I was standing outside the tent, and shall never forget the first movement of the sentinel as he gave the cry of alarm. He lowered the stock of his gun to see if the priming was in place, shook the barrel by striking it with his fist, then replaced the gun on his arm, saying, “Well, let them come; we are ready for them.” I told the occurrence to the Emperor, who in his turn related it to Prince Berthier; and in consequence the Emperor made this brave soldier drink a glass of his best Chambertin wine.