Napoleon's generals—Davout, Ney, and Murat, who were near that region of fir_nd sometimes even entered it—repeatedly led into it huge masses of well- ordered troops. But contrary to what had always happened in their forme_attles, instead of the news they expected of the enemy's flight, thes_rderly masses returned thence as disorganized and terrified mobs. Th_enerals re-formed them, but
their numbers constantly decreased. In the middle of the day Murat sent hi_djutant to Napoleon to demand reinforcements.
Napoleon sat at the foot of the knoll, drinking punch, when Murat's adjutan_alloped up with an assurance that the Russians would be routed if His Majest_ould let him have another division.
"Reinforcements?" said Napoleon in a tone of stern surprise, looking at th_djutant—a handsome lad with long black curls arranged like Murat's own—a_hough he did not understand his words.
"Reinforcements!" thought Napoleon to himself. "How can they nee_einforcements when they already have half the army directed against a weak, unentrenched Russian wing?"
"Tell the King of Naples," said he sternly, "that it is not noon yet, and _on't yet see my chessboard clearly. Go!… "
The handsome boy adjutant with the long hair sighed deeply without removin_is hand from his hat and galloped back to where men were being slaughtered.
Napoleon rose and having summoned Caulaincourt and Berthier began talking t_hem about matters unconnected with the battle.
In the midst of this conversation, which was beginning to interest Napoleon, Berthier's eyes turned to look at a general with a suite, who was gallopin_oward the knoll on a lathering horse. It was Belliard. Having dismounted h_ent up to the Emperor with rapid strides and in a loud voice began boldl_emonstrating the necessity of sending reinforcements. He swore on his hono_hat the Russians were lost if the Emperor would give another division.
Napoleon shrugged his shoulders and continued to pace up and down withou_eplying. Belliard began talking loudly and eagerly to the generals of th_uite around him.
"You are very fiery, Belliard," said Napoleon, when he again came up to th_eneral. "In the heat of a battle it is easy to make a mistake. Go and hav_nother look and then come back to me."
Before Belliard was out of sight, a messenger from another part of th_attlefield galloped up.
"Now then, what do you want?" asked Napoleon in the tone of a man irritated a_eing continually disturbed.
"Sire, the prince… " began the adjutant.
"Asks for reinforcements?" said Napoleon with an angry gesture.
The adjutant bent his head affirmatively and began to report, but the Empero_urned from him, took a couple of steps, stopped, came back, and calle_erthier.
"We must give reserves," he said, moving his arms slightly apart. "Who do yo_hink should be sent there?" he asked of Berthier (whom he subsequently termed
"that gosling I have made an eagle").
"Send Claparede's division, sire," replied Berthier, who knew all th_ivisions regiments, and battalions by heart.
Napoleon nodded assent.
The adjutant galloped to Claparede's division and a few minutes later th_oung Guards stationed behind the knoll moved forward. Napoleon gazed silentl_n that direction.
"No!" he suddenly said to Berthier. "I can't send Claparede. Send Friant'_ivision."
Though there was no advantage in sending Friant's division instead o_laparede's, and even in obvious inconvenience and delay in stopping Clapared_nd sending Friant now, the order was carried out exactly. Napoleon did no_otice that in regard to his army he was playing the part of a doctor wh_inders by his medicines—a role he so justly understood and condemned.
Friant's division disappeared as the others had done into the smoke of th_attlefield. From all sides adjutants continued to arrive at a gallop and a_f by agreement all said the same thing. They all asked for reinforcements an_ll said that the Russians were holding their positions and maintaining _ellish fire under which the French army was melting away.
Napoleon sat on a campstool, wrapped in thought.
M. de Beausset, the man so fond of travel, having fasted since morning, cam_p to the Emperor and ventured respectfully to suggest lunch to His Majesty.
"I hope I may now congratulate Your Majesty on a victory?" said he.
Napoleon silently shook his head in negation. Assuming the negation to refe_nly to the victory and not to the lunch, M. de Beausset ventured wit_espectful jocularity to remark that there is no reason for not having lunc_hen one can get it.
"Go away… " exclaimed Napoleon suddenly and morosely, and turned aside.
A beatific smile of regret, repentance, and ecstasy beamed on M. de Beausset'_ace and he glided away to the other generals.
Napoleon was experiencing a feeling of depression like that of an ever-luck_ambler who, after recklessly flinging money about and always winning, suddenly just when he has calculated all the chances of the game, finds tha_he more he considers his play the more surely he loses.
His troops were the same, his generals the same, the same preparations ha_een made, the same dispositions, and the same proclamation courte e_nergique, he himself was still the same: he knew that and knew that he wa_ow even more experienced and skillful than before. Even the enemy was th_ame as at Austerlitz and Friedland—yet the terrible stroke of his arm ha_upernaturally become impotent.
All the old methods that had been unfailingly crowned with success: th_oncentration of batteries on one point, an attack by reserves to break th_nemy's line, and a cavalry attack by "the men of iron," all these methods ha_lready been employed, yet not only was there no victory, but from all side_ame the same news of generals killed and wounded, of reinforcements needed, of the impossibility of driving back the Russians, and of disorganizatio_mong his own troops.
Formerly, after he had given two or three orders and uttered a few phrases, marshals and adjutants had come galloping up with congratulations and happ_aces, announcing the trophies taken, the corps of prisoners, bundles of enem_agles and standards, cannon and stores, and Murat had only begged leave t_oose the cavalry to gather in the baggage wagons. So it had been at Lodi, Marengo, Arcola, Jena, Austerlitz, Wagram, and so on. But now somethin_trange was happening to his troops.
Despite news of the capture of the fleches, Napoleon saw that this was not th_ame, not at all the same, as what had happened in his former battles. He sa_hat what he was feeling was felt by all the men about him experienced in th_rt of war. All their faces looked dejected, and they all shunned on_nother's eyes—only a de Beausset could fail to grasp the meaning of what wa_appening.
But Napoleon with his long experience of war well knew the meaning of a battl_ot gained by the attacking side in eight hours, after all efforts had bee_xpended. He knew that it was a lost battle and that the least accident migh_ow—with the fight balanced on such a strained center—destroy him and hi_rmy.
When he ran his mind over the whole of this strange Russian campaign in whic_ot one battle had been won, and in which not a flag, or cannon, or army corp_ad been captured in two months, when he looked at the concealed depression o_he faces around him and heard reports of the Russians still holding thei_round—a terrible feeling like a nightmare took possession of him, and all th_nlucky accidents that might destroy him occurred to his mind. The Russian_ight fall on his left wing, might break through his center, he himself migh_e killed by a stray cannon ball. All this was possible. In former battles h_ad only considered the possibilities of success, but now innumerable unluck_hances presented themselves, and he expected them all. Yes, it was like _ream in which a man fancies that a ruffian is coming to attack him, an_aises his arm to strike that ruffian a terrible blow which he knows shoul_nnihilate him, but then feels that his arm drops powerless and limp like _ag, and the horror of unavoidable destruction seizes him in his helplessness.
The news that the Russians were attacking the left flank of the French arm_roused that horror in Napoleon. He sat silently on a campstool below th_noll, with head bowed and elbows on his knees. Berthier approached an_uggested that they should ride along the line to ascertain the position o_ffairs.
"What? What do you say?" asked Napoleon. "Yes, tell them to bring me m_orse."
He mounted and rode toward Semenovsk.
Amid the powder smoke, slowly dispersing over the whole space through whic_apoleon rode, horses and men were lying in pools of blood, singly or i_eaps. Neither Napoleon nor any of his generals had ever before seen suc_orrors or so many slain in such a small area. The roar of guns, that had no_eased for ten hours, wearied the ear and gave a peculiar significance to th_pectacle, as music does to tableaux vivants. Napoleon rode up the high groun_t Semenovsk, and through the smoke saw ranks of men in uniforms of a colo_nfamiliar to him. They were Russians.
The Russians stood in serried ranks behind Semenovsk village and its knoll, and their guns boomed incessantly along their line and sent forth clouds o_moke. It was no longer a battle: it was a continuous slaughter which could b_f no avail either to the French or the Russians. Napoleon stopped his hors_nd again fell into the reverie from which Berthier had aroused him. He coul_ot stop what was going on before him and around him and was supposed to b_irected by him and to depend on him, and from its lack of success thi_ffair, for the first time, seemed to him unnecessary and horrible.
One of the generals rode up to Napoleon and ventured to offer to lead the Ol_uard into action. Ney and Berthier, standing near Napoleon, exchanged look_nd smiled contemptuously at this general's senseless offer.
Napoleon bowed his head and remained silent a long time.
"At eight hundred leagues from France, I will not have my Guard destroyed!" h_aid, and turning his horse rode back to Shevardino.