-x-

               What does Saint Matthew say? A man’s foes will be they of his own household, is it? Well, he’s wrong. A bond is being formed between Edward and his younger brother Augustus, ‘Augie’, the Duke of Sussex. With their eldest brother now regent, they share many of the same concerns, childhood traumas, issues of abandonment, lack of parental affection, lack of parental everything, except severity, heartlessness, a punitive diet, and a sort of all-pervasive sense of beastliness. They share problems, and this sharing formis a new clique, one of their own. There’s no logic to it; but who expects to encounter logic in this family? This bonding happens, as you might dare expect, after Edward has forgiven Augie for betraying him to Wales.

               ‘It was understandable,’ he says, knowing it’s the sort of thing you need to say, even if it’s not true, ‘given the circumstances. I suggest we just forget it…’

               Listening to Edward’s ideas, and reading a few of the many, many books he recommends, Augie also becomes interested in reform, particularly the theories of Robert Owen. Indeed, the more they study together like students in the old Kew schoolroom, the more they are both convinced Owen is their man. He has a grerater grasp of the current situation and, most importantly, he’s devised ways to ameliorate it. Thus, soon they contrive to visit him at the London offices of a company which has made Owen very wealthy indeed.

                A mischievous-looking, sandy-haired elf of a fellow, he welcomes them in his bluff Welsh manner, not a shred of deference, less still obsequiousness. They’re taken into a cluttered, book-lined room, where it soon becomes luminously clear to Edward that this dedicated man won’t rest until he’s gained the Duke of Kent’s active support for his vision of a new society.

              “Here’s what we’re currently dealing with,” says Owen, indicating a wooden pyramid on his desk. It’s about two feet high and made of cubes whose various colours represent the different levels or classes of society. The largest level by far is the base, which is painted red and stands for the industrial working class and share-cropping or tenant farmers. Ascending through green owner-farmers, yellow merchants, and so on, the pyramid ends with an inch of apex painted blue. “That’s the landed aristocracy and monarchy of course,” Owen tells the two sons of a monarch in his atonal Flintshire accent. “And here resides most of the wealth, and all of the power. Yet, look you, it barely comprises one or two percent of the whole structure…”

             “That’s us,” says Augie, as if astonished to see his own lofty place in society. “It seems impossible we can control such a vast mass spread out below us…” The thought is newly-born, shell fragments and albumen still on it.

              “It will soon be impossible,” Owen tells him. “For the lowest mass is growing larger daily; and once they realize their power – boom! – it’s all over, boyo. Our job is to make the situation more equitable before the inequality is seen for what it is, and the whole pyramid comes tumbling down – as it will without its base. No one builds from the apex down. Every structure relies entirely on its foundations, no matter that the foundation be usually invisible…”

               “Education?” Edward inquires, gripped by an unnerving sense of déjà vu.

              “I know your efforts in that area,” says Owen, “but it will take much more than a few schools to change this. Education on its own is like throwing burning coal into a powder keg. Revolutions occur when things get better, not worse. When people see how badly they’ve been treated, they get angry, and such a justifiable anger knows no reason or bounds.  Why in Hades should it?” You can see a long line of Methodist ministers at the back of his eyes.

               “What’s your solution then?” says Edward. thinking: What an intense little fellow this is. He then wonders what sort of grievances the Welsh have as their history. Did we treat them badly? Probably.

              “I am weary of sermonizing,” Owen tells them, running delicate fingers up and down his social pyramid, but sounding far from tired of sermonizing.  ‘Probably my Methodist background, you see…” He laughs a modest private laugh. “Sermonizing merely infuriates the rich and confuses the poor. What I intend to do instead of talking, look you, is build a model factory town, around mills I’ve purchased up at New Lanark on the Clyde. It’s going to be a living, breathing example of the way industry ought to be organized in the future – if, that is, we’re to avoid catastrophic social upheaval. Ay. There will be a ten-hour work day, in a healthy, pleasant environment; there will be decent accommodations; there will be free education, naturally, naturally; drunkenness will be mightily discouraged; and promotion to senior positions will be by ability alone. Excess profits, if or when they come, will be shared among the workers on an equitable basis, according to seniority and skill. Of course, of course, these are just a few of my ideas for the project. The venture will be a trial, and no doubt I shall learn much along the way – much indeed…” He’s obviously a man for whom learning always has been a source of boundless pleasure.

              He thinks: These are the old dreams, the masonic ideals, but very practical now; and he says, “When do you plan to begin this great venture?’

                “It’s already underway,” Owen says triumphantly. “The problems involved are immense, though, vast, and a man like yourself…” A pause as he corrects his sentence: “Men like yourselves, will be of inestimable value merely in lending your support to the New Lanark project.’ Another weighty pause, as he rolls his eyes to stare at the roof of his skull before clearing his throat and continuing: ‘I am well aware, very well aware that financial support is not within your means – if I may be so bold, sir – but your royal blood will be worth more than gold… yes, as will your voices in Parliament…” His own voice is repeating itself somewhere up in the distant roof beams.

             Edward is somewhat embarrassed, saying, “How do you come to know so much about my personal affairs, Mr. Owen? 

             “Mr. Coutts, a good friend of mine, look you, has queried me on whether I should care to join a committee managing your…ah – if I may say so – rather disastrous fiscal predicament…” Now this does sound like a sermon. 

              Edward shudders, perspiration sliding from his armpits. “And shall you join it?” is all he says.

                “Not if it will prevent you from speaking out in favour of my own work…” He has thought this all through carefully, every word of it.

              Edward looks over at Augie, whose unfairly lush head of tousled hair nods enthusiastically, his eggs of knowledge now all in the pan.

                 “You shall have our complete support,” he tells Owen, “and whatever influence we can bring to bear in the House…” Whatever microscopic influence, he thinks.

              “Oh, good, very good; very, very good,” sings Owen, not expecting such easy success. “You are really the first among your class to understand the dire need for these changes – which is as it should be, look you, because, if we fail to support the base of our pyramid, you will be the first to fall…yes, you –unless you can fly, that is…”

‘Are the Welsh a humourous people?’ he asks his brother as they step out into a wall of drizzle.

                 ‘That one was,’ says Augie. ‘Every time he opened his mouth I wanted to howl with mirth. Boyo. Hey, what do you think those “look-yous” are all about?”

‘Welsh version of “what-what” and “hey-hey”, I imagine,’ says Edward, not wanting to think of their poor father at this moment.

‘God,’ says Augie, ‘who’d have thought we’d ever miss hearing those, eh?’

I would, thinks Edward. I did.

-xi-

              Thunder does in fact sound much like a cannonball being rolled across the wooden heaven’s balcony. We do not have to wait on tenterhooks for long. A lengthy letter unsigned by Vincy arrives two days before the rather sparse press reports dribble in. Napoleon left Dresden at 4 a.m. on the 29th of May in a covered carriage pulled by six white horses, followed by marshals Coulancourt and Duroc in another. The emperor averages seven miles an hour to reach Glugau on the Oder in twenty hours. He stays two days at Posen and three at Torn. On the 7th of June, after driving all day and night, the cortege arrives at Danzig, the main French base, where Murat and Davoust join up with him. He spends two weeks there and at Konigsberg, inspecting his troops and organizing his gargantuan administration. By the 23rd of June he’s on the Russian frontier, the river Neman. He’s come 1,200 miles from Paris, and he’s still 500 miles from Moscow. This is history in progress; the invasion of Russia, of all the Russias, is on. Napoleon’s demeanour these days is withdrawn and lethargic, responding to the acclamations of his men merely with a nod; to the public, mainly crowds of women, he raises his hat but without looking in their direction. The poet Heine, then fifteen, watches him inspecting the guard at Torn. and will later write of: The eternal eye set in the marble of that imperial visage, looking on with the calm of destiny as his guards march past. He was sending them to Russia, and the old grenadiers glanced up at him with an awesome devotion, with a sympathetic earnestness, with the pride of death…. At night he’s overheard pacing up and down in his bedchamber singing the revolutionary song, Et du nord au midi la trompet guerriere a sonnee l’heure de combat – tremblez enemies de France!  It is not only enemies that tremble. Those Prussians and Poles, supposedly allies, who live in the vasty regions into which his army is now converging, they suffer terribly at the hands of men who act as if they’ve already entered enemy territory. The killing, looting, raping and burning go on unabated, as his unprecedentedly gigantic army tramples down crops, stripping rye from the fields to feed horses on their way to the Russian border. He now marches to Vilna and will then head along a highway to the holy city of Smolensk. Another missive from the czar still proposing peace is received at Vilna, but Napoleon scoffs at it: a sign of Alexander’s weakness and fear, begging for peace even as midnight is striking. Hah! 

                 Reports from both sides become less frequent now, as communication lines are stretched, and Russian armies spread out across the vastness of their land. But over the weeks ahead Edward pieces together the story from his different sources, as well as the letters that come from Geneva almost weekly – sometimes almost daily. 

                 The emperor is soon facing some severe problems. His wagons aren’t suited to the rough roads; wheels and axles break, supplies are abandoned. The heat is extreme; the dust is atrocious — men are blinded by it, forced to cover their heads with rags or leafy branches. Then the rains come. Wagons and gun carriages are now getting stuck in mud; most provisions are already three days behind the leading force, which means food is scarce for both men and beasts. The local grain storages have all been burned by fleeing peasants, who’ve also poisoned their wells with the rotting bodies of dead horses; and the fields have been stripped of whatever grew in them. Towns and villages along the way have been burned too; the soldiers were planning to loot and seek out food in these settlements; but instead there’s nothing except the odd turnip dug out of mud – and the thatch from roofs, which at least horses can eat. Divisions of the Grand Army sent through Lithuania, to attack the Russian rear, had expected to be greeted as liberators, the way they’d been in Poland. Instead they found the inhabitants hostile and surly, unwilling to supply food or shelter, less still to join with the French forces. Whether this was loyalty to the czar or fear of his retribution is hard for Vincy’s informant to say.  Seeing the main Russian force encamped near the horizon at sunset one day, Napoleon had prepared for a battle on the following morning. Yet, as a dawn mist cleared, the Russians were nowhere to be seen. Even scouts sent ahead reported no sightings in any direction; there wasn’t even a telltale dust cloud, which is always thrown up by large troop movements. The Russian armies are like ghosts, seen and then not seen, gone into the aethers, melted into the holy soil, the holy entropy. So, this, Edward thinks, is the ‘secret strategy’ we heard of: avoid giving him the decisive battle he wants, and keep him chasing you through a barren landscape with exhausted men and a supply line ever further behind – is that it? Clever, and well thought-out. You cannot tell the falcon from the falconer. Napoleon’s own reports, however, have the Russians fleeing his victorious armies, as they press on in glory towards Moscow. But they’re not fleeing, are they? It’s cat and mouse, with the mice sapping the cat’s energy, strength and resources, to grow larger than their predator. The French advance guard is soon on the verge of starvation; desertion is increasingly common, since many soldiers are from French vassal states; and ten thousand horses have now died, either from eating rank grass, or from sheer fatigue after pulling the heavy wagons or the four thousand cannon, hundreds of which have had to be left, either in cloying mud, or because there are no strong animals to drag them any further. Communications between the emperor and his various marshals are breaking down due to the vast distances involved; and the marshals are quarrelling amongst themselves — Murat nearly even fights a duel with Duroc. Troops flagging behind are subject to lightning attacks by Cossacks, who appear without warning from the woods, inflicting terrible casualties, and then galloping off as swiftly as they came. The emperor’s losses are already in the many thousands, without a single battle yet fought, and the summer now well past its prime. The Russian general Barclay marshals his armies at Smolensk, mere days before the first French forces arrive there. The men are shamed by Barclay’s policy of tactical retreats, which are all they’ve seen so far; but they will not retreat from Smolensk. They do retreat after it, though, vanishing like migrating geese over the misty boreal horizons. This is not the war a whole world has been expecting, for Napoleon had created those expectations, and it is nothing like the war he was expecting. 

-xii-

               Owing to the King’s sporadic but short-lived recoveries, the Regent finally holds a much-postponed grand fete at Carlton House to celebrate his regency. To no one’s great surprise, it is vastly ostentatious, with flowers and celebratory silk hangings everywhere, fountains of champagne on sidetables, and, extending down the middle of an immense dining table, a hundred-foot-long moat full of gold and silver fish. So atrociously sweltering is the summer heat, unfortunately, that many of these fish die and are now floating on their backs. Or is it on their bellies? Maria Fitzherbert had been invited, but, as she told Edward, she’d asked the Prince Regent at which table she would sit.

              “Any one you choose,” Wales had replied, “except mine.”

               “Considering my position,” she’d told him, “I ought to be at your side.”

               He’d laughed and denied her this request; thus, she declined his invitation. Sadly, it is to be the last conversation they ever have.

                 The Duke of Kent is seated between young Princess Charlotte and his young brother Augie, Duke of Sussex. The Queen had deemed the event unseemly considering the King’s illness, refusing to attend it herself, and then, as you might expect, denying her daughters the right as well.

                “Look who’s seated to my papa’s right,” says Charlotte, who’s not so little anymore, growing fast into a very attractive, graceful young lady. “He’s the vilest, meanest, most disgusting man I ever did meet…”

                It’s his other younger brother Ernest, now Duke of Cumberland, who’s wearing a silk bandage around his head for wounds received during a fight. You wonder if he’s murdered another valet with his razor, after raping the new man’s wife too. That murder had been played down by authorities to such an extent that newspapers generally blamed the valet for his unwarranted attack on innocent Duke Ernest. With a bilious tinge, Edward now recalls his sickening conversation with York, who’d asserted that most crimes could be made to vanish, if you knew the right people. Ernest knows the right people. What atrocity had he committed now to be yet again exonerated for? Edward doesn’t even want to know the answer. With the glossy sabre scar already disfiguring him, will these new wounds confer on the Duke of Cumberland a still more forbidding mien? For mysterious reasons, though, he seems to have become the Regent’s closest confidant this week, his beadsman, his right hand, seated at the place of honour, a place which many other guests present are infinitely more deserving of than he.

               “He scares me,” Charlotte says. “I don’t understand why I’m no longer allowed visitors at Windsor, yet he’s allowed to come. I never want to see him…” They grow up so fast, don’t they?

             “No one wants to see him,” Edward agrees, delighted with her. ‘Or no one we like… But why aren’t you allowed to have visitors outside of the family circle? That’s awful…’

              “You know Sir William Drummond?” she asks, daintily dissecting her lamb chop.

            “Vaguely. Didn’t he write a book against religion?”

            “Yes, yes!” she says brightly, as if he’s affirmed her whole world. “He once explained to me that the Old Testament was all allegorical nonsense, and he told me I ought to study oriental history, which he said was far more enlightening. But the thought of the Bible not being true scared me, so I told my bishop, who made me avow my catechism; then he must have complained about Drummond to Papa, who banned all my visitors. It defies reason, doesn’t it?” 

               Her mind has grown so fast too, he thinks, saying, “Why not just ban Drummond?”  

              “You know how Papa is…No one is permitted to attend my mother’s dinners anymore either – or no one of importance. So now she invites any old riff-raff, as long as they’re witty – or as long as she thinks they’re witty. Yet Papa can keep that odious Uncle Ernest around him day and night. It’s not fair…”

               “Life is not known for its fairness,” he says predictably. “Don’t expect it to be fair. I imagine, though, that the Regent also fears you’ll fall in love with a handsome, young, but highly unsuitable man if you have unlimited visitors…”

              “I wish I would,” she says, her opalescent blue eyes dissolving into the thought.

               “Isn’t this the very thing wrong with the little blue apex of Mr. Owen’s pyramid,” says Augie suddenly, waving around with his spoon at the ridiculously luxuriant decorations, food, table and its richly-clad guests. “If the poor could see all this gaudiness they’d be fully justified in setting up a guillotine in Piccadilly…” Augie is perhaps too instant a radical to be taken seriously – or else he’s just drunk.

              Edward doesn’t want to discourage his brother’s fervour, so he says, ‘Ah. Yes…’ and then he too looks around, looks at the bloated Regent, who reportedly weighs 40 stone now, resembling a bizarre parody of himself. The cartoonists are having monstrous great fun with him, eating England, swallowing his family, crushing his horse. But the real thing out-satires any satirist. One of Wales’ first acts as regent had been to promote himself, a man unacquainted with soldiering, from colonel to field-marshal. This is why he now wears the gaudiest dress uniform ever made on Savile Row, festooned with yards of gold braid, laden down with stars, medals, along with a whole plethora of civil and military honours – the latter not commonly seen on men who’ve never fought a battle or ever assayed a field to marshal. The only war he’s experienced, the only one he’s fit for, is the cold one with his wife – and that’s not over yet, after fifteen years. But we won’t mention this to Charlotte. Christ, he thinks, just look at our regent! Look. He wants you to look.  His sweating face is even redder than his jacket, which seems too small for him already, although it was only stitched last week. The chair, the room, the house all appear too small for him. Will England be large enough?  Servants keep emptying bottles of claret into a goblet the size of his head; and he pours wine down his gullet as if there’s a leak somewhere along the way to his oozing entrails. There’s no secret to getting fat; yet some people act as if it’s a mystery. There’s no mystery: you get fat when you eat and drink far too much every day for fifty years. We’re still at that stage, however, where corpulence is equated with wealth. You need to be able to afford to get fat; and the poor usually can’t afford even being thin. Wales can afford it. Look at him go! Edward sees his horse in bib and tucker banging a hoof on the table and whinnying as a caravan of food trundles steadily from the tropical heat of kitchens explosive with clattering activity. The eels in aspic; three dozen oysters; the lobster Thermidor, new from Paris and named for the old revolutionary summer month, apt in this steambath; the game pie; four ducks stuffed with goose liver; one glossy suckling pig with a bauble, no, an apple in its snarling white teth and a chestnut-veal-dumpling stuffing up its arse; a fish the size of Wales’ leg, wallowing in creamy shallot sauce; and – who knows? – a partridge in a pear tree, or a pair of patridges in treacle,  course after rich, fat-sequined course. What you wonder is how can he fit it all in? How? Belching and farting uncontrollably at times — you pretend not to notice — he bellows out blasts of bestial laughter, either at Ernest’s sordid, possibly unrepeatably vile jokes, or in tune with some spiteful witticism spouted by his latest mistress, Lady Hertford, whose face is as sharp as her tongue.

                 Edward now recalls that both Princess Caroline and his sister Sophia have complained that the Duke of Cumberland tried to rape them – ‘tried’, yes, but did he succeed? Their complaint was modest about details. It was some years ago; but Cumberland looks as if he could still do it – maybe he has? Caroline has neither forgotten nor forgiven the assault, that much we do know. She told Edward this herself. Her colossal hectoring mother had arrived from Brunswick by the time in question, which wasn’t long ago, and after staying some weeks with her daughter, she peremptorily demanded an establishment of her own, which was in fact to Caroline’s great relief. The mountainous old duchess was not easy to live with, had indeed never been easy to live with, even when Caroline was too small to live anywhere else. Finding a bust of Duke Ernest installed, for some unfathomably Brunswickian reason, in her mother’s new house in Hanover Square, Caroline, though big enough now to have fled here from Germany, was still too small to reach the sculpture. So, she took a poker and smashed it to fragments, and then ordered a maid to throw the pieces out a window into the street below. Perhaps, Edward thinks, this is the reason why Cumberland now wears a bandage? For Julie had once told him all about the efficacy of voodoo, how the wounded effigy injures the enemy. But Augustus has by now told him all about Ernest. The man has a room in his house with the walls entirely covered in mirrors; and there are strange contraptions in that room, engines designed to facilitate or enhance his sexual shenanigans. A chap in Chelsea builds them to your specifications and needs, no matter how byzantine or bestial a need may be. Does this, wonders Edward, explain the new relationship with Wales? The Regent is always looking for novel pleasures, even if he’s probably no longer capable of indulging in them. He’s capable of watching them, though. You wonder what a 40-stone body is still able to do, or to do with the aid of customized copulatory engines. You wonder how a mortal coil, even one uncoiled to that size, can stand up to the constant, the insistent daily abuse. But, he decides, ultimately you can’t imagine it involved in any kind of coitus, any kind of anything, except bedrerst.  Of course, Wales and body are not standing up to the abuse, indeed not standing up much at all these days: He’s frequently sick; although, when laid up, he uses alcohol along with opium as medicine. So even in sickness there’s no real respite from the siege against himself.

               As one of the less bum-licking Whig cabinet ministers had recently remarked to Edward, Wales is now finding that the Regency involves more work than he’d anticipated it would or even could. Indeed, it’s far more work than he’s been accustomed to doing at all on any regular basis, not that the basis of his life has ever been remotely regular in any sense of the term. This, Edward realizes, must explain his insistence that there be no discussions of politics or the war at his table tonight. It might remind him of work, or the idea of work. At nearly three times the Duke of Kent’s sturdy bulk, Wales is really a poor wee thing still trying to eat himself into some sort of humanity and some sort of authentic life. What does it say about gaining the whole world and losing your own soul? Something, that much is certain – something you’d never dare tell Wales in case he ate you too.

                 Leaving this gruesome bacchanal as soon as possible, Augie and he take young Charlotte back to Windsor, intending to visit the King while they’re there.

              “Grandpapa doesn’t see or hear you,” says the Princess Royal matter-of-factly. “So, a visit is really pointless, isn’t it?”

              ‘Honour thy mother and they father,’ says Edward piously, instantly wishing he hadn’t.

               They want to visit their father all the same, perhaps to honour him; but they now need to request that a doctor unlock the King’s door– so he’s unquestionably a prisoner here, with a jailer and a cell. As the physician fumbles with his great ring of keys, music can be heard, sweet music. Inside they find King George playing a Handel motet on his pianoforte, Amelia’s ring prominent on a bone-white finger. Occasionally he sings in a ghostly voice, unable to hear himself anymore. He still plays well, though – very well. They try making their presence known, but he’s simply unable to register anything. At one point he stops playing and begins talking to Amelia, telling her to fetch Octavius and Alfred, the royal brothers who died as babes. Amelia seems to have brought them, because the King starts talking as if they’re present, inquiring about their studies and their riding lessons. Abruptly, he turns back to his keyboard and resumes the motet precisely where he left off. At the end, the King just stares ahead with sightless eyes, his fingers still poised over the keys as if about to play more. His white hair glows in the lamplight, as his old head tilts slightly from side to side. A thin whistling noise comes from his cavernous nostrils. Several dinners have left part of their menu on his loose cotton jacket.

              ‘Ah,’ he says; and that is all he says: ‘Ah.’

              Edward and Augie attempt embraces and kisses; but these go unnoticed. It’s as if they are the ghosts and their world unreal. The King is in another world. It’s disconcerting; and it’s upsetting too. The father they used to know, and used to fear is here, and yet he’s not here. You wonder if any of us is really where we think we are. Who decides which private world will prevail? At least in His Majesty’s world the loss of loved ones appears to be unknown. This baleful thought is all that gives them some small reason to imagine there might be a mote of happiness in their father’s terminally isolated and interminably long days. You need something to hold on to at such times as this; anything will do. But don’t let lt go.

-xii-

                Back at Castle Hill, another covert letter from the Baron de Vincy awaits him, bringing the great war so close he can almost taste the gunpowder and smell those gravid corpses.  A hundred miles from Moscow, the holiest of holy cities, Prince Mikhail Kutusov takes up command of the Russian army near the village of Borodino. The sacred icon of the Black Madonna is paraded through lines of kneeling soldiers by priests dressed in full regalia, offering chalices of communion wine, offering the cross as a sign. This incites fanatical devotion and tearful dedication in those faces crowded there like so many damp flowers in the rain. Russia has a poetic soul, and her sons will fight to the death for the dark mother of God. The aged commander is cheered by his men, as his carriage rolls slowly along the reverent lines. Kutusov is now too fat and too old to ride a horse; yet he’s still idolized by the men, who would follow him to hell, and maybe will. They want to fight this invader, this despoiler of Holy Mother Russia; they regard Barclay’s retreats as an unconscionable humiliation. But they will not be retreating from Borodino, where the only major battle of this momentous war takes place. Kutusov carefully selects a piece of ground for his first confrontation with Napoleon, who is adamantly certain there must be a battle to defend Moscow. And this is it; but the cost is too high. At the end of the day, it’s said there are 100,000 dead and horrendously wounded on both sides – yet both sides call it a victory. Had Napoleon sent his Imperial Guard into battle, the French might have legitimately won; but he refused to risk them, so the Russians were able to withdraw to safer ground. Had Kutusov renewed the struggle at first light, the Russians might have won; but instead he ordered a retreat to Moscow; and by dawn the French had no one to fight, on a field littered with the dying and dead, and little in the way of physic or physicians to aid them. Convinced Alexander will sue for peace at Moscow – he must, why else am I here? — Napoleon orders his men to set off and claim the greatest prize of all before the capital, which was moved from Moscow to Petersberg a year earlier. The emperor has been sick for weeks too, and at one point he lost his voice entirely, forced to write out his orders. He didn’t like that. But when he arrives, Moscow is deserted, most stores, provisions and supplies gone, and no sign of the Russian forces, who’ve now withdrawn again, this time to Petersberg. As he surveys the abandoned houses, clustered around the Kremlin’s glittering onion domes, the city begins to burn. Incendiaries are setting fire to it, and no engines remain to douse the blaze. The wooden houses in their narrow winding lanes burn uncontrolled for a week, and over three-quarters of the city is destroyed, while Napoleon sends emissaries to the czar, offering a very conditional peace. Certain Alexander will respond, certain. he waits in the charred ruins as autumn fades, evenings grow cold and flecks of an early snow are blown around by the chill night wind. There is only a silence from Petersberg, and he contemplates withdrawing to winter quarters at Smolensk; but he loathes months of inaction while campaigning – idle men are troublesome, as we know – so he continues to wait, his men restless and on edge, the smell of smoke all they can taste, and scavenging for whatever scraps are left all they have to occupy their time. Officers buy looted teasures from their men at stalls in the streets, paying them a pittance for marvels. What is Paris saying? This is increasingly on Napoleon’s mind now. Paris. He’s heard to remark that his capital city is. ‘like a woman, requiring constant attention to prevent her from intriguing…’

              But he couldn’t prevent his own woman from intriguing, and now she’s gone. 

 

-xiii-