Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

I severed the sinews that still retained his shattered arm, and bound it up as best I might. He still despaired and moaned, but suffered me to do as I would. He was like an infant in my hands-that man who, in the hour of battle, was a very lion for courage. But long suffering and the sudden shock-occurring, too, when we seemed on the verge of safety-had overcome his fortitude. With Paul's help I got him upon my horse. The poor brute was in no case to carry double, so I walked and led it, although at that time I could hardly hobble.

"It is all useless, my dear doctor,' Préville said; this is my last day; I feel that. Far better shoot me, or leave me by the roadside, than risk your life for my sake.'

"I took no heed, but tried to cheer him. Those unclean beasts, the Cossacks, were hovering around us as usual, and at times the bullets fell pretty thick. Not a quarter of an hour had elapsed since I set Préville on my horse, when a shot struck his right eye-not entering the head, but glancing across the globe, and completely destroying the sight. Well, sir, then there occurred a physiological phenomenon which I have never been able satisfactorily to account for. This man, whom the loss of an arm had reduced to despair, seemed to derive fresh courage from the loss of an eye. At any rate, from that moment he complained no more of his fate, resumed his usual manly tone, and bore up like a hero. Paul was lucky enough to catch a riderless horse, which I mounted. The worst was over, and we soon got a respite. Without troubling you with details, and incredible though it may seem to you, my poor friend escaped with life, although with a limb and an eye

the less."

[blocks in formation]

of them, and made him as comfortable as we could. The following night we stopped at a town. In the morning, as we were about to march, the Cossacks came down. There was great confusion; several baggage-carts were captured in the street, and some of the wounded were abandoned in the houses where they had passed the night. Amongst these was Sergeant Fritz. Not many houses in the town were still in good condition-most of them had been burned and knocked to pieces by the soldiers. The house in which Fritz lay had still its doors and windows, and was one of the most comfortable in the place, on which account it had been converted into a temporary hospital. Well, the Russians came in, brought their wounded, and turned out our poor fellows to make room for them. Some, who could not move quickly enough, were brutally pitched through a low window into a garden behind the house, there to perish miserably. Fritz was one of these. Only just able to crawl, he made his way round the garden, seeking egress. He reached a gate communicating with another garden. It was locked, and pain and weakness forbade his climbing over. He sat close to the gate, propped against it, and looking wistfully through the bars at the windows of a house, and at the cheerful glow of a fire, when he was perceived by a young girl. She came out and opened the gate, and helped him into the house. Her father was a German clockmaker, long settled in Russia, and Fritz, a Swiss, spoke German well. The kind people put him to bed, hid his uniform, and tended him like a son. When, in the following spring, his health was restored, and he would have left them, the German proposed to him to remain and assist him in his trade. He accepted the offer, married the German's daughter, and remained in Russia until his father-inlaw's death, when he was taken with a longing to revisit his native mountains, and returned to Switzerland with his wife and family. I met him since at Paris, and he told me his story. But although his escape was narrow, and romantic enough, there must have been others much more

remarkable.

Most of the prisoners made by the Russians, and who survived severe cold and harsh treatment, were sent to Moscow, to labour at rebuilding the city. When the fine season came, some of them managed to escape, and to make their way, in various disguises, and through countless adventures, back to their own country."

I have set down but the most striking portions of our conversation-or rather, of the doctor's narrative, since I did little but listen; and occasionally, by a question or remark, direct his communicativeness into the channel I wished it to take. We were now near Orleans.

"The letter I was reading when we started," said my companion, "and which has brought back to my memory all that I have told you—at risk, perhaps, of wearying you," he added with a slight bow and smile, "and a host of other circumstances, to me of thrilling and everlasting interest, is from General Préville, who lives in the south of France, but has come unexpectedly to Orleans to pass a month with me. That is his way. He lives happily with a married daughter; but now and then the desire to see an old comrade, and to fight old battles over again, comes so strongly upon him, that he has his valise packed at an hour's notice, and takes me by surprise. He knows well that The General's Room' and an affectionate reception always await him. I received his letterfull of references to old times-yesterday evening, and am now hurrying back to Orleans to see him. He may very likely be waiting for me at the station; and you will see that, for a man who gave himself up for dead forty years ago in the snows of Russia, and begged, as a favour, a bullet through his brain, he looks tolerably hearty and satisfied to live."

"There is one thing, Monsieur le Docteur," I said, "which you have not yet explained to me, and which I do not understand. Did you mean literally what you said, that since the Russian campaign you have never had your feet warm?"

"Literally and truly, sir. When we got to Orcha, where Jomini was

in command, and where the heroic Ney, who had been separated from the army, rejoined us with the skeleton of his corps-having cut his way, by sheer valour and soldiership, through clouds of Platoff's Cossacks

At

we took a day's rest. It was the 20th of November, the last day of anything approaching to comfort which we were to enjoy before crossing the Russian frontier. True, we made one more halt, at Molodetschino, whence Napoleon dated his bulletin of our terrible disasters, but then only a portion of us could find lodging; we were sick, half-frozen, and numbers died in the streets. Orcha we found shelter and tranquillity; the governor had provided provisions against our passage, the enemy left us quiet, and we enjoyed a day of complete repose. My baggage had long since been lost, and my only pair of boots were torn to shreds. I had been riding with fragments of a soldier's jacket tied round my feet, which I usually kept out of the stirrups, the contact of the iron increasing the cold. At Orcha, the invaluable Paul brought me a Jew (the Jews were our chief purveyors on that retreat) with boots for sale. I selected a pair and threw away my old ones, which for many days I had not taken off. My feet were already in a bad state, sore and livid. I bathed them, put on fresh stockings and my new boots, and contrived, with a pair of old trousers, a sort of leggings or overalls, closed at the bottom, and to be worn over the boots. From that day till we got beyond the Niemen, a distance of one hundred and ten leagues, which we took three weeks to perform, I never took off any part of my dress. During that time I suffered greatly from my feet; they swelled till my boots were too tight for me, and at times I was in agony. When we at last were comparatively in safety, and I found myself, for the first time since I left Orcha, in a warm room, with a bed to lie upon and water to wash, I called Paul to pull off my boots. Sir, with them came off my stockings, and the entire skin of both feet. A flayer's knife could hardly have done the thing more completely. For a mo

I

ment I gave myself up as lost. had seen enough of this kind of thing to know that my feet were on the verge of mortification. There was scarcely time to amputate, had any been at hand to do it, and had I been willing to preserve life at such a price. Only one thing could save me, and I resolved to try it. I ordered Paul to bring a bottle of brandy; I put a piece of silver between my teeth, and bade him pour the spirits over my feet. I can give you no idea of the excruciating torture I then endured. Whilst it lasted, assuredly no martyr's sufferings ever exceeded mine. It was agony — but it was safety. I bit the florin nearly in two, and broke this tooth." (Here the doctor drew up his lip and exhibited a defective tooth, in company with some very white and powerful grinders.) "The martyrdom saved me; I recovered, but the new integuments, which in time covered my scarred feet, seem chilled by the recollection of their predecessors' sufferings, and from that day to this I have never had my feet otherwise than cold. But here we are at Orleans, sir, and yonder as I expected stands my old Préville."

The train stopped as he concluded, and a fine-looking veteran, with white hair, an empty sleeve, and a silken

patch over one eye, peered inquisitively into the carriages. Like most Englishmen, I have a particular aversion to the Continental fashion of men kissing and hugging each other, but I confess I beheld with interest and sympathy the cordial embrace of these two old comrades, who then quickly separated, and, with hands grasped, looked joyously and affectionately into each other's faces, whilst a thousand recollections of old kindness and long comradeship were evidently swelling at their hearts. In his joy, my travelling companion did not forget the attentive listener, whose journey he had so agreeably shortened. Turning to me, he presented me to the general, as an Englishman and a new acquaintance, and then cordially invited me to pass the rest of the day at his house. But the business that took me to Orleans was urgent, and my return to Paris must be speedy. And had it been otherwise, I think I still should have scrupled to restrain, by a stranger's presence, the first flow of intimate communion to which the two friends evidently looked forward with such warm and pleasurable feelings. So I gratefully declined, but pledged myself to avail of the doctor's hospitality upon my next visit to Orleans. When that occurs, I shall hope to glean another Russian Reminiscence.

RECORDS OF THE PAST.-NINEVEH AND BABYLON.

HISTORY must ever possess an undying fascination for the minds of men, for its subject is the story of their race, and its interest is ever human to the core. Its burden is now a song of rejoicing at the triumphs, or a wail of lamentation over the errors and sufferings, of mankind. How history, in gifted hands, exults as it reaches those blooming points in a nation's careerthose eras of Pericles, of Augustus, of Haroun-Alraschid, or of our own Elizabeth,-or, piercing back through the veil of time, discerns with joy the brilliant era of a Vicramaditya in the old world of the Hindoos,-the grandeur of a Rameses, or still remoter monarchs in Egypt-or a rule of then unequalled justice and beneficence extending back for countless ages in the early history of secluded China. And how it saddens to see these old empires pass away, to behold Rome, and Greece, and Nineveh, and Egypt, Susa and Persepolis, and the grand old cities of India, withered, rolled up like a scroll, and vanishing from the face of the earth. Yet with what quiet hopefulness, with what assured resignation, does it contemplate all those changes. "Passing away," it knows, is written from the first upon the brow of empires as well as of men; and even when the mighty fabrics of human power are seen crumbling into dust beneath internal decay or external assault,—when the stores of knowledge, the monuments of art-in fact, a whole civilisationseems rushing into oblivion before an onslaught of barbarism, the philosophic historian, with an assuredness of faith stronger than other men's, knows that the human race is but on the eve of some new and higher development -that all is ordered by One without whom not a sparrow falls to the ground, and that from out of the present chaos will emerge new kingdoms and communities of men, purged from the dross of the old, yet inheriting the larger portion of their wisdom.

"All changes, naught is lost. The forms are changed, And that which has been, is not what it was,Yet that which has been, is."

History has a grand work yet before it,-one which mankind is just beginning to long for, and which will yet one day be accomplished. History must grow wider in its scope and nobler in its aims as the career of our race advances. It must rise above the colourings of national bias, and the prejudices of particular eras. It must cease-and some day it will ceaseto reflect but one phase at a time of that many-sided thing Truth, and will seize and set forth for the instruction of mankind the priceless gem under whatever form it appear, however attired in the strange costume of distant times or foreign countries. It must tell to man a continuous story of his existence. It must recognise the truth that in all those various nations that have flourished and passed away, there has been enshrined the self-same human soul, which the great Creator made in His own image, and which, however manifold in its aberrations, will still be found, on the whole, to reflect more of truth than of error.

Nothing is more elevating than the study of the human race through its successive phases of existence. Therein is to be discovered the scheme of God's Providence among the nations, slowly raising the race from one stage of progress to another and higher. The world advances slowly, but still "it moves!" Severed into distinct nations, and divinely placed or led into climes congenial to the peculiar development of each,-secluded behind mountain chains, deserts, or seas, each section of mankind has been left to develop a civilisation of its ownforms of government, religion, art, science, philosophy, more or less peculiar to itself. Through long ages this birth of nations has been going on, each learning for itself the lessons of life. And each of those nations, whether ancient or modern, bas attached itself in a peculiar manner to some one of the many forms of truth, carrying it to greater perfection than the other sections of the race. Every one knows that such was the case among the Greeks, the Romans, the

Egyptians, the Hebrews, but do not let it be supposed that the wisdom of the ancient world ends here. Do not suppose that nothing is to be learned from the old history and writings of China-that land where social ethics and utilitarian science were first carried to comparative perfection; or from the ancient Hindoos, who first pre-eminently devoted themselves to the study of the spiritual nature of man, and in whose lofty speculations may be found the germ of almost every system of philosophy, whether true or false, to which the European world has given birth. Hegel and Spinosa are but Hindoos reviving in the eighteenth century. Auguste Comte, with his boasted new science of Positivism, is but a systematiser of the doctrines of Confucius and the old philosophers of China,—and what are magnetism, clairvoyance, and suchlike researches at present making into the spiritual powers of man, but unconscious repetitions of what has been known or imagined in India for three thousand years?

Had the human race formed from the first but one nation-swayed by but one great impulse, and enlightened but by its own single experience, how comparatively stationary would have been the condition of the species! But severed into separate communities, each seeking truth for itself, and, as intercommunication became wider, comparing its experiences with those of its neighbours, the march of mankind has been greatly accelerated. There have been a hundred searchers after truth instead of one. It is only now, however, in these latter days, that mankind are beginning to perceive and reap the benefit of the beneficent scheme of Providence which has so long kept them secluded in location and antagonistic in feeling. It is in those days of running to and fro upon the earth-when commerce, and railways, and steam-navigation are uniting the most distant regions-that the varied stores of knowledge which have been accumulating in private hoards through long centuries are now being thrown into general circulation. The more advanced nations are teaching the less enlightened. But the gain is not all on one

side; and the former will be unworthy of their high position, if they fail to perceive in how very many things they may receive instruction from those whom they regard as their inferiors. The whole tendency of the rapidly - increasing communication between the various nations and countries of the earth is to shake men loose from local prejudices, and, by expanding the mind, to fit it for the reception of that pure and entire truth, towards the attainment of which the human mind is journeying, and to which the matchless plans of Divine Providence are slowly but surely conducting the human race. To the eye of the philosopher, the world is a prism through which Truth is shining-and the nations are the various colours and hues of the spectrum into which that light is broken. Hitherto mankind, split into sections, has only exhibited those scattered and disunited, but brilliant, rays,―truth refracted and coloured by the national mind through which it passed; but now, in the fulness of time, the process is being reversed. The long training of isolated nations is drawing to a close; the barriers of space or feeling which shut them in are being thrown down; an interchange of intellectual as well as material benefits is commencing; and the dissevered rays of partial knowledge are beginning to be reunited into the pure and perfect light of truth.

Let, then, some Newton or Humboldt of history-some one who grudges not a lifetime of genius to the task, and to whom Providence may give length of days,-let such an one take up the theme of those old nations. By the might of his graphic pen let him evoke them and their crumbled empires from the dust, and place them in their pristine glory before the eye of the reader. Let him paint the people, the land in which they dwelt, the temples in which they worshipped;

let him glance with graphic touch over the leading points of their history, the master-spirits who influenced, and the poets who adorned it ;-let him depict the arts of life and the arts of beauty which characterised them; and, hardest task of all, let him dive into the depths of

« AnteriorContinuar »