List Of Contents | Contents of Vaninka, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

arrived at the front accompanied by this terrible proof of mutiny and
insubordination.  When he reached the head of the column, the
murmurings had developed into imprecations.

Then Souvarow addressed his soldiers with that savage eloquence to
which he owed the miracles he had effected with them, but cries of
"Retreat!  Retreat!" drowned his voice.  Then he chose out the most
mutinous, and had them thrashed until they were overcome by this
shameful punishment: But the thrashings had no more influence than
the exhortation, and the shouts continued.  Souvarow saw that all was
lost if he did not employ some powerful and unexpected means of
regaining the mutineers.  He advanced towards Foedor.  "Captain,"
said he, "leave these fools here, take eight non-commissioned
officers and dig a grave."  Foedor, astonished, gazed at his general
as though demanding an explanation of this strange order.  "Obey
orders," said Souvarow.

Foedor obeyed, and the eight men set to work; and ten minutes later
the grave was dug, greatly to the astonishment of the whole army,
which had gathered in a semicircle on the rising slopes of the two
hills which bordered the road, standing as if on the steps of a huge

Souvarow dismounted from his horse, broke his sword in two and threw
it into the grave, detached his epaulets one by one and threw them
after his sword, dragged off the decorations which covered his breast
and cast these after the sword and epaulets, and then, stripping
himself naked, he lay down in the grave himself, crying in a loud

"Cover me with earth!  Leave your general here.  You are no longer my
children, and I am no longer your father; nothing remains to me but

At these strange words, which were uttered in so powerful a voice
that they were heard by the whole army, the Russian grenadiers threw
themselves weeping into the grave, and, raising their general, asked
pardon of him, entreating him to lead them again against the enemy.

"At last," cried Souvarow, "I recognise my children again.  To the

Not cries but yells of joy greeted his words.  Souvarav dressed
himself again, and whilst he was dressing the leaders of the mutiny
crept in the dust to kiss his feet.  Then, when his epaulets were
replaced on his shoulders, and when his decorations again shone on
his breast, he remounted his horse, followed by the army, the
soldiers swearing with one voice that they would all die rather than
abandon their father.

The same day Souvarow attacked Aerolo; but his luck had turned: the
conqueror of Cassano, Trebia, and Novi had left his good-fortune
behind in the plains of Italy.  For twelve hours six hundred French
opposed three thousand Russian grenadiers beneath the walls of the
town, and so successfully that night fell without Souvarow being able
to defeat them.  Next day he marched the whole of his troops against
this handful of brave men, but the sky clouded over and the wind.
blew a bitter rain into the faces of the Russians; the French
profited by this circumstance to beat a retreat, evacuating the
valley of Ursern, crossing the Reuss, and taking up their position on
the heights of the Furka and Grimsel.  One portion of the Russian
army's design had been achieved, they were masters of the St.
Gothard.  It is true that as soon as they marched farther on, the
French would retake it and cut off their retreat; but what did this
matter to Souvarow?  Did he not always march forward?

He marched on, then, without worrying about that which was behind
him, reached Andermatt, cleared Trou d'Ury, and found Lecourbe
guarding the defile of the Devil's Bridge with fifteen hundred men.
There the struggle began again; for three days fifteen hundred
Frenchmen kept thirty thousand Russians at bay.  Souvarow raged like
a lion trapped in a snare, for he could not understand this change of
fortune.  At last, on the fourth day, he heard that General
Korsakoff, who had preceded him and who was to rejoin him later, had
been beaten by Molitor, and that Massena had recaptured Zurich and
occupied the canton of Glaris.  Souvarow now gave up the attempt to
proceed up the valley of the Reuss, and wrote to Korsakoff and
Jallachieh, "I hasten to retrieve your losses; stand firm as
ramparts: you shall answer to me with your heads for every step in
retreat that you take."  The aide-de-camp was also charged to
communicate to the Russian and Austrian generals a verbal plan of
battle.  Generals Linsken and Jallachieh were to attack the French
troops separately and then to join the forces in the valley of
Glaris, into which Souvarow himself was to descend by the Klon-Thal,
thus hemming Molitor in between two walls of iron.

Souvarow was so sure that this plan would be successful, that when he
arrived on the borders of the lake of Klon-Thal, he sent a bearer
with a flag of truce, summoning Molitor to surrender, seeing that he
was surrounded on every side.

Molitor replied, to the field-marshal that his proposed meeting with
his generals had failed, as he had beaten them one after the other,
and driven them back into the Grisons, and that moreover, in
retaliation, as Massena was advancing by Muotta, it was he, Souvarow,
who was between two fires, and therefore he called upon him to lay
down his arms instead.

On hearing this strange reply, Souvarow thought that he must be
dreaming, but soon recovering himself and realising the danger of his
position in the defiles, he threw himself on General Molitor, who
received him at the point of the bayonet, and then closing up the
pass with twelve hundred men, the French succeeded in holding fifteen
to eighteen thousand Russians in check for eight hours.  At length
night came, and Molitor evacuated the Klon Thal, and retired towards
the Linth, to defend the bridges of Noefels and Mollis.

The old field-marshal rushed like a torrent over Glaris and Miltodi;
there he learnt that Molitor had told him the truth, and that
Jallachieh and Linsken had been beaten and dispersed, that Massena
was advancing on Schwitz, and that General Rosenberg, who had been
given the defence of the bridge of Muotta, had been forced to
retreat, so that he found himself in the position in which he had
hoped to place Molitor.

No time was to be lost in retreating.  Souvarow hurried through the
passes of Engi, Schwauden, and Elm.  His flight was so hurried that
he was obliged to abandon his wounded and part of his artillery.
Immediately the French rushed in pursuit among the precipices and
clouds.  One saw whole armies passing over places where chamois-
hunters took off their shoes and walked barefoot, holding on by their
hands to prevent themselves from falling.  Three nations had come
from three different parts to a meeting-place in the home of the
eagles, as if to allow those nearest God to judge the justice of
their cause.  There were times when the frozen mountains changed into
volcanoes, when cascades now filled with blood fell into the valleys,
and avalanches of human beings rolled down the deepest precipices.
Death reaped such a harvest there where human life had never been
before, that the vultures, becoming fastidious through the abundance,
picked out only the eyes of the corpses to carry to their young--at
least so says the tradition of the peasants of these mountains.

Souvarow was able to rally his troops at length in the neighbourhood
of Lindau.  He recalled Korsakoff, who still occupied Bregenz; but
all his troops together did not number more than thirty thousand men-
all that remained of the eighty thousand whom Paul had furnished as
his contingent in the coalition.  In fifteen days Massena had
defeated three separate armies, each numerically stronger than his
own.  Souvarow, furious at having been defeated by these same
Republicans whom he had sworn to exterminate, blamed the Austrians
for his defeat, and declared that he awaited orders from his emperor,
to whom he had made known the treachery of the allies, before
attempting anything further with the coalition.

Paul's answer was that he should immediately return to Russia with
his soldiers, arriving at St. Petersburg as soon as possible, where a
triumphal entry awaited them.

The same ukase declared that Souvarow should be quartered in the
imperial palace for the rest of his life, and lastly that a monument
should be raised to him in one of the public places of St.

Foedor was thus about to see Vaninka once more.  Throughout the
campaign, where there was a chance of danger, whether in the plains
of Italy, in the defiles of Tesino, or on the glaciers of Mount
Pragal, he was the first to throw himself into it, and his name had
frequently been mentioned as worthy of distinction.  Souvarow was too
brave himself to be prodigal of honours where they were not merited.
Foedor was returning, as he had promised, worthy of his noble
protector's friendship, and who knows, perhaps worthy of Vaninka's
love.  Field-Marshal Souvarow had made a friend of him, and none
could know to what this friendship might not lead; for Paul honoured
Souvarow like one of the ancient heroes.

But no one could rely upon Paul, for his character was made up of
extreme impulses.  Without having done anything to offend his master,
and without knowing the cause of his disgrace, Souvarow, on arriving
at Riga, received a private letter which informed him, in the
emperor's name, that, having tolerated an infraction of the laws of
discipline among his soldiers, the emperor deprived him of all the
honours with which he had been invested, and also forbade him to
appear before him.

Such tidings fell like a thunderbolt upon the old warrior, already
embittered by his reverses: he was heart-broken that such storm-
clouds should tarnish the end of his glorious day.

In consequence of this order, he assembled all his officers in the
market-place of Riga, and took leave of them sorrowfully, like a
father taking leave of his family.  Having embraced the generals and
colonels, and having shaken hands with the others, he said good-bye
to them once more, and left them free to continue their march to

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: