صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

them underfoot. During this contention, the multitude which followed, like a furious wave, swept away, while it increased the number of victims.

The Duke of Belluno (Victor), remaining on the left bank, took a position on the heights of Weselowo, with the two divisions of Girard and Daendels, to cover the passage, and, amidst the frightful confusion which prevailed, to defend it against the corps of Wittgenstein, whose advanced troops had appeared in the evening. In the meantime, General Parthonneaux, after having repulsed the attacks of Platow and Tschikagow, left Borisov at three o'clock in the afternoon, with the third brigade, to oppose the Russians, who advanced in columns.

In the heat of the engagement, many balls flew over the miserable crowd which was yet pressing across the bridge of the Beresina. Some shells burst in the midst of them. Terror and despair then took possession of every heart. The women and children, who had escaped so many disasters, seemed to have been preserved only to suffer here a death still more deplorable. We saw them rushing from the baggage-waggons, and falling in agonies and tears at the feet of the first soldier they met, imploring his assistance to enable them to reach the other side. The sick and the wounded, sitting on the trunks of trees, or supported by their crutches, anxiously looking around for some friend to help them. But their cries were lost in the air. No one had leisure to attend to his dearest friend. His own preservation absorbed every thought.

Monsieur de Labarriere, the muster-master of the fourth corps, was a man of respectable character and engaging manners. His advanced age, and more especially his feeble constitution, had long rendered him unable to march, and he was now lying with many others on an open sledge. He accidentally perceived an officer of his acquaintance, and although he was scarcely able to stand, he ran to him, threw himself in his arms, and implored his protection. The officer was severely wounded, but, too generous to refuse his

[ocr errors]

feeble help, he promised that he would not leave him. These two friends, closely embracing each other, slowly proceeded towards the bridge, animated by the consoling thought, that at least they would be permitted to die together. They entered the crowd; but, feeble and helpless, they were unable to sustain the intolerable pressure, and were seen no more.

A woman was likewise marching with the equipage of Napoleon, whom her husband had left a little way behind, while he went forward to endeavour to find a place where they might safely pass. During that time a shell burst near the unfortunate female. The crowd that was around her immediately took to flight. She alone remained. But the enemy soon advancing, caused the troops to retreat suddenly towards the bridge; and in their confused march, they hurried the poor woman with them, who strove in vain to return to the place where her husband had left her. Buffeted by the tumultuous waves, she saw herself driven from the spot without the possibility of return. We heard her from afar, loudly calling to her husband; but her piercing voice was unattended to, amidst the noise of arms and the cries of the combatants. At length, pale and speechless, she beat her breast in agony, and fell lifeless at the feet of the soldiers, who, attentive to their own escape, neither saw nor heard her.

At length the Russians, continually reinforced by fresh troops, advanced in a mass, and drove before them the Polonese corps of General Girard, which till then had held them in check. At the sight of the enemy, those who had not already passed mingled with the Polanders, and rushed precipitately towards the bridge. The artillery, the baggage-waggons, the cavalry, and the foot-soldiers, all pressed on, contending which should pass the first. The strongest threw into the river those who were weaker, and unfortunately hindered their passage, or unfeelingly trampled under foot all the sick whom they found in their way. Many hundreds were crushed to death by the wheels of the cannon. Others, hoping to save themselves by swim

ming, were frozen in the middle of the river, or perished by placing themselves on pieces of ice, which sunk to the bottom. Thousands and thousands of victims, driven to despair, threw themselves headlong into the Beresina, and were lost in the waves. One female was seen hemmed in by the ice in the middle of the river. Being able neither to proceed nor to retreat, she held her infant above the water, into which she was gradually sinking, and uttered the most piercing cries for assistance.

The division of Girard forcibly made its way through all the obstacles that retarded its march; and, climbing over the mountain of dead bodies which obstructed the

way, gained the other side. Thither the Russians would soon have followed them, if they had not hastened to burn the bridge.

Then the unhappy beings who remained on the other side of the Beresina abandoned themselves to absolute despair. Some of them attempted to pass the bridge, enveloped as it was in flames; but, arrested in the midst of their progress, they were compelled to throw themselves into the river, to escape a death yet more horrible. At length the Russians were masters of the field of battle, our troops retired, the uproar ceased, and a mournful silence succeeded.

As we marched towards Zembin, we re-ascended the right bank of the Beresina, whence we could distinctly see all that passed on the other side. The cold was excessive, and the wind blew in loud and hollow gusts. The obscurity of the night was dissipated only by the numerous fires of the enemy who occupied the heights. At the foot of these hills were our unfortunate compa nions. Their destruction was now inevitable, and amidst all their former disasters, never were they exposed to, nor can imagination conceive, horrors equal to those which encompassed them during that frightful night. The elements let loose seemed to conspire to afflict universal nature, and to chastise the ambition and the crimes of man. The conquerors and the conquered were alike overwhelmed with sufferings. Round

the encampment of the Russians, however, we saw enormous masses of burning wood, but on the spot which held our devoted companions there was neither light nor shelter. Lamentable cries and groans alone marked the place which contained these miserable victims.

More than twenty thousand sick and wounded fell into the power of the enemy. Two hundred pieces of cannon were abandoned. All the baggage of the two corps which had joined us was equally the prey of the conquerors; yet when we contemplated the deplorable fate of the wretched beings who were left on the other side of the Beresina, the consciousness of our safety rendered us insensible to the loss of all our riches. They were for ever deprived of the hope of revisiting the land that gave them birth, and were doomed to pass the sad remnant of their days amidst the snows of Siberia, where they would water with their tears the black bread which would be the only wages of the most humiliating servitude.

November 29th.-Setting out on the morrow for Zembin, and endeavouring to rejoin what remained of the fourth corps, we again commiserated the fate of the numerous friends who were no longer with us. We eagerly embraced those who had returned, whom we had feared we should never again have beheld, and congratulated each other on surviving a day more terrible than the bloodiest battle. We mutually recounted the dangers we had run, and the difficulties with which we had struggled to escape with life. "I have lost every thing," said one, "servants, horses, baggage; but I think not of it; I rather esteem myself most fortunate that I have preserved my life, that I have escaped from the inclemency of the weather, the horrors of famine, and the arms of the enemy.' "I have nothing but what I carry about me," said a second, "and of all that I had, I only wish for some shoes to defend my feet, and some bread to eat: these are the truest riches.""I have lost all," exclaimed a third, "but I do not regret it, since the sacrifice of my baggage has enabled

[ocr errors]

me to save my wounded brother." Such was the language which we heard, during several successive days; and those who were silent deeply mused on the dangers which they had passed, and rendered their secret but fervent thanks to Providence for a preservation almost miraculous.


EXISTENCE IN NORTH RONA, One of the most remote and inaccessible of the Hebrides.

THIS island, says Dr. Macculloch, is now inhabited by one family only, consisting of six individuals, of which the female patriarch has been forty years on the island. The occupant of the farm is a cotter, cultivating it and tending fifty sheep for his employer, to whom he is bound for eight years: an unnecessary precaution, since the nine chains of the Styx could afford no greater security than the sea which surrounds him, as he is not allowed to keep a boat. During a residence now of seven years, he had, with the exception of a visit from the boat of the Fortune, seen no face but that of his employer and his own family. Twice in the year that part of the crop which is not consumed on the farm, together with the produce of the sheep, and the feathers obtained from the sea-fowl, which he is bound to procure, are taken away by the boat from Lewes, and thus his communication with the external world is maintained. On the appearance of our boat, the women and children were seen running away to the cliffs to hide themselves, loaded with the very little moveable property they possessed, while the man and his son were employed in driving away the sheep. We might have imagined ourselves landing on an island in the Pacific ocean. A few words of Gaelic soon recalled the latter, but it was some time before the females came from their retreat, very unlike in look to the inhabitants of a civilised world. In addition to the grain and potatoes required for the use

« السابقةمتابعة »