During Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, his troops were battling in the middle of yet another small town in that endless wintry land, when he was accidentally separated from his men. A group of Russian Cossacks spotted him and began chasing him through the twisting streets. He ran for his life and ducked into a little furrier’s shop on a side alley. As he entered the shop, gasping for breath, he saw the furrier and cried piteously, “Save me, save me!
Where can I hide?” The furrier said, “Quick, under this big pile of furs in the corner,” and he covered Napoleon up with many furs. No sooner had he finished than the Russian Cossacks burst in the door, shouting “Where is he? We saw him come in.” Despite the furrier’s protests, they tore his shop apart trying to find him. They poked into the pile of furs with their swords but didn’t find him. Soon, they gave up and left.
After some time, Napoleon crept out from under the furs, unharmed, just as the emperor’s personal guards came in the door. The furrier turned to Napoleon and said timidly, “Excuse me for asking this question of such a great man, but what was it like to be under those furs, knowing that the next moment would surely be your last?”
Napoleon drew himself up to his full height and said to the furrier indignantly, “How could you ask such a question of me, the Emperor Napoleon! Guards, take this impudent man out, blindfold him and execute him. I, myself, will personally give the command to fire!”
The guards grabbed the poor furrier, dragged him outside, stood him up against a wall and blindfolded him.
The furrier could see nothing, but he could hear the movements of the guards as they slowly shuffled into a line and prepared their rifles, and he could hear the soft ruffling sound of his clothing in the cold wind. He could feel the wind tugging gently at his clothes and chilling his cheeks, and the uncontrollable trembling in his legs.
Then he heard Napoleon clear his throat and call out slowly, “Ready. . . aim. . .” In that moment, knowing that even these few sensations were about to be taken from him forever, a feeling that he couldn’t describe welled up in him as tears poured down his cheeks.
After a long period of silence, the furrier heard footsteps approaching him and the blindfold were stripped from his eyes. Still partially blinded by the sudden sunlight, he saw his eyes looking deeply and intently into his own – eyes that seemed to see into every dusty corner of his being. Then he said softly, “Now you know.”