During Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, he was accidentally separated from his troops when they were battling in a small town. A group of Russian Cossacks spotted him, and began chasing him through the twisting streets. Napoleon ran for his life and ducked into a little furrier’s shop on a side alley.
As Napoleon 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 covered Napoleon up with many furs.
No sooner had he finished when the Russian Cossacks burst in the door, shouting “Where is he? We saw him come in.” Despite the furrier’s protest, they tore his shop apart trying to find Napoleon. 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 Napoleon’s personal guard 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 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 and tears poured down his cheeks.
After a long period of silence, the furrier heard footsteps approaching him, and the blindfold was stripped from his eyes. Still partially blinded by the sunlight, he saw Napoleon’s eyes looking deeply and intently into his own – eyes that seemed to see into every dusty corner of his being. Then Napoleon said softly, “Now you know.”
Napoleon answered the furrier’s question much more fully than the furrier dreamed, or perhaps wanted. The furrier’s life was forever changed; he will never need to ask that question again. At the end, it is the experience that changes people.