Cosimo quickly becomes very old. Everyone in Ombrosa waits for news as Napoleon’s army fails in Russia. Cosimo sits on the edge of the road, looking east. Biagio suspects he’s imagining Napoleon returning and asking for Cosimo’s writings so they can save the homeland, but this never happens. Instead, one day Cosimo sees three limping, bandaged French soldiers approaching, singing about their country. When Cosimo calls to them, they’re barely intelligible, but Cosimo discovers that they’re what’s left of their regiment and that they’re drunk. Cosimo directs them to a stream to wash and drink, where they become melancholy. Cosimo returns to his lookout and sees cavalrymen approaching in uniforms he doesn’t recognize. They speak Russian and want to know where in France the road goes. They explain that their czar is chasing Napoleon.
Biagio refers here to the fact that Napoleon chose to invade Russia in the winter and failed miserably. When he suggests what Cosimo may have imagined at this time, it shows that Cosimo still holds up the ideals of the Enlightenment and believes that, if people try, they can still change things for the better. Especially given the sad fate of these three French soldiers, it begins to seem as though Cosimo’s desire to push Enlightenment ideas on people is actually an attempt to help everyone, not just those in his immediate community (who were helped by the fire brigade, for instance).
Another officer rides up, sends the riders along, and sadly addresses Cosimo. In French, they discuss Cosimo’s experience under Napoleon’s army. Cosimo notes that armies always cause damage, no matter what ideas they bring. The officer says that he brings damage, but no ideas. Troubled, Cosimo reminds the officer that he won, but the man seems disturbed. His men return, dragging the bodies of the French soldiers. The officer says that he did the best he could for a few years, but war is terrible—and he fought for ideals that he can barely explain. Cosimo admits that he lives for ideals he doesn’t know how to explain, except that he lives in the trees. The officer nervously bids Cosimo goodbye.
This officer proposes that at a certain point, the bloodshed of war isn’t worth it to spread the ideas that started the war to begin with. Their conversation makes it clear that the Age of Enlightenment didn’t end in a way that anyone believed was good and right, given how many people died. In this sense, even though the ideas may be positive and meaningful, this doesn’t mean that they cannot still cause harm. Cosimo’s insistence he doesn’t need to explain things, meanwhile, reads as one place where he’s still naïve.