Pursued by the French army of a hundred thousand men under the command of Bonaparte, encountering a population that was unfriendly to it, losing confidence in its allies, suffering from shortness of supplies, and compelled to act under conditions of war unlike anything that had been foreseen, the Russian army of thirty-five thousand men commanded by Kutúzov was hurriedly retreating along the Danube, stopping where overtaken by the enemy and fighting rearguard actions only as far as necessary to enable it to retreat without losing its heavy equipment. There had been actions at Lambach, Amstetten, and Melk; but despite the courage and endurance—acknowledged even by the enemy—with which the Russians fought, the only consequence of these actions was a yet more rapid retreat. Austrian troops that had escaped capture at Ulm and had joined Kutúzov at Braunau now separated from the Russian army, and Kutúzov was left with only his own weak and exhausted forces. The defense of Vienna was no longer to be thought of. Instead of an offensive, the plan of which, carefully prepared in accord with the modern science of strategics, had been handed to Kutúzov when he was in Vienna by the Austrian Hofkriegsrath, the sole and almost unattainable aim remaining for him was to effect a junction with the forces that were advancing from Russia, without losing his army as Mack had done at Ulm.
On the twenty-eighth of October Kutúzov with his army crossed to the left bank of the Danube and took up a position for the first time with the river between himself and the main body of the French. On the thirtieth he attacked Mortier’s division, which was on the left bank, and broke it up. In this action for the first time trophies were taken: banners, cannon, and two enemy generals. For the first time, after a fortnight’s retreat, the Russian troops had halted and after a fight had not only held the field but had repulsed the French. Though the troops were ill-clad, exhausted, and had lost a third of their number in killed, wounded, sick, and stragglers; though a number of sick and wounded had been abandoned on the other side of the Danube with a letter in which Kutúzov entrusted them to the humanity of the enemy; and though the big hospitals and the houses in Krems converted into military hospitals could no longer accommodate all the sick and wounded, yet the stand made at Krems and the victory over Mortier raised the spirits of the army considerably. Throughout the whole army and at headquarters most joyful though erroneous rumors were rife of the imaginary approach of columns from Russia, of some victory gained by the Austrians, and of the retreat of the frightened Bonaparte.
Prince Andrew during the battle had been in attendance on the Austrian General Schmidt, who was killed in the action. His horse had been wounded under him and his own arm slightly grazed by a bullet. As a mark of the commander in chief’s special favor he was sent with the news of this victory to the Austrian court, now no longer at Vienna (which was threatened by the French) but at Brünn. Despite his apparently delicate build Prince Andrew could endure physical fatigue far better than many very muscular men, and on the night of the battle, having arrived at Krems excited but not weary, with dispatches from Dokhtúrov to Kutúzov, he was sent immediately with a special dispatch to Brünn. To be so sent meant not only a reward but an important step toward promotion.
The night was dark but starry, the road showed black in the snow that had fallen the previous day—the day of the battle. Reviewing his impressions of the recent battle, picturing pleasantly to himself the impression his news of a victory would create, or recalling the send-off given him by the commander in chief and his fellow officers, Prince Andrew was galloping along in a post chaise enjoying the feelings of a man who has at length begun to attain a long-desired happiness. As soon as he closed his eyes his ears seemed filled with the rattle of the wheels and the sensation of victory. Then he began to imagine that the Russians were running away and that he himself was killed, but he quickly roused himself with a feeling of joy, as if learning afresh that this was not so but that on the contrary the French had run away. He again recalled all the details of the victory and his own calm courage during the battle, and feeling reassured he dozed off.... The dark starry night was followed by a bright cheerful morning. The snow was thawing in the sunshine, the horses galloped quickly, and on both sides of the road were forests of different kinds, fields, and villages.
At one of the post stations he overtook a convoy of Russian wounded. The Russian officer in charge of the transport lolled back in the front cart, shouting and scolding a soldier with coarse abuse. In each of the long German carts six or more pale, dirty, bandaged men were being jolted over the stony road. Some of them were talking (he heard Russian words), others were eating bread; the more severely wounded looked silently, with the languid interest of sick children, at the envoy hurrying past them.
Prince Andrew told his driver to stop, and asked a soldier in what action they had been wounded. “Day before yesterday, on the Danube,” answered the soldier. Prince Andrew took out his purse and gave the soldier three gold pieces.
“That’s for them all,” he said to the officer who came up.
“Get well soon, lads!” he continued, turning to the soldiers. “There’s plenty to do still.”
“What news, sir?” asked the officer, evidently anxious to start a conversation.
“Good news!... Go on!” he shouted to the driver, and they galloped on.
It was already quite dark when Prince Andrew rattled over the paved streets of Brünn and found himself surrounded by high buildings, the lights of shops, houses, and street lamps, fine carriages, and all that atmosphere of a large and active town which is always so attractive to a soldier after camp life. Despite his rapid journey and sleepless night, Prince Andrew when he drove up to the palace felt even more vigorous and alert than he had done the day before. Only his eyes gleamed feverishly and his thoughts followed one another with extraordinary clearness and rapidity. He again vividly recalled the details of the battle, no longer dim, but definite and in the concise form in which he imagined himself stating them to the Emperor Francis. He vividly imagined the casual questions that might be put to him and the answers he would give. He expected to be at once presented to the Emperor. At the chief entrance to the palace, however, an official came running out to meet him, and learning that he was a special messenger led him to another entrance.
“To the right from the corridor, Euer Hochgeboren! There you will find the adjutant on duty,” said the official. “He will conduct you to the Minister of War.”
The adjutant on duty, meeting Prince Andrew, asked him to wait, and went in to the Minister of War. Five minutes later he returned and bowing with particular courtesy ushered Prince Andrew before him along a corridor to the cabinet where the Minister of War was at work. The adjutant by his elaborate courtesy appeared to wish to ward off any attempt at familiarity on the part of the Russian messenger.
Prince Andrew’s joyous feeling was considerably weakened as he approached the door of the minister’s room. He felt offended, and without his noticing it the feeling of offense immediately turned into one of disdain which was quite uncalled for. His fertile mind instantly suggested to him a point of view which gave him a right to despise the adjutant and the minister. “Away from the smell of powder, they probably think it easy to gain victories!” he thought. His eyes narrowed disdainfully, he entered the room of the Minister of War with peculiarly deliberate steps. This feeling of disdain was heightened when he saw the minister seated at a large table reading some papers and making pencil notes on them, and for the first two or three minutes taking no notice of his arrival. A wax candle stood at each side of the minister’s bent bald head with its gray temples. He went on reading to the end, without raising his eyes at the opening of the door and the sound of footsteps.
“Take this and deliver it,” said he to his adjutant, handing him the papers and still taking no notice of the special messenger.
Prince Andrew felt that either the actions of Kutúzov’s army interested the Minister of War less than any of the other matters he was concerned with, or he wanted to give the Russian special messenger that impression. “But that is a matter of perfect indifference to me,” he thought. The minister drew the remaining papers together, arranged them evenly, and then raised his head. He had an intellectual and distinctive head, but the instant he turned to Prince Andrew the firm, intelligent expression on his face changed in a way evidently deliberate and habitual to him. His face took on the stupid artificial smile (which does not even attempt to hide its artificiality) of a man who is continually receiving many petitioners one after another.
“From General Field Marshal Kutúzov?” he asked. “I hope it is good news? There has been an encounter with Mortier? A victory? It was high time!”
He took the dispatch which was addressed to him and began to read it with a mournful expression.
“Oh, my God! My God! Schmidt!” he exclaimed in German. “What a calamity! What a calamity!”
Having glanced through the dispatch he laid it on the table and looked at Prince Andrew, evidently considering something.
“Ah what a calamity! You say the affair was decisive? But Mortier is not captured.” Again he pondered. “I am very glad you have brought good news, though Schmidt’s death is a heavy price to pay for the victory. His Majesty will no doubt wish to see you, but not today. I thank you! You must have a rest. Be at the levee tomorrow after the parade. However, I will let you know.”
The stupid smile, which had left his face while he was speaking, reappeared.
“Au revoir! Thank you very much. His Majesty will probably desire to see you,” he added, bowing his head.
When Prince Andrew left the palace he felt that all the interest and happiness the victory had afforded him had been now left in the indifferent hands of the Minister of War and the polite adjutant. The whole tenor of his thoughts instantaneously changed; the battle seemed the memory of a remote event long past.
Prince Andrew stayed at Brünn with Bilíbin, a Russian acquaintance of his in the diplomatic service.
“Ah, my dear prince! I could not have a more welcome visitor,” said Bilíbin as he came out to meet Prince Andrew. “Franz, put the prince’s things in my bedroom,” said he to the servant who was ushering Bolkónski in. “So you’re a messenger of victory, eh? Splendid! And I am sitting here ill, as you see.”
After washing and dressing, Prince Andrew came into the diplomat’s luxurious study and sat down to the dinner prepared for him. Bilíbin settled down comfortably beside the fire.
After his journey and the campaign during which he had been deprived of all the comforts of cleanliness and all the refinements of life, Prince Andrew felt a pleasant sense of repose among luxurious surroundings such as he had been accustomed to from childhood. Besides it was pleasant, after his reception by the Austrians, to speak if not in Russian (for they were speaking French) at least with a Russian who would, he supposed, share the general Russian antipathy to the Austrians which was then particularly strong.
Bilíbin was a man of thirty-five, a bachelor, and of the same circle as Prince Andrew. They had known each other previously in Petersburg, but had become more intimate when Prince Andrew was in Vienna with Kutúzov. Just as Prince Andrew was a young man who gave promise of rising high in the military profession, so to an even greater extent Bilíbin gave promise of rising in his diplomatic career. He was still a young man but no longer a young diplomat, as he had entered the service at the age of sixteen, had been in Paris and Copenhagen, and now held a rather important post in Vienna. Both the foreign minister and our ambassador in Vienna knew him and valued him. He was not one of those many diplomats who are esteemed because they have certain negative qualities, avoid doing certain things, and speak French. He was one of those, who, liking work, knew how to do it, and despite his indolence would sometimes spend a whole night at his writing table. He worked well whatever the import of his work. It was not the question “What for?” but the question “How?” that interested him. What the diplomatic matter might be he did not care, but it gave him great pleasure to prepare a circular, memorandum, or report, skillfully, pointedly, and elegantly. Bilíbin’s services were valued not only for what he wrote, but also for his skill in dealing and conversing with those in the highest spheres.
Bilíbin liked conversation as he liked work, only when it could be made elegantly witty. In society he always awaited an opportunity to say something striking and took part in a conversation only when that was possible. His conversation was always sprinkled with wittily original, finished phrases of general interest. These sayings were prepared in the inner laboratory of his mind in a portable form as if intentionally, so that insignificant society people might carry them from drawing room to drawing room. And, in fact, Bilíbin’s witticisms were hawked about in the Viennese drawing rooms and often had an influence on matters considered important.
His thin, worn, sallow face was covered with deep wrinkles, which always looked as clean and well washed as the tips of one’s fingers after a Russian bath. The movement of these wrinkles formed the principal play of expression on his face. Now his forehead would pucker into deep folds and his eyebrows were lifted, then his eyebrows would descend and deep wrinkles would crease his cheeks. His small, deep-set eyes always twinkled and looked out straight.
“Well, now tell me about your exploits,” said he.
Bolkónski, very modestly without once mentioning himself, described the engagement and his reception by the Minister of War.
“They received me and my news as one receives a dog in a game of skittles,” said he in conclusion.
Bilíbin smiled and the wrinkles on his face disappeared.
“Cependant, mon cher,” he remarked, examining his nails from a distance and puckering the skin above his left eye, “malgré la haute estime que je professe pour the Orthodox Russian army, j’avoue que votre victoire n’est pas des plus victorieuses.” *
Russian army, I must say that your victory was not
He went on talking in this way in French, uttering only those words in Russian on which he wished to put a contemptuous emphasis.
“Come now! You with all your forces fall on the unfortunate Mortier and his one division, and even then Mortier slips through your fingers! Where’s the victory?”
“But seriously,” said Prince Andrew, “we can at any rate say without boasting that it was a little better than at Ulm...”
“Why didn’t you capture one, just one, marshal for us?”
“Because not everything happens as one expects or with the smoothness of a parade. We had expected, as I told you, to get at their rear by seven in the morning but had not reached it by five in the afternoon.”
“And why didn’t you do it at seven in the morning? You ought to have been there at seven in the morning,” returned Bilíbin with a smile. “You ought to have been there at seven in the morning.”
“Why did you not succeed in impressing on Bonaparte by diplomatic methods that he had better leave Genoa alone?” retorted Prince Andrew in the same tone.
“I know,” interrupted Bilíbin, “you’re thinking it’s very easy to take marshals, sitting on a sofa by the fire! That is true, but still why didn’t you capture him? So don’t be surprised if not only the Minister of War but also his Most August Majesty the Emperor and King Francis is not much delighted by your victory. Even I, a poor secretary of the Russian Embassy, do not feel any need in token of my joy to give my Franz a thaler, or let him go with his Liebchen to the Prater... True, we have no Prater here...”
He looked straight at Prince Andrew and suddenly unwrinkled his forehead.
“It is now my turn to ask you ‘why?’ mon cher,” said Bolkónski. “I confess I do not understand: perhaps there are diplomatic subtleties here beyond my feeble intelligence, but I can’t make it out. Mack loses a whole army, the Archduke Ferdinand and the Archduke Karl give no signs of life and make blunder after blunder. Kutúzov alone at last gains a real victory, destroying the spell of the invincibility of the French, and the Minister of War does not even care to hear the details.”
“That’s just it, my dear fellow. You see it’s hurrah for the Tsar, for Russia, for the Orthodox Greek faith! All that is beautiful, but what do we, I mean the Austrian court, care for your victories? Bring us nice news of a victory by the Archduke Karl or Ferdinand (one archduke’s as good as another, as you know) and even if it is only over a fire brigade of Bonaparte’s, that will be another story and we’ll fire off some cannon! But this sort of thing seems done on purpose to vex us. The Archduke Karl does nothing, the Archduke Ferdinand disgraces himself. You abandon Vienna, give up its defense—as much as to say: ‘Heaven is with us, but heaven help you and your capital!’ The one general whom we all loved, Schmidt, you expose to a bullet, and then you congratulate us on the victory! Admit that more irritating news than yours could not have been conceived. It’s as if it had been done on purpose, on purpose. Besides, suppose you did gain a brilliant victory, if even the Archduke Karl gained a victory, what effect would that have on the general course of events? It’s too late now when Vienna is occupied by the French army!”
“What? Occupied? Vienna occupied?”
“Not only occupied, but Bonaparte is at Schönbrunn, and the count, our dear Count Vrbna, goes to him for orders.”
After the fatigues and impressions of the journey, his reception, and especially after having dined, Bolkónski felt that he could not take in the full significance of the words he heard.
“Count Lichtenfels was here this morning,” Bilíbin continued, “and showed me a letter in which the parade of the French in Vienna was fully described: Prince Murat et tout le tremblement... You see that your victory is not a matter for great rejoicing and that you can’t be received as a savior.”
“Really I don’t care about that, I don’t care at all,” said Prince Andrew, beginning to understand that his news of the battle before Krems was really of small importance in view of such events as the fall of Austria’s capital. “How is it Vienna was taken? What of the bridge and its celebrated bridgehead and Prince Auersperg? We heard reports that Prince Auersperg was defending Vienna?” he said.
“Prince Auersperg is on this, on our side of the river, and is defending us—doing it very badly, I think, but still he is defending us. But Vienna is on the other side. No, the bridge has not yet been taken and I hope it will not be, for it is mined and orders have been given to blow it up. Otherwise we should long ago have been in the mountains of Bohemia, and you and your army would have spent a bad quarter of an hour between two fires.”
“But still this does not mean that the campaign is over,” said Prince Andrew.
“Well, I think it is. The bigwigs here think so too, but they daren’t say so. It will be as I said at the beginning of the campaign, it won’t be your skirmishing at Dürrenstein, or gunpowder at all, that will decide the matter, but those who devised it,” said Bilíbin quoting one of his own mots, releasing the wrinkles on his forehead, and pausing. “The only question is what will come of the meeting between the Emperor Alexander and the King of Prussia in Berlin? If Prussia joins the Allies, Austria’s hand will be forced and there will be war. If not it is merely a question of settling where the preliminaries of the new Campo Formio are to be drawn up.”
“What an extraordinary genius!” Prince Andrew suddenly exclaimed, clenching his small hand and striking the table with it, “and what luck the man has!”
“Buonaparte?” said Bilíbin inquiringly, puckering up his forehead to indicate that he was about to say something witty. “Buonaparte?” he repeated, accentuating the u: “I think, however, now that he lays down laws for Austria at Schönbrunn, il faut lui faire grâce de l’u! * I shall certainly adopt an innovation and call him simply Bonaparte!”
“But joking apart,” said Prince Andrew, “do you really think the campaign is over?”
“This is what I think. Austria has been made a fool of, and she is not used to it. She will retaliate. And she has been fooled in the first place because her provinces have been pillaged—they say the Holy Russian army loots terribly—her army is destroyed, her capital taken, and all this for the beaux yeux * of His Sardinian Majesty. And therefore—this is between ourselves—I instinctively feel that we are being deceived, my instinct tells me of negotiations with France and projects for peace, a secret peace concluded separately.”
“Impossible!” cried Prince Andrew. “That would be too base.”
“If we live we shall see,” replied Bilíbin, his face again becoming smooth as a sign that the conversation was at an end.
When Prince Andrew reached the room prepared for him and lay down in a clean shirt on the feather bed with its warmed and fragrant pillows, he felt that the battle of which he had brought tidings was far, far away from him. The alliance with Prussia, Austria’s treachery, Bonaparte’s new triumph, tomorrow’s levee and parade, and the audience with the Emperor Francis occupied his thoughts.
He closed his eyes, and immediately a sound of cannonading, of musketry and the rattling of carriage wheels seemed to fill his ears, and now again drawn out in a thin line the musketeers were descending the hill, the French were firing, and he felt his heart palpitating as he rode forward beside Schmidt with the bullets merrily whistling all around, and he experienced tenfold the joy of living, as he had not done since childhood.
He woke up...
“Yes, that all happened!” he said, and, smiling happily to himself like a child, he fell into a deep, youthful slumber.
Next day he woke late. Recalling his recent impressions, the first thought that came into his mind was that today he had to be presented to the Emperor Francis; he remembered the Minister of War, the polite Austrian adjutant, Bilíbin, and last night’s conversation. Having dressed for his attendance at court in full parade uniform, which he had not worn for a long time, he went into Bilíbin’s study fresh, animated, and handsome, with his hand bandaged. In the study were four gentlemen of the diplomatic corps. With Prince Hippolyte Kurágin, who was a secretary to the embassy, Bolkónski was already acquainted. Bilíbin introduced him to the others.
The gentlemen assembled at Bilíbin’s were young, wealthy, gay society men, who here, as in Vienna, formed a special set which Bilíbin, their leader, called les nôtres. * This set, consisting almost exclusively of diplomats, evidently had its own interests which had nothing to do with war or politics but related to high society, to certain women, and to the official side of the service. These gentlemen received Prince Andrew as one of themselves, an honor they did not extend to many. From politeness and to start conversation, they asked him a few questions about the army and the battle, and then the talk went off into merry jests and gossip.
“But the best of it was,” said one, telling of the misfortune of a fellow diplomat, “that the Chancellor told him flatly that his appointment to London was a promotion and that he was so to regard it. Can you fancy the figure he cut?...”
“But the worst of it, gentlemen—I am giving Kurágin away to you—is that that man suffers, and this Don Juan, wicked fellow, is taking advantage of it!”
Prince Hippolyte was lolling in a lounge chair with his legs over its arm. He began to laugh.
“Tell me about that!” he said.
“Oh, you Don Juan! You serpent!” cried several voices.
“You, Bolkónski, don’t know,” said Bilíbin turning to Prince Andrew, “that all the atrocities of the French army (I nearly said of the Russian army) are nothing compared to what this man has been doing among the women!”
“La femme est la compagne de l’homme,” * announced Prince Hippolyte, and began looking through a lorgnette at his elevated legs.
Bilíbin and the rest of “ours” burst out laughing in Hippolyte’s face, and Prince Andrew saw that Hippolyte, of whom—he had to admit—he had almost been jealous on his wife’s account, was the butt of this set.
“Oh, I must give you a treat,” Bilíbin whispered to Bolkónski. “Kurágin is exquisite when he discusses politics—you should see his gravity!”
He sat down beside Hippolyte and wrinkling his forehead began talking to him about politics. Prince Andrew and the others gathered round these two.
“The Berlin cabinet cannot express a feeling of alliance,” began Hippolyte gazing round with importance at the others, “without expressing... as in its last note... you understand... Besides, unless His Majesty the Emperor derogates from the principle of our alliance...
“Wait, I have not finished...” he said to Prince Andrew, seizing him by the arm, “I believe that intervention will be stronger than nonintervention. And...” he paused. “Finally one cannot impute the nonreceipt of our dispatch of November 18. That is how it will end.” And he released Bolkónski’s arm to indicate that he had now quite finished.
“Demosthenes, I know thee by the pebble thou secretest in thy golden mouth!” said Bilíbin, and the mop of hair on his head moved with satisfaction.
Everybody laughed, and Hippolyte louder than anyone. He was evidently distressed, and breathed painfully, but could not restrain the wild laughter that convulsed his usually impassive features.
“Well now, gentlemen,” said Bilíbin, “Bolkónski is my guest in this house and in Brünn itself. I want to entertain him as far as I can, with all the pleasures of life here. If we were in Vienna it would be easy, but here, in this wretched Moravian hole, it is more difficult, and I beg you all to help me. Brünn’s attractions must be shown him. You can undertake the theater, I society, and you, Hippolyte, of course the women.”
“We must let him see Amelie, she’s exquisite!” said one of “ours,” kissing his finger tips.
“In general we must turn this bloodthirsty soldier to more humane interests,” said Bilíbin.
“I shall scarcely be able to avail myself of your hospitality, gentlemen, it is already time for me to go,” replied Prince Andrew looking at his watch.
“To the Emperor.”
“Oh! Oh! Oh!”
“Well, au revoir, Bolkónski! Au revoir, Prince! Come back early to dinner,” cried several voices. “We’ll take you in hand.”
“When speaking to the Emperor, try as far as you can to praise the way that provisions are supplied and the routes indicated,” said Bilíbin, accompanying him to the hall.
“I should like to speak well of them, but as far as I know the facts, I can’t,” replied Bolkónski, smiling.
“Well, talk as much as you can, anyway. He has a passion for giving audiences, but he does not like talking himself and can’t do it, as you will see.”
At the levee Prince Andrew stood among the Austrian officers as he had been told to, and the Emperor Francis merely looked fixedly into his face and just nodded to him with his long head. But after it was over, the adjutant he had seen the previous day ceremoniously informed Bolkónski that the Emperor desired to give him an audience. The Emperor Francis received him standing in the middle of the room. Before the conversation began Prince Andrew was struck by the fact that the Emperor seemed confused and blushed as if not knowing what to say.
“Tell me, when did the battle begin?” he asked hurriedly.
Prince Andrew replied. Then followed other questions just as simple: “Was Kutúzov well? When had he left Krems?” and so on. The Emperor spoke as if his sole aim were to put a given number of questions—the answers to these questions, as was only too evident, did not interest him.
“At what o’clock did the battle begin?” asked the Emperor.
“I cannot inform Your Majesty at what o’clock the battle began at the front, but at Dürrenstein, where I was, our attack began after five in the afternoon,” replied Bolkónski growing more animated and expecting that he would have a chance to give a reliable account, which he had ready in his mind, of all he knew and had seen. But the Emperor smiled and interrupted him.
“How many miles?”
“From where to where, Your Majesty?”
“From Dürrenstein to Krems.”
“Three and a half miles, Your Majesty.”
“The French have abandoned the left bank?”
“According to the scouts the last of them crossed on rafts during the night.”
“Is there sufficient forage in Krems?”
“Forage has not been supplied to the extent...”
The Emperor interrupted him.
“At what o’clock was General Schmidt killed?”
“At seven o’clock, I believe.”
“At seven o’clock? It’s very sad, very sad!”
The Emperor thanked Prince Andrew and bowed. Prince Andrew withdrew and was immediately surrounded by courtiers on all sides. Everywhere he saw friendly looks and heard friendly words. Yesterday’s adjutant reproached him for not having stayed at the palace, and offered him his own house. The Minister of War came up and congratulated him on the Maria Theresa Order of the third grade, which the Emperor was conferring on him. The Empress’ chamberlain invited him to see Her Majesty. The archduchess also wished to see him. He did not know whom to answer, and for a few seconds collected his thoughts. Then the Russian ambassador took him by the shoulder, led him to the window, and began to talk to him.
Contrary to Bilíbin’s forecast the news he had brought was joyfully received. A thanksgiving service was arranged, Kutúzov was awarded the Grand Cross of Maria Theresa, and the whole army received rewards. Bolkónski was invited everywhere, and had to spend the whole morning calling on the principal Austrian dignitaries. Between four and five in the afternoon, having made all his calls, he was returning to Bilíbin’s house thinking out a letter to his father about the battle and his visit to Brünn. At the door he found a vehicle half full of luggage. Franz, Bilíbin’s man, was dragging a portmanteau with some difficulty out of the front door.
Before returning to Bilíbin’s Prince Andrew had gone to a bookshop to provide himself with some books for the campaign, and had spent some time in the shop.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Oh, your excellency!” said Franz, with difficulty rolling the portmanteau into the vehicle, “we are to move on still farther. The scoundrel is again at our heels!”
“Eh? What?” asked Prince Andrew.
Bilíbin came out to meet him. His usually calm face showed excitement.
“There now! Confess that this is delightful,” said he. “This affair of the Thabor Bridge, at Vienna.... They have crossed without striking a blow!”
Prince Andrew could not understand.
“But where do you come from not to know what every coachman in the town knows?”
“I come from the archduchess’. I heard nothing there.”
“And you didn’t see that everybody is packing up?”
“I did not... What is it all about?” inquired Prince Andrew impatiently.
“What’s it all about? Why, the French have crossed the bridge that Auersperg was defending, and the bridge was not blown up: so Murat is now rushing along the road to Brünn and will be here in a day or two.”
“What? Here? But why did they not blow up the bridge, if it was mined?”
“That is what I ask you. No one, not even Bonaparte, knows why.”
Bolkónski shrugged his shoulders.
“But if the bridge is crossed it means that the army too is lost? It will be cut off,” said he.
“That’s just it,” answered Bilíbin. “Listen! The French entered Vienna as I told you. Very well. Next day, which was yesterday, those gentlemen, messieurs les maréchaux, * Murat, Lannes, and Belliard, mount and ride to the bridge. (Observe that all three are Gascons.) ‘Gentlemen,’ says one of them, ‘you know the Thabor Bridge is mined and doubly mined and that there are menacing fortifications at its head and an army of fifteen thousand men has been ordered to blow up the bridge and not let us cross? But it will please our sovereign the Emperor Napoleon if we take this bridge, so let us three go and take it!’ ‘Yes, let’s!’ say the others. And off they go and take the bridge, cross it, and now with their whole army are on this side of the Danube, marching on us, you, and your lines of communication.”
“Stop jesting,” said Prince Andrew sadly and seriously. This news grieved him and yet he was pleased.
As soon as he learned that the Russian army was in such a hopeless situation it occurred to him that it was he who was destined to lead it out of this position; that here was the Toulon that would lift him from the ranks of obscure officers and offer him the first step to fame! Listening to Bilíbin he was already imagining how on reaching the army he would give an opinion at the war council which would be the only one that could save the army, and how he alone would be entrusted with the executing of the plan.
“Stop this jesting,” he said.
“I am not jesting,” Bilíbin went on. “Nothing is truer or sadder. These gentlemen ride onto the bridge alone and wave white handkerchiefs; they assure the officer on duty that they, the marshals, are on their way to negotiate with Prince Auersperg. He lets them enter the tête-de-pont. * They spin him a thousand gasconades, saying that the war is over, that the Emperor Francis is arranging a meeting with Bonaparte, that they desire to see Prince Auersperg, and so on. The officer sends for Auersperg; these gentlemen embrace the officers, crack jokes, sit on the cannon, and meanwhile a French battalion gets to the bridge unobserved, flings the bags of incendiary material into the water, and approaches the tête-de-pont. At length appears the lieutenant general, our dear Prince Auersperg von Mautern himself. ‘Dearest foe! Flower of the Austrian army, hero of the Turkish wars! Hostilities are ended, we can shake one another’s hand.... The Emperor Napoleon burns with impatience to make Prince Auersperg’s acquaintance.’ In a word, those gentlemen, Gascons indeed, so bewildered him with fine words, and he is so flattered by his rapidly established intimacy with the French marshals, and so dazzled by the sight of Murat’s mantle and ostrich plumes, qu’il n’y voit que du feu, et oublie celui qu’il devait faire faire sur l’ennemi!” *(2) In spite of the animation of his speech, Bilíbin did not forget to pause after this mot to give time for its due appreciation. “The French battalion rushes to the bridgehead, spikes the guns, and the bridge is taken! But what is best of all,” he went on, his excitement subsiding under the delightful interest of his own story, “is that the sergeant in charge of the cannon which was to give the signal to fire the mines and blow up the bridge, this sergeant, seeing that the French troops were running onto the bridge, was about to fire, but Lannes stayed his hand. The sergeant, who was evidently wiser than his general, goes up to Auersperg and says: ‘Prince, you are being deceived, here are the French!’ Murat, seeing that all is lost if the sergeant is allowed to speak, turns to Auersperg with feigned astonishment (he is a true Gascon) and says: ‘I don’t recognize the world-famous Austrian discipline, if you allow a subordinate to address you like that!’ It was a stroke of genius. Prince Auersperg feels his dignity at stake and orders the sergeant to be arrested. Come, you must own that this affair of the Thabor Bridge is delightful! It is not exactly stupidity, nor rascality....”
* (2) That their fire gets into his eyes and he forgets that
he ought to be firing at the enemy.
“It may be treachery,” said Prince Andrew, vividly imagining the gray overcoats, wounds, the smoke of gunpowder, the sounds of firing, and the glory that awaited him.
“Not that either. That puts the court in too bad a light,” replied Bilíbin. “It’s not treachery nor rascality nor stupidity: it is just as at Ulm... it is...”—he seemed to be trying to find the right expression. “C’est... c’est du Mack. Nous sommes mackés (It is... it is a bit of Mack. We are Macked),” he concluded, feeling that he had produced a good epigram, a fresh one that would be repeated. His hitherto puckered brow became smooth as a sign of pleasure, and with a slight smile he began to examine his nails.
“Where are you off to?” he said suddenly to Prince Andrew who had risen and was going toward his room.
“I am going away.”
“To the army.”
“But you meant to stay another two days?”
“But now I am off at once.”
And Prince Andrew after giving directions about his departure went to his room.
“Do you know, mon cher,” said Bilíbin following him, “I have been thinking about you. Why are you going?”
And in proof of the conclusiveness of his opinion all the wrinkles vanished from his face.
Prince Andrew looked inquiringly at him and gave no reply.
“Why are you going? I know you think it your duty to gallop back to the army now that it is in danger. I understand that. Mon cher, it is heroism!”
“Not at all,” said Prince Andrew.
“But as you are a philosopher, be a consistent one, look at the other side of the question and you will see that your duty, on the contrary, is to take care of yourself. Leave it to those who are no longer fit for anything else.... You have not been ordered to return and have not been dismissed from here; therefore, you can stay and go with us wherever our ill luck takes us. They say we are going to Olmütz, and Olmütz is a very decent town. You and I will travel comfortably in my calèche.”
“Do stop joking, Bilíbin,” cried Bolkónski.
“I am speaking sincerely as a friend! Consider! Where and why are you going, when you might remain here? You are faced by one of two things,” and the skin over his left temple puckered, “either you will not reach your regiment before peace is concluded, or you will share defeat and disgrace with Kutúzov’s whole army.”
And Bilíbin unwrinkled his temple, feeling that the dilemma was insoluble.
“I cannot argue about it,” replied Prince Andrew coldly, but he thought: “I am going to save the army.”
“My dear fellow, you are a hero!” said Bilíbin.