At two in the morning of the fourteenth of June, the Emperor, having sent for Balashëv and read him his letter to Napoleon, ordered him to take it and hand it personally to the French Emperor. When dispatching Balashëv, the Emperor repeated to him the words that he would not make peace so long as a single armed enemy remained on Russian soil and told him to transmit those words to Napoleon. Alexander did not insert them in his letter to Napoleon, because with his characteristic tact he felt it would be injudicious to use them at a moment when a last attempt at reconciliation was being made, but he definitely instructed Balashëv to repeat them personally to Napoleon.
Having set off in the small hours of the fourteenth, accompanied by a bugler and two Cossacks, Balashëv reached the French outposts at the village of Rykónty, on the Russian side of the Niemen, by dawn. There he was stopped by French cavalry sentinels.
A French noncommissioned officer of hussars, in crimson uniform and a shaggy cap, shouted to the approaching Balashëv to halt. Balashëv did not do so at once, but continued to advance along the road at a walking pace.
The noncommissioned officer frowned and, muttering words of abuse, advanced his horse’s chest against Balashëv, put his hand to his saber, and shouted rudely at the Russian general, asking: was he deaf that he did not do as he was told? Balashëv mentioned who he was. The noncommissioned officer began talking with his comrades about regimental matters without looking at the Russian general.
After living at the seat of the highest authority and power, after conversing with the Emperor less than three hours before, and in general being accustomed to the respect due to his rank in the service, Balashëv found it very strange here on Russian soil to encounter this hostile, and still more this disrespectful, application of brute force to himself.
The sun was only just appearing from behind the clouds, the air was fresh and dewy. A herd of cattle was being driven along the road from the village, and over the fields the larks rose trilling, one after another, like bubbles rising in water.
Balashëv looked around him, awaiting the arrival of an officer from the village. The Russian Cossacks and bugler and the French hussars looked silently at one another from time to time.
A French colonel of hussars, who had evidently just left his bed, came riding from the village on a handsome sleek gray horse, accompanied by two hussars. The officer, the soldiers, and their horses all looked smart and well kept.
It was that first period of a campaign when troops are still in full trim, almost like that of peacetime maneuvers, but with a shade of martial swagger in their clothes, and a touch of the gaiety and spirit of enterprise which always accompany the opening of a campaign.
The French colonel with difficulty repressed a yawn, but was polite and evidently understood Balashëv’s importance. He led him past his soldiers and behind the outposts and told him that his wish to be presented to the Emperor would most likely be satisfied immediately, as the Emperor’s quarters were, he believed, not far off.
They rode through the village of Rykónty, past tethered French hussar horses, past sentinels and men who saluted their colonel and stared with curiosity at a Russian uniform, and came out at the other end of the village. The colonel said that the commander of the division was a mile and a quarter away and would receive Balashëv and conduct him to his destination.
The sun had by now risen and shone gaily on the bright verdure.
They had hardly ridden up a hill, past a tavern, before they saw a group of horsemen coming toward them. In front of the group, on a black horse with trappings that glittered in the sun, rode a tall man with plumes in his hat and black hair curling down to his shoulders. He wore a red mantle, and stretched his long legs forward in French fashion. This man rode toward Balashëv at a gallop, his plumes flowing and his gems and gold lace glittering in the bright June sunshine.
Balashëv was only two horses’ length from the equestrian with the bracelets, plumes, necklaces, and gold embroidery, who was galloping toward him with a theatrically solemn countenance, when Julner, the French colonel, whispered respectfully: “The King of Naples!” It was, in fact, Murat, now called “King of Naples.” Though it was quite incomprehensible why he should be King of Naples, he was called so, and was himself convinced that he was so, and therefore assumed a more solemn and important air than formerly. He was so sure that he really was the King of Naples that when, on the eve of his departure from that city, while walking through the streets with his wife, some Italians called out to him: “Viva il re!” * he turned to his wife with a pensive smile and said: “Poor fellows, they don’t know that I am leaving them tomorrow!”
But though he firmly believed himself to be King of Naples and pitied the grief felt by the subjects he was abandoning, latterly, after he had been ordered to return to military service—and especially since his last interview with Napoleon in Danzig, when his august brother-in-law had told him: “I made you King that you should reign in my way, but not in yours!”—he had cheerfully taken up his familiar business, and—like a well-fed but not overfat horse that feels himself in harness and grows skittish between the shafts—he dressed up in clothes as variegated and expensive as possible, and gaily and contentedly galloped along the roads of Poland, without himself knowing why or whither.
On seeing the Russian general he threw back his head, with its long hair curling to his shoulders, in a majestically royal manner, and looked inquiringly at the French colonel. The colonel respectfully informed His Majesty of Balashëv’s mission, whose name he could not pronounce.
“De Bal-machève!” said the King (overcoming by his assurance the difficulty that had presented itself to the colonel). “Charmed to make your acquaintance, General!” he added, with a gesture of kingly condescension.
As soon as the King began to speak loud and fast his royal dignity instantly forsook him, and without noticing it he passed into his natural tone of good-natured familiarity. He laid his hand on the withers of Balashëv’s horse and said:
“Well, General, it all looks like war,” as if regretting a circumstance of which he was unable to judge.
“Your Majesty,” replied Balashëv, “my master, the Emperor, does not desire war and as Your Majesty sees...” said Balashëv, using the words Your Majesty at every opportunity, with the affectation unavoidable in frequently addressing one to whom the title was still a novelty.
Murat’s face beamed with stupid satisfaction as he listened to “Monsieur de Bal-machève.” But royauté oblige! * and he felt it incumbent on him, as a king and an ally, to confer on state affairs with Alexander’s envoy. He dismounted, took Balashëv’s arm, and moving a few steps away from his suite, which waited respectfully, began to pace up and down with him, trying to speak significantly. He referred to the fact that the Emperor Napoleon had resented the demand that he should withdraw his troops from Prussia, especially when that demand became generally known and the dignity of France was thereby offended.
Balashëv replied that there was “nothing offensive in the demand, because...” but Murat interrupted him.
“Then you don’t consider the Emperor Alexander the aggressor?” he asked unexpectedly, with a kindly and foolish smile.
Balashëv told him why he considered Napoleon to be the originator of the war.
“Oh, my dear general!” Murat again interrupted him, “with all my heart I wish the Emperors may arrange the affair between them, and that the war begun by no wish of mine may finish as quickly as possible!” said he, in the tone of a servant who wants to remain good friends with another despite a quarrel between their masters.
And he went on to inquiries about the Grand Duke and the state of his health, and to reminiscences of the gay and amusing times he had spent with him in Naples. Then suddenly, as if remembering his royal dignity, Murat solemnly drew himself up, assumed the pose in which he had stood at his coronation, and, waving his right arm, said:
“I won’t detain you longer, General. I wish success to your mission,” and with his embroidered red mantle, his flowing feathers, and his glittering ornaments, he rejoined his suite who were respectfully awaiting him.
Balashëv rode on, supposing from Murat’s words that he would very soon be brought before Napoleon himself. But instead of that, at the next village the sentinels of Davout’s infantry corps detained him as the pickets of the vanguard had done, and an adjutant of the corps commander, who was fetched, conducted him into the village to Marshal Davout.
Davout was to Napoleon what Arakchéev was to Alexander—though not a coward like Arakchéev, he was as precise, as cruel, and as unable to express his devotion to his monarch except by cruelty.
In the organism of states such men are necessary, as wolves are necessary in the organism of nature, and they always exist, always appear and hold their own, however incongruous their presence and their proximity to the head of the government may be. This inevitability alone can explain how the cruel Arakchéev, who tore out a grenadier’s mustache with his own hands, whose weak nerves rendered him unable to face danger, and who was neither an educated man nor a courtier, was able to maintain his powerful position with Alexander, whose own character was chivalrous, noble, and gentle.
Balashëv found Davout seated on a barrel in the shed of a peasant’s hut, writing—he was auditing accounts. Better quarters could have been found him, but Marshal Davout was one of those men who purposely put themselves in most depressing conditions to have a justification for being gloomy. For the same reason they are always hard at work and in a hurry. “How can I think of the bright side of life when, as you see, I am sitting on a barrel and working in a dirty shed?” the expression of his face seemed to say. The chief pleasure and necessity of such men, when they encounter anyone who shows animation, is to flaunt their own dreary, persistent activity. Davout allowed himself that pleasure when Balashëv was brought in. He became still more absorbed in his task when the Russian general entered, and after glancing over his spectacles at Balashëv’s face, which was animated by the beauty of the morning and by his talk with Murat, he did not rise or even stir, but scowled still more and sneered malevolently.
When he noticed in Balashëv’s face the disagreeable impression this reception produced, Davout raised his head and coldly asked what he wanted.
Thinking he could have been received in such a manner only because Davout did not know that he was adjutant general to the Emperor Alexander and even his envoy to Napoleon, Balashëv hastened to inform him of his rank and mission. Contrary to his expectation, Davout, after hearing him, became still surlier and ruder.
“Where is your dispatch?” he inquired. “Give it to me. I will send it to the Emperor.”
Balashëv replied that he had been ordered to hand it personally to the Emperor.
“Your Emperor’s orders are obeyed in your army, but here,” said Davout, “you must do as you’re told.”
And, as if to make the Russian general still more conscious of his dependence on brute force, Davout sent an adjutant to call the officer on duty.
Balashëv took out the packet containing the Emperor’s letter and laid it on the table (made of a door with its hinges still hanging on it, laid across two barrels). Davout took the packet and read the inscription.
“You are perfectly at liberty to treat me with respect or not,” protested Balashëv, “but permit me to observe that I have the honor to be adjutant general to His Majesty....”
Davout glanced at him silently and plainly derived pleasure from the signs of agitation and confusion which appeared on Balashëv’s face.
“You will be treated as is fitting,” said he and, putting the packet in his pocket, left the shed.
A minute later the marshal’s adjutant, de Castrès, came in and conducted Balashëv to the quarters assigned him.
That day he dined with the marshal, at the same board on the barrels.
Next day Davout rode out early and, after asking Balashëv to come to him, peremptorily requested him to remain there, to move on with the baggage train should orders come for it to move, and to talk to no one except Monsieur de Castrès.
After four days of solitude, ennui, and consciousness of his impotence and insignificance—particularly acute by contrast with the sphere of power in which he had so lately moved—and after several marches with the marshal’s baggage and the French army, which occupied the whole district, Balashëv was brought to Vílna—now occupied by the French—through the very gate by which he had left it four days previously.
Next day the imperial gentleman-in-waiting, the Comte de Turenne, came to Balashëv and informed him of the Emperor Napoleon’s wish to honor him with an audience.
Four days before, sentinels of the Preobrazhénsk regiment had stood in front of the house to which Balashëv was conducted, and now two French grenadiers stood there in blue uniforms unfastened in front and with shaggy caps on their heads, and an escort of hussars and Uhlans and a brilliant suite of aides-de-camp, pages, and generals, who were waiting for Napoleon to come out, were standing at the porch, round his saddle horse and his Mameluke, Rustan. Napoleon received Balashëv in the very house in Vílna from which Alexander had dispatched him on his mission.
Though Balashëv was used to imperial pomp, he was amazed at the luxury and magnificence of Napoleon’s court.
The Comte de Turenne showed him into a big reception room where many generals, gentlemen-in-waiting, and Polish magnates—several of whom Balashëv had seen at the court of the Emperor of Russia—were waiting. Duroc said that Napoleon would receive the Russian general before going for his ride.
After some minutes, the gentleman-in-waiting who was on duty came into the great reception room and, bowing politely, asked Balashëv to follow him.
Balashëv went into a small reception room, one door of which led into a study, the very one from which the Russian Emperor had dispatched him on his mission. He stood a minute or two, waiting. He heard hurried footsteps beyond the door, both halves of it were opened rapidly; all was silent and then from the study the sound was heard of other steps, firm and resolute—they were those of Napoleon. He had just finished dressing for his ride, and wore a blue uniform, opening in front over a white waistcoat so long that it covered his rotund stomach, white leather breeches tightly fitting the fat thighs of his short legs, and Hessian boots. His short hair had evidently just been brushed, but one lock hung down in the middle of his broad forehead. His plump white neck stood out sharply above the black collar of his uniform, and he smelled of Eau de Cologne. His full face, rather young-looking, with its prominent chin, wore a gracious and majestic expression of imperial welcome.
He entered briskly, with a jerk at every step and his head slightly thrown back. His whole short corpulent figure with broad thick shoulders, and chest and stomach involuntarily protruding, had that imposing and stately appearance one sees in men of forty who live in comfort. It was evident, too, that he was in the best of spirits that day.
He nodded in answer to Balashëv’s low and respectful bow, and coming up to him at once began speaking like a man who values every moment of his time and does not condescend to prepare what he has to say but is sure he will always say the right thing and say it well.
“Good day, General!” said he. “I have received the letter you brought from the Emperor Alexander and am very glad to see you.” He glanced with his large eyes into Balashëv’s face and immediately looked past him.
It was plain that Balashëv’s personality did not interest him at all. Evidently only what took place within his own mind interested him. Nothing outside himself had any significance for him, because everything in the world, it seemed to him, depended entirely on his will.
“I do not, and did not, desire war,” he continued, “but it has been forced on me. Even now” (he emphasized the word) “I am ready to receive any explanations you can give me.”
And he began clearly and concisely to explain his reasons for dissatisfaction with the Russian government. Judging by the calmly moderate and amicable tone in which the French Emperor spoke, Balashëv was firmly persuaded that he wished for peace and intended to enter into negotiations.
When Napoleon, having finished speaking, looked inquiringly at the Russian envoy, Balashëv began a speech he had prepared long before: “Sire! The Emperor, my master...” but the sight of the Emperor’s eyes bent on him confused him. “You are flurried—compose yourself!” Napoleon seemed to say, as with a scarcely perceptible smile he looked at Balashëv’s uniform and sword.
Balashëv recovered himself and began to speak. He said that the Emperor Alexander did not consider Kurákin’s demand for his passports a sufficient cause for war; that Kurákin had acted on his own initiative and without his sovereign’s assent, that the Emperor Alexander did not desire war, and had no relations with England.
“Not yet!” interposed Napoleon, and, as if fearing to give vent to his feelings, he frowned and nodded slightly as a sign that Balashëv might proceed.
After saying all he had been instructed to say, Balashëv added that the Emperor Alexander wished for peace, but would not enter into negotiations except on condition that... Here Balashëv hesitated: he remembered the words the Emperor Alexander had not written in his letter, but had specially inserted in the rescript to Saltykóv and had told Balashëv to repeat to Napoleon. Balashëv remembered these words, “So long as a single armed foe remains on Russian soil,” but some complex feeling restrained him. He could not utter them, though he wished to do so. He grew confused and said: “On condition that the French army retires beyond the Niemen.”
Napoleon noticed Balashëv’s embarrassment when uttering these last words; his face twitched and the calf of his left leg began to quiver rhythmically. Without moving from where he stood he began speaking in a louder tone and more hurriedly than before. During the speech that followed, Balashëv, who more than once lowered his eyes, involuntarily noticed the quivering of Napoleon’s left leg which increased the more Napoleon raised his voice.
“I desire peace, no less than the Emperor Alexander,” he began. “Have I not for eighteen months been doing everything to obtain it? I have waited eighteen months for explanations. But in order to begin negotiations, what is demanded of me?” he said, frowning and making an energetic gesture of inquiry with his small white plump hand.
“The withdrawal of your army beyond the Niemen, sire,” replied Balashëv.
“The Niemen?” repeated Napoleon. “So now you want me to retire beyond the Niemen—only the Niemen?” repeated Napoleon, looking straight at Balashëv.
The latter bowed his head respectfully.
Instead of the demand of four months earlier to withdraw from Pomerania, only a withdrawal beyond the Niemen was now demanded. Napoleon turned quickly and began to pace the room.
“You say the demand now is that I am to withdraw beyond the Niemen before commencing negotiations, but in just the same way two months ago the demand was that I should withdraw beyond the Vistula and the Oder, and yet you are willing to negotiate.”
He went in silence from one corner of the room to the other and again stopped in front of Balashëv. Balashëv noticed that his left leg was quivering faster than before and his face seemed petrified in its stern expression. This quivering of his left leg was a thing Napoleon was conscious of. “The vibration of my left calf is a great sign with me,” he remarked at a later date.
“Such demands as to retreat beyond the Vistula and Oder may be made to a Prince of Baden, but not to me!” Napoleon almost screamed, quite to his own surprise. “If you gave me Petersburg and Moscow I could not accept such conditions. You say I have begun this war! But who first joined his army? The Emperor Alexander, not I! And you offer me negotiations when I have expended millions, when you are in alliance with England, and when your position is a bad one. You offer me negotiations! But what is the aim of your alliance with England? What has she given you?” he continued hurriedly, evidently no longer trying to show the advantages of peace and discuss its possibility, but only to prove his own rectitude and power and Alexander’s errors and duplicity.
The commencement of his speech had obviously been made with the intention of demonstrating the advantages of his position and showing that he was nevertheless willing to negotiate. But he had begun talking, and the more he talked the less could he control his words.
The whole purport of his remarks now was evidently to exalt himself and insult Alexander—just what he had least desired at the commencement of the interview.
“I hear you have made peace with Turkey?”
Balashëv bowed his head affirmatively.
“Peace has been concluded...” he began.
But Napoleon did not let him speak. He evidently wanted to do all the talking himself, and continued to talk with the sort of eloquence and unrestrained irritability to which spoiled people are so prone.
“Yes, I know you have made peace with the Turks without obtaining Moldavia and Wallachia; I would have given your sovereign those provinces as I gave him Finland. Yes,” he went on, “I promised and would have given the Emperor Alexander Moldavia and Wallachia, and now he won’t have those splendid provinces. Yet he might have united them to his empire and in a single reign would have extended Russia from the Gulf of Bothnia to the mouths of the Danube. Catherine the Great could not have done more,” said Napoleon, growing more and more excited as he paced up and down the room, repeating to Balashëv almost the very words he had used to Alexander himself at Tilsit. “All that, he would have owed to my friendship. Oh, what a splendid reign!” he repeated several times, then paused, drew from his pocket a gold snuffbox, lifted it to his nose, and greedily sniffed at it.
“What a splendid reign the Emperor Alexander’s might have been!”
He looked compassionately at Balashëv, and as soon as the latter tried to make some rejoinder hastily interrupted him.
“What could he wish or look for that he would not have obtained through my friendship?” demanded Napoleon, shrugging his shoulders in perplexity. “But no, he has preferred to surround himself with my enemies, and with whom? With Steins, Armfeldts, Bennigsens, and Wintzingerodes! Stein, a traitor expelled from his own country; Armfeldt, a rake and an intriguer; Wintzingerode, a fugitive French subject; Bennigsen, rather more of a soldier than the others, but all the same an incompetent who was unable to do anything in 1807 and who should awaken terrible memories in the Emperor Alexander’s mind.... Granted that were they competent they might be made use of,” continued Napoleon—hardly able to keep pace in words with the rush of thoughts that incessantly sprang up, proving how right and strong he was (in his perception the two were one and the same)—“but they are not even that! They are neither fit for war nor peace! Barclay is said to be the most capable of them all, but I cannot say so, judging by his first movements. And what are they doing, all these courtiers? Pfuel proposes, Armfeldt disputes, Bennigsen considers, and Barclay, called on to act, does not know what to decide on, and time passes bringing no result. Bagratión alone is a military man. He’s stupid, but he has experience, a quick eye, and resolution.... And what role is your young monarch playing in that monstrous crowd? They compromise him and throw on him the responsibility for all that happens. A sovereign should not be with the army unless he is a general!” said Napoleon, evidently uttering these words as a direct challenge to the Emperor. He knew how Alexander desired to be a military commander.
“The campaign began only a week ago, and you haven’t even been able to defend Vílna. You are cut in two and have been driven out of the Polish provinces. Your army is grumbling.”
“On the contrary, Your Majesty,” said Balashëv, hardly able to remember what had been said to him and following these verbal fireworks with difficulty, “the troops are burning with eagerness...”
“I know everything!” Napoleon interrupted him. “I know everything. I know the number of your battalions as exactly as I know my own. You have not two hundred thousand men, and I have three times that number. I give you my word of honor,” said Napoleon, forgetting that his word of honor could carry no weight—“I give you my word of honor that I have five hundred and thirty thousand men this side of the Vistula. The Turks will be of no use to you; they are worth nothing and have shown it by making peace with you. As for the Swedes—it is their fate to be governed by mad kings. Their king was insane and they changed him for another—Bernadotte, who promptly went mad—for no Swede would ally himself with Russia unless he were mad.”
Napoleon grinned maliciously and again raised his snuffbox to his nose.
Balashëv knew how to reply to each of Napoleon’s remarks, and would have done so; he continually made the gesture of a man wishing to say something, but Napoleon always interrupted him. To the alleged insanity of the Swedes, Balashëv wished to reply that when Russia is on her side Sweden is practically an island: but Napoleon gave an angry exclamation to drown his voice. Napoleon was in that state of irritability in which a man has to talk, talk, and talk, merely to convince himself that he is in the right. Balashëv began to feel uncomfortable: as envoy he feared to demean his dignity and felt the necessity of replying; but, as a man, he shrank before the transport of groundless wrath that had evidently seized Napoleon. He knew that none of the words now uttered by Napoleon had any significance, and that Napoleon himself would be ashamed of them when he came to his senses. Balashëv stood with downcast eyes, looking at the movements of Napoleon’s stout legs and trying to avoid meeting his eyes.
“But what do I care about your allies?” said Napoleon. “I have allies—the Poles. There are eighty thousand of them and they fight like lions. And there will be two hundred thousand of them.”
And probably still more perturbed by the fact that he had uttered this obvious falsehood, and that Balashëv still stood silently before him in the same attitude of submission to fate, Napoleon abruptly turned round, drew close to Balashëv’s face, and, gesticulating rapidly and energetically with his white hands, almost shouted:
“Know that if you stir up Prussia against me, I’ll wipe it off the map of Europe!” he declared, his face pale and distorted by anger, and he struck one of his small hands energetically with the other. “Yes, I will throw you back beyond the Dvína and beyond the Dnieper, and will re-erect against you that barrier which it was criminal and blind of Europe to allow to be destroyed. Yes, that is what will happen to you. That is what you have gained by alienating me!” And he walked silently several times up and down the room, his fat shoulders twitching.
He put his snuffbox into his waistcoat pocket, took it out again, lifted it several times to his nose, and stopped in front of Balashëv. He paused, looked ironically straight into Balashëv’s eyes, and said in a quiet voice:
“And yet what a splendid reign your master might have had!”
Balashëv, feeling it incumbent on him to reply, said that from the Russian side things did not appear in so gloomy a light. Napoleon was silent, still looking derisively at him and evidently not listening to him. Balashëv said that in Russia the best results were expected from the war. Napoleon nodded condescendingly, as if to say, “I know it’s your duty to say that, but you don’t believe it yourself. I have convinced you.”
When Balashëv had ended, Napoleon again took out his snuffbox, sniffed at it, and stamped his foot twice on the floor as a signal. The door opened, a gentleman-in-waiting, bending respectfully, handed the Emperor his hat and gloves; another brought him a pocket handkerchief. Napoleon, without giving them a glance, turned to Balashëv:
“Assure the Emperor Alexander from me,” said he, taking his hat, “that I am as devoted to him as before: I know him thoroughly and very highly esteem his lofty qualities. I will detain you no longer, General; you shall receive my letter to the Emperor.”
And Napoleon went quickly to the door. Everyone in the reception room rushed forward and descended the staircase.
After all that Napoleon had said to him—those bursts of anger and the last dryly spoken words: “I will detain you no longer, General; you shall receive my letter,” Balashëv felt convinced that Napoleon would not wish to see him, and would even avoid another meeting with him—an insulted envoy—especially as he had witnessed his unseemly anger. But, to his surprise, Balashëv received, through Duroc, an invitation to dine with the Emperor that day.
Bessières, Caulaincourt, and Berthier were present at that dinner.
Napoleon met Balashëv cheerfully and amiably. He not only showed no sign of constraint or self-reproach on account of his outburst that morning, but, on the contrary, tried to reassure Balashëv. It was evident that he had long been convinced that it was impossible for him to make a mistake, and that in his perception whatever he did was right, not because it harmonized with any idea of right and wrong, but because he did it.
The Emperor was in very good spirits after his ride through Vílna, where crowds of people had rapturously greeted and followed him. From all the windows of the streets through which he rode, rugs, flags, and his monogram were displayed, and the Polish ladies, welcoming him, waved their handkerchiefs to him.
At dinner, having placed Balashëv beside him, Napoleon not only treated him amiably but behaved as if Balashëv were one of his own courtiers, one of those who sympathized with his plans and ought to rejoice at his success. In the course of conversation he mentioned Moscow and questioned Balashëv about the Russian capital, not merely as an interested traveler asks about a new city he intends to visit, but as if convinced that Balashëv, as a Russian, must be flattered by his curiosity.
“How many inhabitants are there in Moscow? How many houses? Is it true that Moscow is called ‘Holy Moscow’? How many churches are there in Moscow?” he asked.
And receiving the reply that there were more than two hundred churches, he remarked:
“Why such a quantity of churches?”
“The Russians are very devout,” replied Balashëv.
“But a large number of monasteries and churches is always a sign of the backwardness of a people,” said Napoleon, turning to Caulaincourt for appreciation of this remark.
Balashëv respectfully ventured to disagree with the French Emperor.
“Every country has its own character,” said he.
“But nowhere in Europe is there anything like that,” said Napoleon.
“I beg your Majesty’s pardon,” returned Balashëv, “besides Russia there is Spain, where there are also many churches and monasteries.”
This reply of Balashëv’s, which hinted at the recent defeats of the French in Spain, was much appreciated when he related it at Alexander’s court, but it was not much appreciated at Napoleon’s dinner, where it passed unnoticed.
The uninterested and perplexed faces of the marshals showed that they were puzzled as to what Balashëv’s tone suggested. “If there is a point we don’t see it, or it is not at all witty,” their expressions seemed to say. So little was his rejoinder appreciated that Napoleon did not notice it at all and naïvely asked Balashëv through what towns the direct road from there to Moscow passed. Balashëv, who was on the alert all through the dinner, replied that just as “all roads lead to Rome,” so all roads lead to Moscow: there were many roads, and “among them the road through Poltáva, which Charles XII chose.” Balashëv involuntarily flushed with pleasure at the aptitude of this reply, but hardly had he uttered the word Poltáva before Caulaincourt began speaking of the badness of the road from Petersburg to Moscow and of his Petersburg reminiscences.
After dinner they went to drink coffee in Napoleon’s study, which four days previously had been that of the Emperor Alexander. Napoleon sat down, toying with his Sèvres coffee cup, and motioned Balashëv to a chair beside him.
Napoleon was in that well-known after-dinner mood which, more than any reasoned cause, makes a man contented with himself and disposed to consider everyone his friend. It seemed to him that he was surrounded by men who adored him: and he felt convinced that, after his dinner, Balashëv too was his friend and worshiper. Napoleon turned to him with a pleasant, though slightly ironic, smile.
“They tell me this is the room the Emperor Alexander occupied? Strange, isn’t it, General?” he said, evidently not doubting that this remark would be agreeable to his hearer since it went to prove his, Napoleon’s, superiority to Alexander.
Balashëv made no reply and bowed his head in silence.
“Yes. Four days ago in this room, Wintzingerode and Stein were deliberating,” continued Napoleon with the same derisive and self-confident smile. “What I can’t understand,” he went on, “is that the Emperor Alexander has surrounded himself with my personal enemies. That I do not... understand. Has he not thought that I may do the same?” and he turned inquiringly to Balashëv, and evidently this thought turned him back on to the track of his morning’s anger, which was still fresh in him.
“And let him know that I will do so!” said Napoleon, rising and pushing his cup away with his hand. “I’ll drive all his Württemberg, Baden, and Weimar relations out of Germany.... Yes. I’ll drive them out. Let him prepare an asylum for them in Russia!”
Balashëv bowed his head with an air indicating that he would like to make his bow and leave, and only listened because he could not help hearing what was said to him. Napoleon did not notice this expression; he treated Balashëv not as an envoy from his enemy, but as a man now fully devoted to him and who must rejoice at his former master’s humiliation.
“And why has the Emperor Alexander taken command of the armies? What is the good of that? War is my profession, but his business is to reign and not to command armies! Why has he taken on himself such a responsibility?”
Again Napoleon brought out his snuffbox, paced several times up and down the room in silence, and then, suddenly and unexpectedly, went up to Balashëv and with a slight smile, as confidently, quickly, and simply as if he were doing something not merely important but pleasing to Balashëv, he raised his hand to the forty-year-old Russian general’s face and, taking him by the ear, pulled it gently, smiling with his lips only.
To have one’s ear pulled by the Emperor was considered the greatest honor and mark of favor at the French court.
“Well, adorer and courtier of the Emperor Alexander, why don’t you say anything?” said he, as if it was ridiculous, in his presence, to be the adorer and courtier of anyone but himself, Napoleon. “Are the horses ready for the general?” he added, with a slight inclination of his head in reply to Balashëv’s bow. “Let him have mine, he has a long way to go!”
The letter taken by Balashëv was the last Napoleon sent to Alexander. Every detail of the interview was communicated to the Russian monarch, and the war began....
After his interview with Pierre in Moscow, Prince Andrew went to Petersburg, on business as he told his family, but really to meet Anatole Kurágin whom he felt it necessary to encounter. On reaching Petersburg he inquired for Kurágin but the latter had already left the city. Pierre had warned his brother-in-law that Prince Andrew was on his track. Anatole Kurágin promptly obtained an appointment from the Minister of War and went to join the army in Moldavia. While in Petersburg Prince Andrew met Kutúzov, his former commander who was always well disposed toward him, and Kutúzov suggested that he should accompany him to the army in Moldavia, to which the old general had been appointed commander in chief. So Prince Andrew, having received an appointment on the headquarters staff, left for Turkey.
Prince Andrew did not think it proper to write and challenge Kurágin. He thought that if he challenged him without some fresh cause it might compromise the young Countess Rostóva and so he wanted to meet Kurágin personally in order to find a fresh pretext for a duel. But he again failed to meet Kurágin in Turkey, for soon after Prince Andrew arrived, the latter returned to Russia. In a new country, amid new conditions, Prince Andrew found life easier to bear. After his betrothed had broken faith with him—which he felt the more acutely the more he tried to conceal its effects—the surroundings in which he had been happy became trying to him, and the freedom and independence he had once prized so highly were still more so. Not only could he no longer think the thoughts that had first come to him as he lay gazing at the sky on the field of Austerlitz and had later enlarged upon with Pierre, and which had filled his solitude at Boguchárovo and then in Switzerland and Rome, but he even dreaded to recall them and the bright and boundless horizons they had revealed. He was now concerned only with the nearest practical matters unrelated to his past interests, and he seized on these the more eagerly the more those past interests were closed to him. It was as if that lofty, infinite canopy of heaven that had once towered above him had suddenly turned into a low, solid vault that weighed him down, in which all was clear, but nothing eternal or mysterious.
Of the activities that presented themselves to him, army service was the simplest and most familiar. As a general on duty on Kutúzov’s staff, he applied himself to business with zeal and perseverance and surprised Kutúzov by his willingness and accuracy in work. Not having found Kurágin in Turkey, Prince Andrew did not think it necessary to rush back to Russia after him, but all the same he knew that however long it might be before he met Kurágin, despite his contempt for him and despite all the proofs he deduced to convince himself that it was not worth stooping to a conflict with him—he knew that when he did meet him he would not be able to resist calling him out, any more than a ravenous man can help snatching at food. And the consciousness that the insult was not yet avenged, that his rancor was still unspent, weighed on his heart and poisoned the artificial tranquillity which he managed to obtain in Turkey by means of restless, plodding, and rather vainglorious and ambitious activity.
In the year 1812, when news of the war with Napoleon reached Bucharest—where Kutúzov had been living for two months, passing his days and nights with a Wallachian woman—Prince Andrew asked Kutúzov to transfer him to the Western Army. Kutúzov, who was already weary of Bolkónski’s activity which seemed to reproach his own idleness, very readily let him go and gave him a mission to Barclay de Tolly.
Before joining the Western Army which was then, in May, encamped at Drissa, Prince Andrew visited Bald Hills which was directly on his way, being only two miles off the Smolénsk highroad. During the last three years there had been so many changes in his life, he had thought, felt, and seen so much (having traveled both in the east and the west), that on reaching Bald Hills it struck him as strange and unexpected to find the way of life there unchanged and still the same in every detail. He entered through the gates with their stone pillars and drove up the avenue leading to the house as if he were entering an enchanted, sleeping castle. The same old stateliness, the same cleanliness, the same stillness reigned there, and inside there was the same furniture, the same walls, sounds, and smell, and the same timid faces, only somewhat older. Princess Mary was still the same timid, plain maiden getting on in years, uselessly and joylessly passing the best years of her life in fear and constant suffering. Mademoiselle Bourienne was the same coquettish, self-satisfied girl, enjoying every moment of her existence and full of joyous hopes for the future. She had merely become more self-confident, Prince Andrew thought. Dessalles, the tutor he had brought from Switzerland, was wearing a coat of Russian cut and talking broken Russian to the servants, but was still the same narrowly intelligent, conscientious, and pedantic preceptor. The old prince had changed in appearance only by the loss of a tooth, which left a noticeable gap on one side of his mouth; in character he was the same as ever, only showing still more irritability and skepticism as to what was happening in the world. Little Nicholas alone had changed. He had grown, become rosier, had curly dark hair, and, when merry and laughing, quite unconsciously lifted the upper lip of his pretty little mouth just as the little princess used to do. He alone did not obey the law of immutability in the enchanted, sleeping castle. But though externally all remained as of old, the inner relations of all these people had changed since Prince Andrew had seen them last. The household was divided into two alien and hostile camps, who changed their habits for his sake and only met because he was there. To the one camp belonged the old prince, Mademoiselle Bourienne, and the architect; to the other Princess Mary, Dessalles, little Nicholas, and all the old nurses and maids.
During his stay at Bald Hills all the family dined together, but they were ill at ease and Prince Andrew felt that he was a visitor for whose sake an exception was being made and that his presence made them all feel awkward. Involuntarily feeling this at dinner on the first day, he was taciturn, and the old prince noticing this also became morosely dumb and retired to his apartments directly after dinner. In the evening, when Prince Andrew went to him and, trying to rouse him, began to tell him of the young Count Kámensky’s campaign, the old prince began unexpectedly to talk about Princess Mary, blaming her for her superstitions and her dislike of Mademoiselle Bourienne, who, he said, was the only person really attached to him.
The old prince said that if he was ill it was only because of Princess Mary: that she purposely worried and irritated him, and that by indulgence and silly talk she was spoiling little Prince Nicholas. The old prince knew very well that he tormented his daughter and that her life was very hard, but he also knew that he could not help tormenting her and that she deserved it. “Why does Prince Andrew, who sees this, say nothing to me about his sister? Does he think me a scoundrel, or an old fool who, without any reason, keeps his own daughter at a distance and attaches this Frenchwoman to himself? He doesn’t understand, so I must explain it, and he must hear me out,” thought the old prince. And he began explaining why he could not put up with his daughter’s unreasonable character.
“If you ask me,” said Prince Andrew, without looking up (he was censuring his father for the first time in his life), “I did not wish to speak about it, but as you ask me I will give you my frank opinion. If there is any misunderstanding and discord between you and Mary, I can’t blame her for it at all. I know how she loves and respects you. Since you ask me,” continued Prince Andrew, becoming irritable—as he was always liable to do of late—“I can only say that if there are any misunderstandings they are caused by that worthless woman, who is not fit to be my sister’s companion.”
The old man at first stared fixedly at his son, and an unnatural smile disclosed the fresh gap between his teeth to which Prince Andrew could not get accustomed.
“What companion, my dear boy? Eh? You’ve already been talking it over! Eh?”
“Father, I did not want to judge,” said Prince Andrew, in a hard and bitter tone, “but you challenged me, and I have said, and always shall say, that Mary is not to blame, but those to blame—the one to blame—is that Frenchwoman.”
“Ah, he has passed judgment... passed judgement!” said the old man in a low voice and, as it seemed to Prince Andrew, with some embarrassment, but then he suddenly jumped up and cried: “Be off, be off! Let not a trace of you remain here!...”
Prince Andrew wished to leave at once, but Princess Mary persuaded him to stay another day. That day he did not see his father, who did not leave his room and admitted no one but Mademoiselle Bourienne and Tíkhon, but asked several times whether his son had gone. Next day, before leaving, Prince Andrew went to his son’s rooms. The boy, curly-headed like his mother and glowing with health, sat on his knee, and Prince Andrew began telling him the story of Bluebeard, but fell into a reverie without finishing the story. He thought not of this pretty child, his son whom he held on his knee, but of himself. He sought in himself either remorse for having angered his father or regret at leaving home for the first time in his life on bad terms with him, and was horrified to find neither. What meant still more to him was that he sought and did not find in himself the former tenderness for his son which he had hoped to reawaken by caressing the boy and taking him on his knee.
“Well, go on!” said his son.
Prince Andrew, without replying, put him down from his knee and went out of the room.
As soon as Prince Andrew had given up his daily occupations, and especially on returning to the old conditions of life amid which he had been happy, weariness of life overcame him with its former intensity, and he hastened to escape from these memories and to find some work as soon as possible.
“So you’ve decided to go, Andrew?” asked his sister.
“Thank God that I can,” replied Prince Andrew. “I am very sorry you can’t.”
“Why do you say that?” replied Princess Mary. “Why do you say that, when you are going to this terrible war, and he is so old? Mademoiselle Bourienne says he has been asking about you....”
As soon as she began to speak of that, her lips trembled and her tears began to fall. Prince Andrew turned away and began pacing the room.
“Ah, my God! my God! When one thinks who and what—what trash—can cause people misery!” he said with a malignity that alarmed Princess Mary.
She understood that when speaking of “trash” he referred not only to Mademoiselle Bourienne, the cause of her misery, but also to the man who had ruined his own happiness.
“Andrew! One thing I beg, I entreat of you!” she said, touching his elbow and looking at him with eyes that shone through her tears. “I understand you” (she looked down). “Don’t imagine that sorrow is the work of men. Men are His tools.” She looked a little above Prince Andrew’s head with the confident, accustomed look with which one looks at the place where a familiar portrait hangs. “Sorrow is sent by Him, not by men. Men are His instruments, they are not to blame. If you think someone has wronged you, forget it and forgive! We have no right to punish. And then you will know the happiness of forgiving.”
“If I were a woman I would do so, Mary. That is a woman’s virtue. But a man should not and cannot forgive and forget,” he replied, and though till that moment he had not been thinking of Kurágin, all his unexpended anger suddenly swelled up in his heart.
“If Mary is already persuading me to forgive, it means that I ought long ago to have punished him,” he thought. And giving her no further reply, he began thinking of the glad vindictive moment when he would meet Kurágin who he knew was now in the army.
Princess Mary begged him to stay one day more, saying that she knew how unhappy her father would be if Andrew left without being reconciled to him, but Prince Andrew replied that he would probably soon be back again from the army and would certainly write to his father, but that the longer he stayed now the more embittered their differences would become.
“Good-by, Andrew! Remember that misfortunes come from God, and men are never to blame,” were the last words he heard from his sister when he took leave of her.
“Then it must be so!” thought Prince Andrew as he drove out of the avenue from the house at Bald Hills. “She, poor innocent creature, is left to be victimized by an old man who has outlived his wits. The old man feels he is guilty, but cannot change himself. My boy is growing up and rejoices in life, in which like everybody else he will deceive or be deceived. And I am off to the army. Why? I myself don’t know. I want to meet that man whom I despise, so as to give him a chance to kill and laugh at me!”
These conditions of life had been the same before, but then they were all connected, while now they had all tumbled to pieces. Only senseless things, lacking coherence, presented themselves one after another to Prince Andrew’s mind.