From an unfinished house on the Varvárka, the ground floor of which was a dramshop, came drunken shouts and songs. On benches round the tables in a dirty little room sat some ten factory hands. Tipsy and perspiring, with dim eyes and wide-open mouths, they were all laboriously singing some song or other. They were singing discordantly, arduously, and with great effort, evidently not because they wished to sing, but because they wanted to show they were drunk and on a spree. One, a tall, fair-haired lad in a clean blue coat, was standing over the others. His face with its fine straight nose would have been handsome had it not been for his thin, compressed, twitching lips and dull, gloomy, fixed eyes. Evidently possessed by some idea, he stood over those who were singing, and solemnly and jerkily flourished above their heads his white arm with the sleeve turned up to the elbow, trying unnaturally to spread out his dirty fingers. The sleeve of his coat kept slipping down and he always carefully rolled it up again with his left hand, as if it were most important that the sinewy white arm he was flourishing should be bare. In the midst of the song cries were heard, and fighting and blows in the passage and porch. The tall lad waved his arm.
“Stop it!” he exclaimed peremptorily. “There’s a fight, lads!” And, still rolling up his sleeve, he went out to the porch.
The factory hands followed him. These men, who under the leadership of the tall lad were drinking in the dramshop that morning, had brought the publican some skins from the factory and for this had had drink served them. The blacksmiths from a neighboring smithy, hearing the sounds of revelry in the tavern and supposing it to have been broken into, wished to force their way in too and a fight in the porch had resulted.
The publican was fighting one of the smiths at the door, and when the workmen came out the smith, wrenching himself free from the tavern keeper, fell face downward on the pavement.
Another smith tried to enter the doorway, pressing against the publican with his chest.
The lad with the turned-up sleeve gave the smith a blow in the face and cried wildly: “They’re fighting us, lads!”
At that moment the first smith got up and, scratching his bruised face to make it bleed, shouted in a tearful voice: “Police! Murder!... They’ve killed a man, lads!”
“Oh, gracious me, a man beaten to death—killed!...” screamed a woman coming out of a gate close by.
A crowd gathered round the bloodstained smith.
“Haven’t you robbed people enough—taking their last shirts?” said a voice addressing the publican. “What have you killed a man for, you thief?”
The tall lad, standing in the porch, turned his bleared eyes from the publican to the smith and back again as if considering whom he ought to fight now.
“Murderer!” he shouted suddenly to the publican. “Bind him, lads!”
“I daresay you would like to bind me!” shouted the publican, pushing away the men advancing on him, and snatching his cap from his head he flung it on the ground.
As if this action had some mysterious and menacing significance, the workmen surrounding the publican paused in indecision.
“I know the law very well, mates! I’ll take the matter to the captain of police. You think I won’t get to him? Robbery is not permitted to anybody nowadays!” shouted the publican, picking up his cap.
“Come along then! Come along then!” the publican and the tall young fellow repeated one after the other, and they moved up the street together.
The bloodstained smith went beside them. The factory hands and others followed behind, talking and shouting.
At the corner of the Moroséyka, opposite a large house with closed shutters and bearing a bootmaker’s signboard, stood a score of thin, worn-out, gloomy-faced bootmakers, wearing overalls and long tattered coats.
“He should pay folks off properly,” a thin workingman, with frowning brows and a straggly beard, was saying.
“But he’s sucked our blood and now he thinks he’s quit of us. He’s been misleading us all the week and now that he’s brought us to this pass he’s made off.”
On seeing the crowd and the bloodstained man the workman ceased speaking, and with eager curiosity all the bootmakers joined the moving crowd.
“Where are all the folks going?”
“Why, to the police, of course!”
“I say, is it true that we have been beaten?” “And what did you think? Look what folks are saying.”
Questions and answers were heard. The publican, taking advantage of the increased crowd, dropped behind and returned to his tavern.
The tall youth, not noticing the disappearance of his foe, waved his bare arm and went on talking incessantly, attracting general attention to himself. It was around him that the people chiefly crowded, expecting answers from him to the questions that occupied all their minds.
“He must keep order, keep the law, that’s what the government is there for. Am I not right, good Christians?” said the tall youth, with a scarcely perceptible smile. “He thinks there’s no government! How can one do without government? Or else there would be plenty who’d rob us.”
“Why talk nonsense?” rejoined voices in the crowd. “Will they give up Moscow like this? They told you that for fun, and you believed it! Aren’t there plenty of troops on the march? Let him in, indeed! That’s what the government is for. You’d better listen to what people are saying,” said some of the mob pointing to the tall youth.
By the wall of China-Town a smaller group of people were gathered round a man in a frieze coat who held a paper in his hand.
“An ukáse, they are reading an ukáse! Reading an ukáse!” cried voices in the crowd, and the people rushed toward the reader.
The man in the frieze coat was reading the broadsheet of August 31. When the crowd collected round him he seemed confused, but at the demand of the tall lad who had pushed his way up to him, he began in a rather tremulous voice to read the sheet from the beginning.
“Early tomorrow I shall go to his Serene Highness,” he read (“Sirin Highness,” said the tall fellow with a triumphant smile on his lips and a frown on his brow), “to consult with him to act, and to aid the army to exterminate these scoundrels. We too will take part...” the reader went on, and then paused (“Do you see,” shouted the youth victoriously, “he’s going to clear up the whole affair for you....”), “in destroying them, and will send these visitors to the devil. I will come back to dinner, and we’ll set to work. We will do, completely do, and undo these scoundrels.”
The last words were read out in the midst of complete silence. The tall lad hung his head gloomily. It was evident that no one had understood the last part. In particular, the words “I will come back to dinner,” evidently displeased both reader and audience. The people’s minds were tuned to a high pitch and this was too simple and needlessly comprehensible—it was what any one of them might have said and therefore was what an ukáse emanating from the highest authority should not say.
They all stood despondent and silent. The tall youth moved his lips and swayed from side to side.
“We should ask him... that’s he himself?”... “Yes, ask him indeed!... Why not? He’ll explain”... voices in the rear of the crowd were suddenly heard saying, and the general attention turned to the police superintendent’s trap which drove into the square attended by two mounted dragoons.
The superintendent of police, who had gone that morning by Count Rostopchín’s orders to burn the barges and had in connection with that matter acquired a large sum of money which was at that moment in his pocket, on seeing a crowd bearing down upon him told his coachman to stop.
“What people are these?” he shouted to the men, who were moving singly and timidly in the direction of his trap.
“What people are these?” he shouted again, receiving no answer.
“Your honor...” replied the shopman in the frieze coat, “your honor, in accord with the proclamation of his highest excellency the count, they desire to serve, not sparing their lives, and it is not any kind of riot, but as his highest excellence said...”
“The count has not left, he is here, and an order will be issued concerning you,” said the superintendent of police. “Go on!” he ordered his coachman.
The crowd halted, pressing around those who had heard what the superintendent had said, and looking at the departing trap.
The superintendent of police turned round at that moment with a scared look, said something to his coachman, and his horses increased their speed.
“It’s a fraud, lads! Lead the way to him, himself!” shouted the tall youth. “Don’t let him go, lads! Let him answer us! Keep him!” shouted different people and the people dashed in pursuit of the trap.
Following the superintendent of police and talking loudly the crowd went in the direction of the Lubyánka Street.
“There now, the gentry and merchants have gone away and left us to perish. Do they think we’re dogs?” voices in the crowd were heard saying more and more frequently.
On the evening of the first of September, after his interview with Kutúzov, Count Rostopchín had returned to Moscow mortified and offended because he had not been invited to attend the council of war, and because Kutúzov had paid no attention to his offer to take part in the defense of the city; amazed also at the novel outlook revealed to him at the camp, which treated the tranquillity of the capital and its patriotic fervor as not merely secondary but quite irrelevant and unimportant matters. Distressed, offended, and surprised by all this, Rostopchín had returned to Moscow. After supper he lay down on a sofa without undressing, and was awakened soon after midnight by a courier bringing him a letter from Kutúzov. This letter requested the count to send police officers to guide the troops through the town, as the army was retreating to the Ryazán road beyond Moscow. This was not news to Rostopchín. He had known that Moscow would be abandoned not merely since his interview the previous day with Kutúzov on the Poklónny Hill but ever since the battle of Borodinó, for all the generals who came to Moscow after that battle had said unanimously that it was impossible to fight another battle, and since then the government property had been removed every night, and half the inhabitants had left the city with Rostopchín’s own permission. Yet all the same this information astonished and irritated the count, coming as it did in the form of a simple note with an order from Kutúzov, and received at night, breaking in on his beauty sleep.
When later on in his memoirs Count Rostopchín explained his actions at this time, he repeatedly says that he was then actuated by two important considerations: to maintain tranquillity in Moscow and expedite the departure of the inhabitants. If one accepts this twofold aim all Rostopchín’s actions appear irreproachable. “Why were the holy relics, the arms, ammunition, gunpowder, and stores of corn not removed? Why were thousands of inhabitants deceived into believing that Moscow would not be given up—and thereby ruined?” “To preserve the tranquillity of the city,” explains Count Rostopchín. “Why were bundles of useless papers from the government offices, and Leppich’s balloon and other articles removed?” “To leave the town empty,” explains Count Rostopchín. One need only admit that public tranquillity is in danger and any action finds a justification.
All the horrors of the reign of terror were based only on solicitude for public tranquillity.
On what, then, was Count Rostopchín’s fear for the tranquillity of Moscow based in 1812? What reason was there for assuming any probability of an uprising in the city? The inhabitants were leaving it and the retreating troops were filling it. Why should that cause the masses to riot?
Neither in Moscow nor anywhere in Russia did anything resembling an insurrection ever occur when the enemy entered a town. More than ten thousand people were still in Moscow on the first and second of September, and except for a mob in the governor’s courtyard, assembled there at his bidding, nothing happened. It is obvious that there would have been even less reason to expect a disturbance among the people if after the battle of Borodinó, when the surrender of Moscow became certain or at least probable, Rostopchín instead of exciting the people by distributing arms and broadsheets had taken steps to remove all the holy relics, the gunpowder, munitions, and money, and had told the population plainly that the town would be abandoned.
Rostopchín, though he had patriotic sentiments, was a sanguine and impulsive man who had always moved in the highest administrative circles and had no understanding at all of the people he supposed himself to be guiding. Ever since the enemy’s entry into Smolénsk he had in imagination been playing the role of director of the popular feeling of “the heart of Russia.” Not only did it seem to him (as to all administrators) that he controlled the external actions of Moscow’s inhabitants, but he also thought he controlled their mental attitude by means of his broadsheets and posters, written in a coarse tone which the people despise in their own class and do not understand from those in authority. Rostopchín was so pleased with the fine role of leader of popular feeling, and had grown so used to it, that the necessity of relinquishing that role and abandoning Moscow without any heroic display took him unawares and he suddenly felt the ground slip away from under his feet, so that he positively did not know what to do. Though he knew it was coming, he did not till the last moment wholeheartedly believe that Moscow would be abandoned, and did not prepare for it. The inhabitants left against his wishes. If the government offices were removed, this was only done on the demand of officials to whom the count yielded reluctantly. He was absorbed in the role he had created for himself. As is often the case with those gifted with an ardent imagination, though he had long known that Moscow would be abandoned he knew it only with his intellect, he did not believe it in his heart and did not adapt himself mentally to this new position of affairs.
All his painstaking and energetic activity (in how far it was useful and had any effect on the people is another question) had been simply directed toward arousing in the masses his own feeling of patriotic hatred of the French.
But when events assumed their true historical character, when expressing hatred for the French in words proved insufficient, when it was not even possible to express that hatred by fighting a battle, when self-confidence was of no avail in relation to the one question before Moscow, when the whole population streamed out of Moscow as one man, abandoning their belongings and proving by that negative action all the depth of their national feeling, then the role chosen by Rostopchín suddenly appeared senseless. He unexpectedly felt himself ridiculous, weak, and alone, with no ground to stand on.
When, awakened from his sleep, he received that cold, peremptory note from Kutúzov, he felt the more irritated the more he felt himself to blame. All that he had been specially put in charge of, the state property which he should have removed, was still in Moscow and it was no longer possible to take the whole of it away.
“Who is to blame for it? Who has let things come to such a pass?” he ruminated. “Not I, of course. I had everything ready. I had Moscow firmly in hand. And this is what they have let it come to! Villains! Traitors!” he thought, without clearly defining who the villains and traitors were, but feeling it necessary to hate those traitors whoever they might be who were to blame for the false and ridiculous position in which he found himself.
All that night Count Rostopchín issued orders, for which people came to him from all parts of Moscow. Those about him had never seen the count so morose and irritable.
“Your excellency, the Director of the Registrar’s Department has sent for instructions.... From the Consistory, from the Senate, from the University, from the Foundling Hospital, the Suffragan has sent... asking for information.... What are your orders about the Fire Brigade? From the governor of the prison... from the superintendent of the lunatic asylum...” All night long such announcements were continually being received by the count.
To all these inquiries he gave brief and angry replies indicating that orders from him were not now needed, that the whole affair, carefully prepared by him, had now been ruined by somebody, and that that somebody would have to bear the whole responsibility for all that might happen.
“Oh, tell that blockhead,” he said in reply to the question from the Registrar’s Department, “that he should remain to guard his documents. Now why are you asking silly questions about the Fire Brigade? They have horses, let them be off to Vladímir, and not leave them to the French.”
“Your excellency, the superintendent of the lunatic asylum has come: what are your commands?”
“My commands? Let them go away, that’s all.... And let the lunatics out into the town. When lunatics command our armies God evidently means these other madmen to be free.”
In reply to an inquiry about the convicts in the prison, Count Rostopchín shouted angrily at the governor:
“Do you expect me to give you two battalions—which we have not got—for a convoy? Release them, that’s all about it!”
“Your excellency, there are some political prisoners, Meshkóv, Vereshchágin...”
“Vereshchágin! Hasn’t he been hanged yet?” shouted Rostopchín. “Bring him to me!”
Toward nine o’clock in the morning, when the troops were already moving through Moscow, nobody came to the count any more for instructions. Those who were able to get away were going of their own accord, those who remained behind decided for themselves what they must do.
The count ordered his carriage that he might drive to Sokólniki, and sat in his study with folded hands, morose, sallow, and taciturn.
In quiet and untroubled times it seems to every administrator that it is only by his efforts that the whole population under his rule is kept going, and in this consciousness of being indispensable every administrator finds the chief reward of his labor and efforts. While the sea of history remains calm the ruler-administrator in his frail bark, holding on with a boat hook to the ship of the people and himself moving, naturally imagines that his efforts move the ship he is holding on to. But as soon as a storm arises and the sea begins to heave and the ship to move, such a delusion is no longer possible. The ship moves independently with its own enormous motion, the boat hook no longer reaches the moving vessel, and suddenly the administrator, instead of appearing a ruler and a source of power, becomes an insignificant, useless, feeble man.
Rostopchín felt this, and it was this which exasperated him.
The superintendent of police, whom the crowd had stopped, went in to see him at the same time as an adjutant who informed the count that the horses were harnessed. They were both pale, and the superintendent of police, after reporting that he had executed the instructions he had received, informed the count that an immense crowd had collected in the courtyard and wished to see him.
Without saying a word Rostopchín rose and walked hastily to his light, luxurious drawing room, went to the balcony door, took hold of the handle, let it go again, and went to the window from which he had a better view of the whole crowd. The tall lad was standing in front, flourishing his arm and saying something with a stern look. The blood-stained smith stood beside him with a gloomy face. A drone of voices was audible through the closed window.
“Is my carriage ready?” asked Rostopchín, stepping back from the window.
“It is, your excellency,” replied the adjutant.
Rostopchín went again to the balcony door.
“But what do they want?” he asked the superintendent of police.
“Your excellency, they say they have got ready, according to your orders, to go against the French, and they shouted something about treachery. But it is a turbulent crowd, your excellency—I hardly managed to get away from it. Your excellency, I venture to suggest...”
“You may go. I don’t need you to tell me what to do!” exclaimed Rostopchín angrily.
He stood by the balcony door looking at the crowd.
“This is what they have done with Russia! This is what they have done with me!” thought he, full of an irrepressible fury that welled up within him against the someone to whom what was happening might be attributed. As often happens with passionate people, he was mastered by anger but was still seeking an object on which to vent it. “Here is that mob, the dregs of the people,” he thought as he gazed at the crowd: “this rabble they have roused by their folly! They want a victim,” he thought as he looked at the tall lad flourishing his arm. And this thought occurred to him just because he himself desired a victim, something on which to vent his rage.
“Is the carriage ready?” he asked again.
“Yes, your excellency. What are your orders about Vereshchágin? He is waiting at the porch,” said the adjutant.
“Ah!” exclaimed Rostopchín, as if struck by an unexpected recollection.
And rapidly opening the door he went resolutely out onto the balcony. The talking instantly ceased, hats and caps were doffed, and all eyes were raised to the count.
“Good morning, lads!” said the count briskly and loudly. “Thank you for coming. I’ll come out to you in a moment, but we must first settle with the villain. We must punish the villain who has caused the ruin of Moscow. Wait for me!”
And the count stepped as briskly back into the room and slammed the door behind him.
A murmur of approbation and satisfaction ran through the crowd. “He’ll settle with all the villains, you’ll see! And you said the French... He’ll show you what law is!” the mob were saying as if reproving one another for their lack of confidence.
A few minutes later an officer came hurriedly out of the front door, gave an order, and the dragoons formed up in line. The crowd moved eagerly from the balcony toward the porch. Rostopchín, coming out there with quick angry steps, looked hastily around as if seeking someone.
“Where is he?” he inquired. And as he spoke he saw a young man coming round the corner of the house between two dragoons. He had a long thin neck, and his head, that had been half shaved, was again covered by short hair. This young man was dressed in a threadbare blue cloth coat lined with fox fur, that had once been smart, and dirty hempen convict trousers, over which were pulled his thin, dirty, trodden-down boots. On his thin, weak legs were heavy chains which hampered his irresolute movements.
“Ah!” said Rostopchín, hurriedly turning away his eyes from the young man in the fur-lined coat and pointing to the bottom step of the porch. “Put him there.”
The young man in his clattering chains stepped clumsily to the spot indicated, holding away with one finger the coat collar which chafed his neck, turned his long neck twice this way and that, sighed, and submissively folded before him his thin hands, unused to work.
For several seconds while the young man was taking his place on the step the silence continued. Only among the back rows of the people, who were all pressing toward the one spot, could sighs, groans, and the shuffling of feet be heard.
While waiting for the young man to take his place on the step Rostopchín stood frowning and rubbing his face with his hand.
“Lads!” said he, with a metallic ring in his voice. “This man, Vereshchágin, is the scoundrel by whose doing Moscow is perishing.”
The young man in the fur-lined coat, stooping a little, stood in a submissive attitude, his fingers clasped before him. His emaciated young face, disfigured by the half-shaven head, hung down hopelessly. At the count’s first words he raised it slowly and looked up at him as if wishing to say something or at least to meet his eye. But Rostopchín did not look at him. A vein in the young man’s long thin neck swelled like a cord and went blue behind the ear, and suddenly his face flushed.
All eyes were fixed on him. He looked at the crowd, and rendered more hopeful by the expression he read on the faces there, he smiled sadly and timidly, and lowering his head shifted his feet on the step.
“He has betrayed his Tsar and his country, he has gone over to Bonaparte. He alone of all the Russians has disgraced the Russian name, he has caused Moscow to perish,” said Rostopchín in a sharp, even voice, but suddenly he glanced down at Vereshchágin who continued to stand in the same submissive attitude. As if inflamed by the sight, he raised his arm and addressed the people, almost shouting:
“Deal with him as you think fit! I hand him over to you.”
The crowd remained silent and only pressed closer and closer to one another. To keep one another back, to breathe in that stifling atmosphere, to be unable to stir, and to await something unknown, uncomprehended, and terrible, was becoming unbearable. Those standing in front, who had seen and heard what had taken place before them, all stood with wide-open eyes and mouths, straining with all their strength, and held back the crowd that was pushing behind them.
“Beat him!... Let the traitor perish and not disgrace the Russian name!” shouted Rostopchín. “Cut him down. I command it.”
Hearing not so much the words as the angry tone of Rostopchín’s voice, the crowd moaned and heaved forward, but again paused.
“Count!” exclaimed the timid yet theatrical voice of Vereshchágin in the midst of the momentary silence that ensued, “Count! One God is above us both....” He lifted his head and again the thick vein in his thin neck filled with blood and the color rapidly came and went in his face.
He did not finish what he wished to say.
“Cut him down! I command it...” shouted Rostopchín, suddenly growing pale like Vereshchágin.
“Draw sabers!” cried the dragoon officer, drawing his own.
Another still stronger wave flowed through the crowd and reaching the front ranks carried it swaying to the very steps of the porch. The tall youth, with a stony look on his face, and rigid and uplifted arm, stood beside Vereshchágin.
“Saber him!” the dragoon officer almost whispered.
And one of the soldiers, his face all at once distorted with fury, struck Vereshchágin on the head with the blunt side of his saber.
“Ah!” cried Vereshchágin in meek surprise, looking round with a frightened glance as if not understanding why this was done to him. A similar moan of surprise and horror ran through the crowd. “O Lord!” exclaimed a sorrowful voice.
But after the exclamation of surprise that had escaped from Vereshchágin he uttered a plaintive cry of pain, and that cry was fatal. The barrier of human feeling, strained to the utmost, that had held the crowd in check suddenly broke. The crime had begun and must now be completed. The plaintive moan of reproach was drowned by the threatening and angry roar of the crowd. Like the seventh and last wave that shatters a ship, that last irresistible wave burst from the rear and reached the front ranks, carrying them off their feet and engulfing them all. The dragoon was about to repeat his blow. Vereshchágin with a cry of horror, covering his head with his hands, rushed toward the crowd. The tall youth, against whom he stumbled, seized his thin neck with his hands and, yelling wildly, fell with him under the feet of the pressing, struggling crowd.
Some beat and tore at Vereshchágin, others at the tall youth. And the screams of those that were being trampled on and of those who tried to rescue the tall lad only increased the fury of the crowd. It was a long time before the dragoons could extricate the bleeding youth, beaten almost to death. And for a long time, despite the feverish haste with which the mob tried to end the work that had been begun, those who were hitting, throttling, and tearing at Vereshchágin were unable to kill him, for the crowd pressed from all sides, swaying as one mass with them in the center and rendering it impossible for them either to kill him or let him go.
“Hit him with an ax, eh!... Crushed?... Traitor, he sold Christ.... Still alive... tenacious... serves him right! Torture serves a thief right. Use the hatchet!... What—still alive?”
Only when the victim ceased to struggle and his cries changed to a long-drawn, measured death rattle did the crowd around his prostrate, bleeding corpse begin rapidly to change places. Each one came up, glanced at what had been done, and with horror, reproach, and astonishment pushed back again.
“O Lord! The people are like wild beasts! How could he be alive?” voices in the crowd could be heard saying. “Quite a young fellow too... must have been a merchant’s son. What men!... and they say he’s not the right one.... How not the right one?... O Lord! And there’s another has been beaten too—they say he’s nearly done for.... Oh, the people... Aren’t they afraid of sinning?...” said the same mob now, looking with pained distress at the dead body with its long, thin, half-severed neck and its livid face stained with blood and dust.
A painstaking police officer, considering the presence of a corpse in his excellency’s courtyard unseemly, told the dragoons to take it away. Two dragoons took it by its distorted legs and dragged it along the ground. The gory, dust-stained, half-shaven head with its long neck trailed twisting along the ground. The crowd shrank back from it.
At the moment when Vereshchágin fell and the crowd closed in with savage yells and swayed about him, Rostopchín suddenly turned pale and, instead of going to the back entrance where his carriage awaited him, went with hurried steps and bent head, not knowing where and why, along the passage leading to the rooms on the ground floor. The count’s face was white and he could not control the feverish twitching of his lower jaw.
“This way, your excellency... Where are you going?... This way, please...” said a trembling, frightened voice behind him.
Count Rostopchín was unable to reply and, turning obediently, went in the direction indicated. At the back entrance stood his calèche. The distant roar of the yelling crowd was audible even there. He hastily took his seat and told the coachman to drive him to his country house in Sokólniki.
When they reached the Myasnítski Street and could no longer hear the shouts of the mob, the count began to repent. He remembered with dissatisfaction the agitation and fear he had betrayed before his subordinates. “The mob is terrible—disgusting,” he said to himself in French. “They are like wolves whom nothing but flesh can appease.” “Count! One God is above us both!”—Vereshchágin’s words suddenly recurred to him, and a disagreeable shiver ran down his back. But this was only a momentary feeling and Count Rostopchín smiled disdainfully at himself. “I had other duties,” thought he. “The people had to be appeased. Many other victims have perished and are perishing for the public good”—and he began thinking of his social duties to his family and to the city entrusted to him, and of himself—not himself as Theodore Vasílyevich Rostopchín (he fancied that Theodore Vasílyevich Rostopchín was sacrificing himself for the public good) but himself as governor, the representative of authority and of the Tsar. “Had I been simply Theodore Vasílyevich my course of action would have been quite different, but it was my duty to safeguard my life and dignity as commander in chief.”
Lightly swaying on the flexible springs of his carriage and no longer hearing the terrible sounds of the crowd, Rostopchín grew physically calm and, as always happens, as soon as he became physically tranquil his mind devised reasons why he should be mentally tranquil too. The thought which tranquillized Rostopchín was not a new one. Since the world began and men have killed one another no one has ever committed such a crime against his fellow man without comforting himself with this same idea. This idea is le bien public, the hypothetical welfare of other people.
To a man not swayed by passion that welfare is never certain, but he who commits such a crime always knows just where that welfare lies. And Rostopchín now knew it.
Not only did his reason not reproach him for what he had done, but he even found cause for self-satisfaction in having so successfully contrived to avail himself of a convenient opportunity to punish a criminal and at the same time pacify the mob.
“Vereshchágin was tried and condemned to death,” thought Rostopchín (though the Senate had only condemned Vereshchágin to hard labor), “he was a traitor and a spy. I could not let him go unpunished and so I have killed two birds with one stone: to appease the mob I gave them a victim and at the same time punished a miscreant.”
Having reached his country house and begun to give orders about domestic arrangements, the count grew quite tranquil.
Half an hour later he was driving with his fast horses across the Sokólniki field, no longer thinking of what had occurred but considering what was to come. He was driving to the Yaúza bridge where he had heard that Kutúzov was. Count Rostopchín was mentally preparing the angry and stinging reproaches he meant to address to Kutúzov for his deception. He would make that foxy old courtier feel that the responsibility for all the calamities that would follow the abandonment of the city and the ruin of Russia (as Rostopchín regarded it) would fall upon his doting old head. Planning beforehand what he would say to Kutúzov, Rostopchín turned angrily in his calèche and gazed sternly from side to side.
The Sokólniki field was deserted. Only at the end of it, in front of the almshouse and the lunatic asylum, could be seen some people in white and others like them walking singly across the field shouting and gesticulating.
One of these was running to cross the path of Count Rostopchín’s carriage, and the count himself, his coachman, and his dragoons looked with vague horror and curiosity at these released lunatics and especially at the one running toward them.
Swaying from side to side on his long, thin legs in his fluttering dressing gown, this lunatic was running impetuously, his gaze fixed on Rostopchín, shouting something in a hoarse voice and making signs to him to stop. The lunatic’s solemn, gloomy face was thin and yellow, with its beard growing in uneven tufts. His black, agate pupils with saffron-yellow whites moved restlessly near the lower eyelids.
“Stop! Pull up, I tell you!” he cried in a piercing voice, and again shouted something breathlessly with emphatic intonations and gestures.
Coming abreast of the calèche he ran beside it.
“Thrice have they slain me, thrice have I risen from the dead. They stoned me, crucified me... I shall rise... shall rise... shall rise. They have torn my body. The kingdom of God will be overthrown... Thrice will I overthrow it and thrice re-establish it!” he cried, raising his voice higher and higher.
Count Rostopchín suddenly grew pale as he had done when the crowd closed in on Vereshchágin. He turned away. “Go fas... faster!” he cried in a trembling voice to his coachman. The calèche flew over the ground as fast as the horses could draw it, but for a long time Count Rostopchín still heard the insane despairing screams growing fainter in the distance, while his eyes saw nothing but the astonished, frightened, bloodstained face of “the traitor” in the fur-lined coat.
Recent as that mental picture was, Rostopchín already felt that it had cut deep into his heart and drawn blood. Even now he felt clearly that the gory trace of that recollection would not pass with time, but that the terrible memory would, on the contrary, dwell in his heart ever more cruelly and painfully to the end of his life. He seemed still to hear the sound of his own words: “Cut him down! I command it....”
“Why did I utter those words? It was by some accident I said them.... I need not have said them,” he thought. “And then nothing would have happened.” He saw the frightened and then infuriated face of the dragoon who dealt the blow, the look of silent, timid reproach that boy in the fur-lined coat had turned upon him. “But I did not do it for my own sake. I was bound to act that way.... The mob, the traitor... the public welfare,” thought he.
Troops were still crowding at the Yaúza bridge. It was hot. Kutúzov, dejected and frowning, sat on a bench by the bridge toying with his whip in the sand when a calèche dashed up noisily. A man in a general’s uniform with plumes in his hat went up to Kutúzov and said something in French. It was Count Rostopchín. He told Kutúzov that he had come because Moscow, the capital, was no more and only the army remained.
“Things would have been different if your Serene Highness had not told me that you would not abandon Moscow without another battle; all this would not have happened,” he said.
Kutúzov looked at Rostopchín as if, not grasping what was said to him, he was trying to read something peculiar written at that moment on the face of the man addressing him. Rostopchín grew confused and became silent. Kutúzov slightly shook his head and not taking his penetrating gaze from Rostopchín’s face muttered softly:
“No! I shall not give up Moscow without a battle!”
Whether Kutúzov was thinking of something entirely different when he spoke those words, or uttered them purposely, knowing them to be meaningless, at any rate Rostopchín made no reply and hastily left him. And strange to say, the Governor of Moscow, the proud Count Rostopchín, took up a Cossack whip and went to the bridge where he began with shouts to drive on the carts that blocked the way.
Toward four o’clock in the afternoon Murat’s troops were entering Moscow. In front rode a detachment of Württemberg hussars and behind them rode the King of Naples himself accompanied by a numerous suite.
About the middle of the Arbát Street, near the Church of the Miraculous Icon of St. Nicholas, Murat halted to await news from the advanced detachment as to the condition in which they had found the citadel, le Kremlin.
Around Murat gathered a group of those who had remained in Moscow. They all stared in timid bewilderment at the strange, long-haired commander dressed up in feathers and gold.
“Is that their Tsar himself? He’s not bad!” low voices could be heard saying.
An interpreter rode up to the group.
“Take off your cap... your caps!” These words went from one to another in the crowd. The interpreter addressed an old porter and asked if it was far to the Krémlin. The porter, listening in perplexity to the unfamiliar Polish accent and not realizing that the interpreter was speaking Russian, did not understand what was being said to him and slipped behind the others.
Murat approached the interpreter and told him to ask where the Russian army was. One of the Russians understood what was asked and several voices at once began answering the interpreter. A French officer, returning from the advanced detachment, rode up to Murat and reported that the gates of the citadel had been barricaded and that there was probably an ambuscade there.
“Good!” said Murat and, turning to one of the gentlemen in his suite, ordered four light guns to be moved forward to fire at the gates.
The guns emerged at a trot from the column following Murat and advanced up the Arbát. When they reached the end of the Vozdvízhenka Street they halted and drew in the Square. Several French officers superintended the placing of the guns and looked at the Krémlin through field glasses.
The bells in the Krémlin were ringing for vespers, and this sound troubled the French. They imagined it to be a call to arms. A few infantrymen ran to the Kutáfyev Gate. Beams and wooden screens had been put there, and two musket shots rang out from under the gate as soon as an officer and men began to run toward it. A general who was standing by the guns shouted some words of command to the officer, and the latter ran back again with his men.
The sound of three more shots came from the gate.
One shot struck a French soldier’s foot, and from behind the screens came the strange sound of a few voices shouting. Instantly as at a word of command the expression of cheerful serenity on the faces of the French general, officers, and men changed to one of determined concentrated readiness for strife and suffering. To all of them from the marshal to the least soldier, that place was not the Vozdvízhenka, Mokhaváya, or Kutáfyev Street, nor the Tróitsa Gate (places familiar in Moscow), but a new battlefield which would probably prove sanguinary. And all made ready for that battle. The cries from the gates ceased. The guns were advanced, the artillerymen blew the ash off their linstocks, and an officer gave the word “Fire!” This was followed by two whistling sounds of canister shot, one after another. The shot rattled against the stone of the gate and upon the wooden beams and screens, and two wavering clouds of smoke rose over the Square.
A few instants after the echo of the reports resounding over the stone-built Krémlin had died away the French heard a strange sound above their head. Thousands of crows rose above the walls and circled in the air, cawing and noisily flapping their wings. Together with that sound came a solitary human cry from the gateway and amid the smoke appeared the figure of a bareheaded man in a peasant’s coat. He grasped a musket and took aim at the French. “Fire!” repeated the officer once more, and the reports of a musket and of two cannon shots were heard simultaneously. The gate was again hidden by smoke.
Nothing more stirred behind the screens and the French infantry soldiers and officers advanced to the gate. In the gateway lay three wounded and four dead. Two men in peasant coats ran away at the foot of the wall, toward the Známenka.
“Clear that away!” said the officer, pointing to the beams and the corpses, and the French soldiers, after dispatching the wounded, threw the corpses over the parapet.
Who these men were nobody knew. “Clear that away!” was all that was said of them, and they were thrown over the parapet and removed later on that they might not stink. Thiers alone dedicates a few eloquent lines to their memory: “These wretches had occupied the sacred citadel, having supplied themselves with guns from the arsenal, and fired” (the wretches) “at the French. Some of them were sabered and the Krémlin was purged of their presence.”
Murat was informed that the way had been cleared. The French entered the gates and began pitching their camp in the Senate Square. Out of the windows of the Senate House the soldiers threw chairs into the Square for fuel and kindled fires there.
Other detachments passed through the Krémlin and encamped along the Moroséyka, the Lubyánka, and Pokróvka Streets. Others quartered themselves along the Vozdvízhenka, the Nikólski, and the Tverskóy Streets. No masters of the houses being found anywhere, the French were not billeted on the inhabitants as is usual in towns but lived in it as in a camp.
Though tattered, hungry, worn out, and reduced to a third of their original number, the French entered Moscow in good marching order. It was a weary and famished, but still a fighting and menacing army. But it remained an army only until its soldiers had dispersed into their different lodgings. As soon as the men of the various regiments began to disperse among the wealthy and deserted houses, the army was lost forever and there came into being something nondescript, neither citizens nor soldiers but what are known as marauders. When five weeks later these same men left Moscow, they no longer formed an army. They were a mob of marauders, each carrying a quantity of articles which seemed to him valuable or useful. The aim of each man when he left Moscow was no longer, as it had been, to conquer, but merely to keep what he had acquired. Like a monkey which puts its paw into the narrow neck of a jug, and having seized a handful of nuts will not open its fist for fear of losing what it holds, and therefore perishes, the French when they left Moscow had inevitably to perish because they carried their loot with them, yet to abandon what they had stolen was as impossible for them as it is for the monkey to open its paw and let go of its nuts. Ten minutes after each regiment had entered a Moscow district, not a soldier or officer was left. Men in military uniforms and Hessian boots could be seen through the windows, laughing and walking through the rooms. In cellars and storerooms similar men were busy among the provisions, and in the yards unlocking or breaking open coach house and stable doors, lighting fires in kitchens and kneading and baking bread with rolled-up sleeves, and cooking; or frightening, amusing, or caressing women and children. There were many such men both in the shops and houses—but there was no army.
Order after order was issued by the French commanders that day forbidding the men to disperse about the town, sternly forbidding any violence to the inhabitants or any looting, and announcing a roll call for that very evening. But despite all these measures the men, who had till then constituted an army, flowed all over the wealthy, deserted city with its comforts and plentiful supplies. As a hungry herd of cattle keeps well together when crossing a barren field, but gets out of hand and at once disperses uncontrollably as soon as it reaches rich pastures, so did the army disperse all over the wealthy city.
No residents were left in Moscow, and the soldiers—like water percolating through sand—spread irresistibly through the city in all directions from the Krémlin into which they had first marched. The cavalry, on entering a merchant’s house that had been abandoned and finding there stabling more than sufficient for their horses, went on, all the same, to the next house which seemed to them better. Many of them appropriated several houses, chalked their names on them, and quarreled and even fought with other companies for them. Before they had had time to secure quarters the soldiers ran out into the streets to see the city and, hearing that everything had been abandoned, rushed to places where valuables were to be had for the taking. The officers followed to check the soldiers and were involuntarily drawn into doing the same. In Carriage Row carriages had been left in the shops, and generals flocked there to select calèches and coaches for themselves. The few inhabitants who had remained invited commanding officers to their houses, hoping thereby to secure themselves from being plundered. There were masses of wealth and there seemed no end to it. All around the quarters occupied by the French were other regions still unexplored and unoccupied where, they thought, yet greater riches might be found. And Moscow engulfed the army ever deeper and deeper. When water is spilled on dry ground both the dry ground and the water disappear and mud results; and in the same way the entry of the famished army into the rich and deserted city resulted in fires and looting and the destruction of both the army and the wealthy city.
The French attributed the Fire of Moscow au patriotisme féroce de Rostopchíne, * the Russians to the barbarity of the French. In reality, however, it was not, and could not be, possible to explain the burning of Moscow by making any individual, or any group of people, responsible for it. Moscow was burned because it found itself in a position in which any town built of wood was bound to burn, quite apart from whether it had, or had not, a hundred and thirty inferior fire engines. Deserted Moscow had to burn as inevitably as a heap of shavings has to burn on which sparks continually fall for several days. A town built of wood, where scarcely a day passes without conflagrations when the house owners are in residence and a police force is present, cannot help burning when its inhabitants have left it and it is occupied by soldiers who smoke pipes, make campfires of the Senate chairs in the Senate Square, and cook themselves meals twice a day. In peacetime it is only necessary to billet troops in the villages of any district and the number of fires in that district immediately increases. How much then must the probability of fire be increased in an abandoned, wooden town where foreign troops are quartered. “Le patriotisme féroce de Rostopchíne” and the barbarity of the French were not to blame in the matter. Moscow was set on fire by the soldiers’ pipes, kitchens, and campfires, and by the carelessness of enemy soldiers occupying houses they did not own. Even if there was any arson (which is very doubtful, for no one had any reason to burn the houses—in any case a troublesome and dangerous thing to do), arson cannot be regarded as the cause, for the same thing would have happened without any incendiarism.