ANNA PAVLOVNA smiled and promised to look after Pierre, who was, she knew, related to Prince Vassily on his father's side. The elderly lady, who had been till then sitting by the aunt, got up hurriedly, and over-took Prince Vassily in the hall. All the affectation of interest she had assumed till now vanished. Her kindly, careworn face expressed nothing but anxiety and alarm.
“What have you to tell me, prince, of my Boris?” she said, catching him in the hall. “I can't stay any longer in Petersburg. Tell me what news am I to take to my poor boy?”
Although Prince Vassily listened reluctantly and almost uncivilly to the elderly lady and even showed signs of impatience, she gave him an ingratiating and appealing smile, and to prevent his going away she took him by the arm. “It is nothing for you to say a word to the Emperor, and he will be transferred at once to the Guards,” she implored.
“Believe me, I will do all I can, princess,” answered Prince Vassily; “but it's not easy for me to petition the Emperor. I should advise you to apply to Rumyantsov, through Prince Galitsin; that would be the wisest course.”
The elderly lady was a Princess Drubetskoy, one of the best families in Russia; but she was poor, had been a long while out of society, and had lost touch with her former connections. She had come now to try and obtain the appointment of her only son to the Guards. It was simply in order to see Prince Vassily that she had invited herself and come to Anna Pavlovna's party, simply for that she had listened to the vicomte's story. She was dismayed at Prince Vassily's words; her once handsome face showed exasperation, but that lasted only one moment. She smiled again and grasped Prince Vassily's arm more tightly.
“Hear what I have to say, prince,” she said. “I have never asked you a favour, and never will I ask one; I have never reminded you of my father's affection for you. But now, for God's sake, I beseech you, do this for my son, and I shall consider you my greatest benefactor,” she added hurriedly. “No, don't be angry, but promise me. I have asked Galitsin; he has refused. Be as kind as you used to be,” she said, trying to smile, though there were tears in her eyes.
“Papa, we are late,” said Princess Ellen, turning her lovely head on her statuesque shoulders as she waited at the door.
But influence in the world is a capital, which must be carefully guarded if it is not to disappear. Prince Vassily knew this, and having once for all reflected that if he were to beg for all who begged him to do so, he would soon be unable to beg for himself, he rarely made use of his influence. In Princess Drubetskoy's case, however, he felt after her new appeal something akin to a conscience-prick. She had reminded him of the truth; for his first step upwards in the service he had been indebted to her father. Besides this, he saw from her manner that she was one of those women—especially mothers—who having once taken an idea into their heads will not give it up till their wishes are fulfilled, and till then are prepared for daily, hourly persistence, and even for scenes. This last consideration made him waver.
“Chère Anna Mihalovna,” he said, with his invariable familiarity and boredom in his voice, “it's almost impossible for me to do what you wish; but to show you my devotion to you, and my reverence for your dear father's memory, I will do the impossible—your son shall be transferred to the Guards; here is my hand on it. Are you satisfied?”
“My dear prince, you are our benefactor. I expected nothing less indeed; I know how good you are—” He tried to get away. “Wait a moment, one word. Once in the Guards …” She hesitated. “You are on friendly terms with Mihail Ilarionovitch Kutuzov, recommend Boris as his adjutant. Then my heart will be set at rest, then indeed …”
Prince Vassily smiled. “That I can't promise. You don't know how Kutuzov has been besieged ever since he has been appointed commander-in-chief. He told me himself that all the Moscow ladies were in league together to give him all their offspring as adjutants.”
“No, promise me; I can't let you off, kind, good friend, benefactor …”
“Papa,” repeated the beauty in the same tone, “we are late.”
“Come, au revoir, good-bye. You see how it is.”
“To-morrow then you will speak to the Emperor?”
“Certainly; but about Kutuzov I can't promise.”
“Yes; do promise, promise, Basile,” Anna Mihalovna said, pursuing him with the smile of a coquettish girl, once perhaps characteristic, but now utterly incongruous with her careworn face. Evidently she had forgotten her age and from habit was bringing out every feminine resource. But as soon as he had gone out her face assumed once more the frigid, artificial expression it had worn all the evening. She went back to the group in which the vicomte was still talking, and again affected to be listening, waiting for the suitable moment to get away, now that her object had been attained.
“And what do you think of this latest farce of the coronation at Milan?” said Anna Pavlovna. “And the new comedy of the people of Lucca and Genoa coming to present their petitions to Monsieur Buonaparte. Monsieur Buonaparte sitting on a throne and granting the petitions of nations! Adorable! Why, it is enough to drive one out of one's senses! It seems as though the whole world had lost its head.”
Prince Andrey smiled sarcastically, looking straight into Anna Pavlovna's face.
“God gives it me; let man beware of touching it,” he said (Bonaparte's words uttered at the coronation). “They say that he was very fine as he spoke those words,” he added, and he repeated the same words in Italian: “Dio me l'ha data, e quai a chi la tocca.”
“I hope that at last,” pursued Anna Pavlovna, “this has been the drop of water that will make the glass run over. The sovereigns cannot continue to endure this man who is a threat to everything.”
“The sovereigns! I am not speaking of Russia,” said the vicomte deferentially and hopelessly. “The sovereigns! … Madame! What did they do for Louis the Sixteenth, for the queen, for Madame Elisabeth? Nothing,” he went on with more animation; “and believe me, they are undergoing the punishment of their treason to the Bourbon cause. The sovereigns! … They are sending ambassadors to congratulate the usurper.”
And with a scornful sigh he shifted his attitude again. Prince Ippolit, who had for a long time been staring through his eyeglass at the vicomte, at these words suddenly turned completely round, and bending over the little princess asked her for a needle, and began showing her the coat-of-arms of the Condé family, scratching it with the needle on the table. He explained the coat-of-arms with an air of gravity, as though the princess had asked him about it. “Staff, gules; engrailed with gules of azure—house of Condé,” he said. The princess listened smiling.
“If Bonaparte remains another year on the throne of France,” resumed the vicomte, with the air of a man who, being better acquainted with the subject than any one else, pursues his own train of thought without listening to other people, “things will have gone too far. By intrigue and violence, by exiles and executions, French society—I mean good society—will have been destroyed for ever, and then…”
He shrugged his shoulders, and made a despairing gesture with his hand. Pierre wanted to say something—the conversation interested him —but Anna Pavlovna, who was keeping her eye on him, interposed.
“And the Emperor Alexander,” she said with the pathetic note that always accompanied all her references to the imperial family, “has declared his intention of leaving it to the French themselves to choose their own form of government. And I imagine there is no doubt that the whole nation, delivered from the usurper, would fling itself into the arms of its lawful king,” said Anna Pavlovna, trying to be agreeable to an émigré and loyalist.
“That's not certain,” said Prince Andrey. “M. le vicomte is quite right in supposing that things have gone too far by now. I imagine it would not be easy to return to the old régime.”
“As far as I could hear,” Pierre, blushing, again interposed in the conversation, “almost all the nobility have gone over to Bonaparte.”
“That's what the Bonapartists assert,” said the vicomte without looking at Pierre. “It's a difficult matter now to find out what public opinion is in France.”
“Bonaparte said so,” observed Prince Andrey with a sarcastic smile. It was evident that he did not like the vicomte, and that though he was not looking at him, he was directing his remarks against him.
“ ‘I showed them the path of glory; they would not take it,' ” he said after a brief pause, again quoting Napoleon's words. “ ‘I opened my anterooms to them; they crowded in.' … I do not know in what degree he had a right to say so.”
“None!” retorted the vicomte. “Since the duc's murder even his warmest partisans have ceased to regard him as a hero. If indeed some people made a hero of him,” said the vicomte addressing Anna Pavlovna, “since the duke's assassination there has been a martyr more in heaven, and a hero less on earth.”
Anna Pavlovna and the rest of the company hardly had time to smile their appreciation of the vicomte's words, when Pierre again broke into the conversation, and though Anna Pavlovna had a foreboding he would say something inappropriate, this time she was unable to stop him.
“The execution of the duc d'Enghien,” said Monsieur Pierre, “was a political necessity, and I consider it a proof of greatness of soul that Napoleon did not hesitate to take the whole responsibility of it upon himself.”
“Dieu! mon Dieu!” moaned Anna Pavlovna, in a terrified whisper.
“What, Monsieur Pierre! you think assassination is greatness of soul?” said the little princess, smiling and moving her work nearer to her.
“Ah! oh!” cried different voices.
“Capital!” Prince Ippolit said in English, and he began slapping his knee. The vicomte merely shrugged his shoulders.
Pierre looked solemnly over his spectacles at his audience.
“I say so,” he pursued desperately, “because the Bourbons ran away from the Revolution, leaving the people to anarchy; and Napoleon alone was capable of understanding the Revolution, of overcoming it, and so for the public good he could not stop short at the life of one man.”
“Won't you come over to this table?” said Anna Pavlovna. But Pierre went on without answering her.
“Yes,” he said, getting more and more eager, “Napoleon is great because he has towered above the Revolution, and subdued its evil tendencies, preserving all that was good—the equality of all citizens, and freedom of speech and of the press, and only to that end has he possessed himself of supreme power.”
“Yes, if on obtaining power he had surrendered it to the lawful king, instead of making use of it to commit murder,” said the vicomte, “then I might have called him a great man.”
“He could not have done that. The people gave him power simply for him to rid them of the Bourbons, and that was just why the people believed him to be a great man. The Revolution was a grand fact,” pursued Monsieur Pierre, betraying by this desperate and irrelevantly provocative statement his extreme youth and desire to give full expression to everything.
“Revolution and regicide a grand fact?…What next?…but won't you come to this table?” repeated Anna Pavlovna.
“Contrat social,” said the vicomte with a bland smile.
“I'm not speaking of regicide. I'm speaking of the idea.”
“The idea of plunder, murder, and regicide!” an ironical voice put in.
“Those were extremes, of course; but the whole meaning of the Revolution did not lie in them, but in the rights of man, in emancipation from conventional ideas, in equality; and all these Napoleon has maintained in their full force.”
“Liberty and equality,” said the vicomte contemptuously, as though he had at last made up his mind to show this youth seriously all the folly of his assertions: “all high-sounding words, which have long since been debased. Who does not love liberty and equality? Our Saviour indeed preached liberty and equality. Have men been any happier since the Revolution? On the contrary. We wanted liberty, but Bonaparte has crushed it.”
Prince Andrey looked with a smile first at Pierre, then at the vicomte, then at their hostess.
For the first minute Anna Pavlovna had, in spite of her social adroitness, been dismayed by Pierre's outbreak; but when she saw that the vicomte was not greatly discomposed by Pierre's sacrilegious utterances, and had convinced herself that it was impossible to suppress them, she rallied her forces and joined the vicomte in attacking the orator.
“Mais, mon cher Monsieur Pierre,” said Anna Pavlovna, “what have you to say for a great man who was capable of executing the due—or simply any human being—guiltless and untried?”
“I should like to ask,” said the vicomte, “how monsieur would explain the 18th of Brumaire? Was not that treachery?”
“It was a juggling trick not at all like a great man's way of acting.”
“And the wounded he killed in Africa?” said the little princess; “that was awful!” And she shrugged her shoulders.
“He's a plebeian, whatever you may say,” said Prince Ippolit.
Monsieur Pierre did not know which to answer. He looked at them all and smiled. His smile was utterly unlike the half-smile of all the others. When he smiled, suddenly, instantaneously, his serious, even rather sullen, face vanished completely, and a quite different face appeared, childish, good-humoured, even rather stupid, that seemed to beg indulgence. The vicomte, who was seeing him for the first time, saw clearly that this Jacobin was by no means so formidable as his words. Every one was silent.
“How is he to answer every one at once?” said Prince Andrey. “Besides, in the actions of a statesman, one must distinguish between his acts as a private person and as a general or an emperor. So it seems to me.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” put in Pierre, delighted at the assistance that had come to support him.
“One must admit,” pursued Prince Andrey, “that Napoleon as a man was great at the bridge of Arcola, or in the hospital at Jaffa, when he gave his hand to the plague-stricken, but…but there are other actions it would be hard to justify.”
Prince Andrey, who obviously wished to relieve the awkwardness of Pierre's position, got up to go, and made a sign to his wife.
Suddenly Prince Ippolit got up, and with a wave of his hands stopped every one, and motioning to them to be seated, began:
“Ah, I heard a Moscow story to-day; I must entertain you with it. You will excuse me, vicomte, I must tell it in Russian. If not, the point of the story will be lost.” And Prince Ippolit began speaking in Russian, using the sort of jargon Frenchmen speak after spending a year in Russia. Every one waited expectant; Prince Ippolit had so eagerly, so insistently called for the attention of all for his story.
“In Moscow there is a lady, une dame. And she is very stingy. She wanted to have two footmen behind her carriage. And very tall footmen. That was her taste. And she had a lady's maid, also very tall. She said…”
Here Prince Ippolit paused and pondered, apparently collecting his ideas with difficulty.
“She said…yes, she said: ‘Girl,' to the lady's maid, ‘put on livrée, and get up behind the carriage, to pay calls.' ”
Here Prince Ippolit gave a loud guffaw, laughing long before any of his audience, which created an impression by no means flattering to him. Several persons, among them the elderly lady and Anna Pavlovna, did smile, however.
“She drove off. Suddenly there was a violent gust of wind. The girl lost her hat, and her long hair fell down…”
At this point he could not restrain himself, and began laughing violently, articulating in the middle of a loud guffaw, “And all the world knew…”
There the anecdote ended. Though no one could understand why he had told it, and why he had insisted on telling it in Russian, still Anna Pavlovna and several other people appreciated the social breeding of Prince Ippolit in so agreeably putting a close to the disagreeable and illbred outbreak of Monsieur Pierre. The conversation after this episode broke up into small talk of no interest concerning the last and the approaching ball, the theatre, and where and when one would meet so-and-so again.