War And Peace

CHAPTER XXIV

Chinese

AT THE EXACT HOUR, the prince, powdered and shaven, walked into the dining-room, where there were waiting for him his daughter-in-law, Princess Marya, Mademoiselle Bourienne, and the prince's architect, who, by a strange whim of the old gentleman's, dined at his table, though being an insignificant person of no social standing, he would not naturally have expected to be treated with such honour. The prince, who was in practice a firm stickler for distinctions of tank, and rarely admitted to his table even important provincial functionaries, had suddenly pitched on the architect Mihail Ivanovitch, blowing his nose in a check pocket-handkerchief in the corner, to illustrate the theory that all men are equal, and had more than once impressed upon his daughter that Mihail Ivanovitch was every whit as good as himself and her. At table the prince addressed his conversation to the taciturn architect more often than to any one.

In the dining-room, which, like all the other rooms in the house, was immensely lofty, the prince's entrance was awaited by all the members of his household and the footmen, standing behind each chair. The butler with a table-napkin on his arm scanned the setting of the table, making signs to the footmen, and continually he glanced uneasily from the clock on the wall to the door, by which the prince was to enter. Prince Andrey stood at an immense golden frame on the wall that was new to him. It contained the genealogical tree of the Bolkonskys, and hanging opposite it was a frame, equally immense, with a badly painted representation (evidently the work of some household artist) of a reigning prince in a crown, intended for the descendant of Rurik and founder of the family of the Bolkonsky princes. Prince Andrey looked at this genealogical tree shaking his head, and he laughed.

“There you have him all over!” he said to Princess Marya as she came up to him.

Princess Marya looked at her brother in surprise. She did not know what he was smiling at. Everything her father did inspired in her reverence that did not admit of criticism.

“Every one has his weak spot,” Prince Andrey went on; “with his vast intellect to condescend to such triviality!”

Princess Marya could not understand the boldness of her brother's criticism and was making ready to protest, when the step they were all listening for was heard coming from the study. The prince walked in with a quick, lively step, as he always walked, as though intentionally contrasting the elasticity of his movements with the rigidity of the routine of the house. At that instant the big clock struck two, and another clock in the drawing-room echoed it in thinner tones. The prince stood still; his keen, stern eyes gleaming under his bushy, overhanging brows scanned all the company and rested on the little princess. The little princess experienced at that moment the sensation that courtiers know on the entrance of the Tsar, that feeling of awe and veneration that this old man inspired in every one about him. He stroked the little princess on the head, and then with an awkward movement patted her on her neck.

“I'm glad, glad to see you,” he said, and looking intently into her eyes he walked away and sat down in his place. “Sit down, sit down, Mihail Ivanovitch, sit down.”

He pointed his daughter-in-law to a seat beside him. The footman moved a chair back for her.

“Ho, ho!” said the old man, looking at her rounded figure. “You've not lost time; that's bad!” He laughed a dry, cold, unpleasant laugh, laughing as he always did with his lips, but not with his eyes. “You must have exercise, as much exercise as possible, as much as possible,” he said.

The little princess did not hear or did not care to hear his words. She sat dumb and seemed disconcerted. The prince asked after her father, and she began to talk and to smile. He asked her about common acquaintances; the princess became more and more animated, and began talking away, giving the prince greetings from various people and retailing the gossip of the town.

“Poor Countess Apraxin has lost her husband; she has quite cried her eyes out, poor dear,” she said, growing more and more lively.

As she became livelier, the prince looked more and more sternly at her, and all at once, as though he had studied her sufficiently and had formed a clear idea of her, he turned away and addressed Mihail Ivanovitch:

“Well, Mihail Ivanovitch, our friend Bonaparte is to have a bad time of it. Prince Andrey” (this was how he always spoke of his son) “has been telling me what forces are being massed against him! While you and I have always looked upon him as a very insignificant person.”

Mihail Ivanovitch, utterly at a loss to conjecture when “you and I” had said anything of the sort about Bonaparte, but grasping that he was wanted for the introduction of the prince's favourite subject, glanced in wonder at the young prince, not knowing what was to come next.

“He's a great tactician!” said the prince to his son, indicating the architect, and the conversation turned again on the war, on Bonaparte, and the generals and political personages of the day. The old prince was, it seemed, convinced that all the public men of the period were mere babes who had no idea of the A B C of military and political matters; while Bonaparte, according to him, was an insignificant Frenchman, who had met with success simply because there were no Potyomkins and Suvorovs to oppose him. He was even persuaded firmly that there were no political difficulties in Europe, that there was no war indeed, but only a sort of marionette show in which the men of the day took part, pretending to be doing the real thing. Prince Andrey received his father's jeers at modern people gaily, and with obvious pleasure drew his father out and listened to him.

“Does everything seem good that was done in the past?” he said; “why, didn't Suvorov himself fall into the trap Moreau laid for him, and wasn't he unable to get out of it too?”

“Who told you that? Who said so?” cried the prince. “Suvorov!” And he flung away his plate, which Tihon very neatly caught. “Suvorov!… Think again, Prince Andrey. There were two men—Friedrich and Suvorov … Moreau! Moreau would have been a prisoner if Suvorov's hands had been free, but his hands were tied by the Hofsskriegswurstschnappsrath; the devil himself would have been in a tight place. Ah, you'll find out what these Hofskriegswurstschnappsraths are like! Suvorov couldn't get the better of them, so how is Mihail Kutuzov going to do it? No, my dear,” he went on; “so you and your generals aren't able to get round Bonaparte; you must needs call in Frenchmen —set a thief to catch a thief! The German, Pahlen, has been sent to New York in America to get the Frenchman Moreau,” he said, alluding to the invitation that had that year been made to Moreau to enter the Russian service. “A queer business!…Why the Potyomkins, the Suvorovs, the Orlovs, were they Germans? No, my lad, either you have all lost your wits, or I have outlived mine. God help you, and we shall see. Bonaparte's become a great military leader among them! H'm!…”

“I don't say at all that all those plans are good,” said Prince Andrey; “only I can't understand how you can have such an opinion of Bonaparte. Laugh, if you like, but Bonaparte is any way a great general!”

“Mihail Ivanovitch!” the old prince cried to the architect, who, absorbed in the roast meat, hoped they had forgotten him. “Didn't I tell you Bonaparte was a great tactician? Here he says so too.”

“To be sure, your excellency,” replied the architect. The prince laughed again his frigid laugh.

“Bonaparte was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He has splendid soldiers. And he attacked the Germans first too. And any fool can beat the Germans. From the very beginning of the world every one has beaten the Germans. And they've never beaten any one. They only conquer each other. He made his reputation fighting against them.”

And the prince began analysing all the blunders that in his opinion Bonaparte had committed in his wars and even in politics. His son did not protest, but it was evident that whatever arguments were advanced against him, he was as little disposed to give up his opinion as the old prince himself. Prince Andrey listened and refrained from replying. He could not help wondering how this old man, living so many years alone and never leaving the country, could know all the military and political events in Europe of the last few years in such detail and with such accuracy, and form his own judgment on them.

“You think I'm an old man and don't understand the actual position of affairs?” he wound up. “But I'll tell you I'm taken up with it! I don't sleep at nights. Come, where has this great general of yours proved himself to be such?”

“That would be a long story,” answered his son.

“You go along to your Bonaparte. Mademoiselle Bourienne, here is another admirer of your blackguard of an emperor!” he cried in excellent French.

“You know that I am not a Bonapartist, prince.”

“God knows when he'll come back …” the prince hummed in falsetto, laughed still more falsetto, and got up from the table.

The little princess had sat silent during the whole discussion and the rest of the dinner, looking in alarm first at Princess Marya and then at her father-in-law. When they left the dinner-table, she took her sister-in-law's arm and drew her into another room.

“What a clever man your father is,” she said; “perhaps that is why I am afraid of him.”

“Oh, he is so kind!” said Princess Marya.

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