PRINCE ANDREY stayed at Bränn with a Russian of his acquaintance in the diplomatic service, Bilibin.
“Ah, my dear prince, there's no one I could have been more pleased to see,” said Bilibin, coming to meet Prince Andrey. “Franz, take the prince's things to my bedroom,” he said to the servant, who was ushering Bolkonsky in. “What, a messenger of victory? That's capital. I'm kept indoors ill, as you see.”
After washing and dressing, Prince Andrey came into the diplomat's luxurious study and sat down to the dinner prepared for him. Bilibin was sitting quietly at the fireplace.
Not his journey only, but all the time he had spent with the army on the march, deprived of all the conveniences of cleanliness and the elegancies of life, made Prince Andrey feel now an agreeable sense of repose among the luxurious surroundings to which he had been accustomed from childhood. Moreover, after his Austrian reception, he was glad to speak—if not in Russian, for they talked French—at least to a Russian, who would, he imagined, share the general Russian dislike (which he felt particularly keenly just then) for the Austrians.
Bilibin was a man of five-and-thirty, a bachelor, of the same circle as Prince Andrey. They had been acquainted in Petersburg, but had become more intimate during Prince Andrey's last stay at Vienna with Kutuzov. Just as Prince Andrey was a young man, who promised to rise high in a military career, Bilibin promised to do even better in diplomacy. He was still a young man, but not a young diplomat, as he had been in the service since he was sixteen. He had been in Paris and in Copenhagen; and now in Vienna he filled a post of considerable importance. Both the foreign minister and our ambassador at Vienna knew him and valued him. He was not one of that great multitude of diplomats whose qualification is limited to the possession of negative qualities, who need simply avoid doing certain things and speak French in order to be very good diplomats. He was one of those diplomats who like work and understand it, and in spite of his natural indolence, he often spent nights at his writing-table. He worked equally well whatever the object of his work might be. He was interested not in the question “Why?” but in the question “How?” What constituted his diplomatic work, he did not mind, but to draw up a circular, a memorandum, or a report subtly, pointedly, and elegantly, was a task which gave him great pleasure. Apart from such labours, Bilibin's merits were esteemed the more from his ease in moving and talking in the higher spheres.
Bilibin enjoyed conversation just as he enjoyed work, only when the conversation could be elegantly witty. In society he was continually watching for an opportunity of saying something striking, and did not enter into conversation except under such circumstances. Bilibin's conversation was continually sprinkled with original, epigrammatic, polished phrases of general interest. These phrases were fashioned in the inner laboratory of Bilibin's mind, as though intentionally, of portable form, so that insignificant persons could easily remember them and carry them from drawing-room to drawing-room. And Bilibin's good things were hawked about in Viennese drawing-rooms and afterwards had an influence on so-called great events.
His thin, lean, yellow face was all covered with deep creases, which always looked as clean and carefully washed as the tips of one's fingers after a bath. The movement of these wrinkles made up the chief play of expression of his countenance. At one moment his forehead wrinkled up in broad furrows, and his eyebrows were lifted, at another moment his eyebrows drooped again and deep lines creased his cheeks. His deep-set, small eyes looked out frankly and good-humouredly.
“Come, now, tell us about your victories,” he said. Bolkonsky in the most modest fashion, without once mentioning himself in connection with it, described the engagement, and afterwards his reception by the war minister.
“They received me and my news like a dog in a game of skittles,” he concluded.
Bilibin grinned, and the creases in his face disappeared.
“All the same, my dear fellow,” he said, gazing from a distance at his finger-nails, and wrinkling up the skin over his left eye, “notwithstanding my high esteem for the holy Russian armament, I own that your victory is not so remarkably victorious.”
He went on talking in French, only uttering in Russian those words to which he wished to give a contemptuous intonation.
“Why? with the whole mass of your army you fell upon the unlucky Mortier with one division, and Mortier slipped through your fingers? Where's the victory?”
“Seriously speaking, though,” answered Prince Andrey, “we can at least say without boasting that it's rather better than Ulm…”
“Why didn't you capture us one, at least, one marshal?”
“Because everything isn't done as one expects it will be, and things are not as regular as on parade. We had expected, as I told you, to attack the enemy in the rear at seven o'clock in the morning, but we did not arrive at it until five o'clock in the evening.”
“But why didn't you do it at seven in the morning? You ought to have done it at seven in the morning,” said Bilibin, smiling; “you ought to have done it at seven in the morning.”
“Why didn't you succeed in impressing on Bonaparte by diplomatic methods that he had better leave Genoa alone?” said Prince Andrey in the same tone.
“I know,” broke in Bilibin, “you are thinking that it's very easy to capture marshals, sitting on the sofa by one's fireside. That's true, but still why didn't you capture him? And you needn't feel surprised if the most august Emperor and King Francis, like the war minister, is not very jubilant over your victory. Why, even I, a poor secretary of the Russian Embassy, feel no necessity to testify my rejoicing by giving my Franz a thaler and sending him out for a holiday to disport himself with his Liebchen on the Prater…though it's true there is no Prater here…” He looked straight at Prince Andrey and suddenly let the creases drop out of his puckered forehead.
“Now it's my turn to ask you ‘why,' my dear boy,” said Bolkonsky. “I must own that I don't understand it; perhaps there are diplomatic subtleties in it that are beyond my feeble intellect; but I can't make it out. Mack loses a whole army, Archduke Ferdinand and Archduke Karl give no sign of life and make one blunder after another; Kutuzov alone gains at last a decisive victory, breaks the prestige of invincibility of the French, and the minister of war does not even care to learn the details!”
“For that very reason, my dear boy, don't you see! Hurrah for the Tsar, for Russia, for the faith! That's all very nice; but what have we, I mean the Austrian court, to do with your victories? You bring us good news of a victory of Archduke Karl or Ferdinand—one archduke's as good as the other, as you know—if it's only a victory over a fire brigade of Bonaparte, and it will be another matter, it will set the cannons booming. But this can only tantalise us, as if it were done on purpose. Archduke Karl does nothing, Archduke Ferdinand covers himself with disgrace, you abandon Vienna, give up its defence, as though you would say to us, God is with us, and the devil take you and your capital. One general, whom we all loved, Schmidt, you put in the way of a bullet, and then congratulate us on your victory!…You must admit that anything more exasperating than the news you have brought could not be conceived. It's as though it were done on purpose, done on purpose. But apart from that, if you were to gain a really brilliant victory, if Archduke Karl even were to win a victory, what effect could it have on the general course of events? It's too late now, when Vienna is occupied by the French forces.”
“Occupied? Vienna occupied?”
“Not only is Vienna occupied, but Bonaparte is at Schönbrunn, and the count—our dear Count Urbna—is setting off to receive his orders.”
After the fatigues and impressions of his journey and his reception, and even more after the dinner he had just eaten, Bolkonsky felt that he could not take in all the significance of the words he had just heard.
“Count Lichtenfels was here this morning,” pursued Bilibin, “and he showed me a letter containing a full description of the parade of the French at Vienna. Prince Murat and all the rest of it … You see that your victory is not a great matter for rejoicing, and that you can't be received as our deliverer…”
“Really, I don't care about that, I don't care in the slightest!” said Prince Andrey, beginning to understand that his news of the battle before Krems was really of little importance in view of such an event as the taking of the capital of Austria. “How was Vienna taken? And its bridge and its famous fortifications, and Prince Auersperg? We heard rumours that Prince Auersperg was defending Vienna,” said he.
“Prince Auersperg is stationed on this side—our side—and is defending us; defending us very ineffectually, I imagine, but any way he is defending us. But Vienna's on the other side of the river. No, the bridge has not been taken, and I hope it won't be taken, because it is mined and orders have been given to blow it up. If it were not so, we should have long ago been in the mountains of Bohemia, and you and your army would have spent a bad quarter of an hour between two fires.”
“But still that doesn't mean that the campaign is over,” said Prince Andrey.
“But I believe that it is over. And so do all the big-wigs here, though they don't dare to say so. It will be as I said at the beginning of the campaign, that the matter will not be settled by your firing before Därenstein, not by gunpowder, but by those who invented it,” said Bilibin, repeating one of his mots, letting the creases run out of his forehead and pausing. “The only question is what the meeting of the Emperor Alexander and the Prussian king may bring forth. If Prussia enters the alliance, they will force Austria's hand and there will be war. If not, the only point will be to arrange where to draw up the articles of the new Campo Formio.”
“But what an extraordinary genius!” cried Prince Andrey suddenly, clenching his small hand and bringing it down on the table. “And what luck the man has!”
“Buonaparte?” said Bilibin interrogatively, puckering up his forehead and so intimating that a mot was coming. “Buonaparte?” he said, with special stress on the u. “I think, though, that now when he is dictating laws to Austria from Schönbrunn, we must let him off the u. I shall certainly adopt the innovation, and call him simply Bonaparte.”
“No, joking apart,” said Prince Andrey, “do you really believe the campaign is over?”
“I'll tell you what I think. Austria has been made a fool of, and she is not used to that. And she'll avenge it. And she has been made a fool of because in the first place her provinces have been pillaged (they say the Holy Russian armament is plundering them cruelly), her army has been destroyed, her capital has been taken, and all this for the sweet sake of his Sardinian Majesty. And so between ourselves, my dear boy, my instinct tells me we are being deceived; my instinct tells me of negotiations with France and projects of peace, a secret peace, concluded separately.”
“Impossible!” said Prince Andrey. “That would be too base.”
“Time will show,” said Bilibin, letting the creases run off his forehead again in token of being done with the subject.
When Prince Andrey went to the room that had been prepared for him, and lay down in the clean linen on the feather-bed and warmed and fragrant pillows, he felt as though the battle of which he brought tidings was far, far away from him. The Prussian alliance, the treachery of Austria, the new triumph of Bonaparte, the levée and parade and the audience of Emperor Francis next day, engrossed his attention. He closed his eyes and instantly his ears were ringing with the cannonade, the firing of muskets, and the creaking of wheels, and again he saw the long line of musketeers running down-hill and the French firing, and he felt his heart beating and saw himself galloping in front of the lines with Schmidt, and, the bullets whizzing merrily around him; and he knew that sense of intensified joy in living that he had not experienced since childhood. He waked up.
“Yes, that all happened!”…he said, with a happy, childlike smile to himself. And he fell into the deep sleep of youth.