War And Peace



NEXT DAY he waked up late. Going over the impressions of the past, what he recalled most vividly was that he was to be presented to the Emperor Francis; he remembered the minister of war, the ceremonious adjutant, Bilibin, and the conversation of the previous evening. He dressed for his attendance at court in full court-dress, which he had not worn for a long time, and fresh, eager, and handsome, he walked into Bilibin's room with his arm in a sling. Four gentlemen of the diplomatic corps were already there. With Prince Ippolit Kuragin, who was a secretary to the embassy, Bolkonsky was already acquainted; Bilibin introduced him to the others.

The gentlemen calling on Bilibin were a set of fashionable, wealthy, and lively young men, who here, as at Vienna, made up a circle apart, a circle which Bilibin, its leader, spoke of as les nôtres. This circle, consisting almost exclusively of diplomatists, evidently had its own interests—quite apart from the war and politics—interests, that revolved round the fashionable world, relations with certain women and the formal side of the service. They gave Prince Andrey an unmistakably cordial reception, as one of themselves (a distinction they allowed to few). From civility and to break the ice they asked him a few questions about the army and the battle, and the conversation slipped back again to disconnected, good-humoured jests and gossip.

“But what was so particularly nice,” said one, relating a disaster that had befallen a colleague, “was that the minister told him in so many words that his appointment to London was a promotion and that that was how he ought to regard it. Can you fancy his figure at the moment?”…

“But the worst of all is to come, gentlemen. I'm going to betray Kuragin—here is this Don Juan going to profit by his misfortune; he's a shocking fellow!”

Prince Ippolit lounged in a reclining chair, with his legs over the arm. He laughed.

“Tell me about that,” said he.

“O Don Juan! O serpent!” cried the voices.

“You're not aware, I dare say, Bolkonsky,” said Bilibin, turning to Prince Andrey, “that all the atrocities of the French army (I was almost saying of the Russian) are nothing in comparison with the exploits of this fellow among the ladies.”

“Woman…is the companion of man,” Prince Ippolit enunciated, and he stared through his eyeglass at his elevated legs.

Bilibin and les nôtres roared, looking Ippolit straight in the face. Prince Andrey saw that this Ippolit, of whom—he could not disguise it from himself—he had been almost jealous on his wife's account, was the butt of this set.

“No, I must entertain you with a specimen of Kuragin,” said Bilibin aside to Bolkonsky. “He's exquisite, when he airs his views upon politics; you must see his gravity.”

He sat down by Ippolit, and, wrinkling up his forehead, began talking to him about politics. Prince Andrey and the others stood round the two.

“The Berlin cabinet cannot express a feeling of alliance,” Ippolit began, looking consequentially round at all of them, “without expressing…as in its last note…you understand…you understand…and besides, if his Majesty the Emperor does not give up the principle of our alliance.”

“Wait, I have not finished,” he said to Prince Andrey, taking him by the arm. “I suppose that intervention will be stronger than non-intervention. And…” He paused. “Our dispatch of the 28th of November cannot be reckoned as an exception. That is how it will all end.” And he dropped Bolkonsky's arm as a sign that he had now quite concluded.

“Demosthenes, I recognise you by the pebble that you hide in your golden mouth,” said Bilibin, whose thick thatch of hair moved forward on his head from the puckering of his brows with delight.

Every one laughed. Ippolit laughed louder than any. He was visibly distressed; he breathed painfully, but he could not help breaking into a savage laugh, that convulsed his usually impassive face.

“Well now, gentlemen,” said Bilibin, “Bolkonsky is my guest here in Bränn and I want to show him, as far as I can, all the attractions of our life here. If we were in Vienna, it would be easy enough; but here, in this vile Moravian hole, it is more difficult, and I beg you all for assistance. We must do him the honour of Bränn. You undertake the theatre and I will undertake society; you, Ippolit, of course, the ladies.”

“We ought to let him see Amélie; she's exquisite!” said one of les nôtres. kissing his finger-tips.

“Altogether,” said Bilibin, “we must turn this bloodthirsty rnan to more humane interests.”

“I fear I can hardly take advantage of your hospitality, gentlemen; it's time I was off even now,” said Bolkonsky, glancing at his watch.

“Where to?”

“To the Emperor!”

“Oh! oh! oh!”

“Well, au revoir, Bolkonsky! Au revoir, prince! Come early to dinner,” said voices. “We reckon upon you.”

“Try to make the most of the good discipline of the troops, in the provisioning of supplies and on the lines of march, when you talk to the Emperor,” said Bilibin, accompanying Bolkonsky to the hall.

“I should like to speak well of it, but as far as my observation goes, I can't,” answered Bolkonsky, smiling.

“Well, talk as much as you can, any way. Audiences are his passion, but he doesn't like talking himself, and can't talk either, as you will see.”




Back Home