AT THE LEVÉE the Emperor Francis only looked intently into Prince Andrey's face, and nodded his long head to him as he stood in the place assigned him among the Austrian officers. But after the levée the adjutant of the previous evening ceremoniously communicated to Bolkonsky the Emperor's desire to give him an audience. The Emperor Francis received him, standing in the middle of the room. Prince Andrey was struck by the fact that before beginning the conversation, the Emperor seemed embarrassed, didn't know what to say, and reddened.
“Tell me when the battle began,” he asked hurriedly. Prince Andrey answered. The question was followed by others, as simple: “Was Kutuzov well?” “How long was it since he left Krems?” and so on. The Emperor spoke as though his sole aim was to put a certain number of questions. The answers to these questions, as was only too evident, could have no interest for him.
“At what o'clock did the battle begin?” asked the Emperor.
“I cannot inform your majesty at what o'clock the battle began in the front lines, but at Därenstein, where I was, the troops began the attack about six in the evening,” said Bolkonsky, growing more eager, and conceiving that now there was a chance for him to give an accurate description, just as he had it ready in his head, of all he knew and had seen. But the Emperor smiled and interrupted him:
“How many miles?”
“From where to where, your majesty?”
“From Därenstein to Krems?”
“Three and a half miles, your majesty.”
“The French abandoned the left bank?”
“As our scouts reported, the last crossed the river on rafts in the night.”
“Have you enough provisions at Krems?”
“Provisions have not been furnished to the amount…”
The Emperor interrupted him:
“At what o'clock was General Schmidt killed?”
“At seven o'clock, I think.”
“At seven o'clock? Very sad! very sad!”
The Emperor said that he thanked him, and bowed. Prince Andrey withdrew, and was at once surrounded by courtiers on all sides. Everywhere he saw friendly eyes gazing at him, and heard friendly voices addressing him. The adjutant of the preceding evening reproached him for not having stopped at the palace, and offered him his own house. The minister of war came up and congratulated him on the Order of Maria Theresa of the third grade, with which the Emperor was presenting him. The Empress's chamberlain invited him to her majesty. The archduchess, too, wished to see him. He did not know whom to answer, and for a few seconds he was trying to collect his ideas. The Russian ambassador took him by the shoulder, led him away to a window, and began to talk to him.
Contrary to Bilibin's prognostications, the news he brought was received with rejoicing. A thanksgiving service was arranged. Kutuzov was decorated with the great cross of Maria Theresa, and rewards were bestowed on the whole army. Bolkonsky received invitations on all hands, and had to spend the whole morning paying visits to the principal personages in the Austrian Government. After paying his visits, Prince Andrey, at five o'clock in the evening, was returning homewards to Bilibin's, mentally composing a letter to his father about the battle and his reception at Bränn. At the steps of Bilibin's house stood a cart packed half full of things, and Franz, Bilibin's servant, came out of the doorway, with difficulty dragging a travelling-trunk.
Before going back to Bilibin's Prince Andrey had driven to a book-seller's to lay in a stock of books for the campaign, and had spent some time in the shop.
“What is it?” asked Bolkonsky.
“Ah, your excellency!” said Franz, with some exertion rolling the trunk on the cart. “We are to move on still farther. The scoundrel is already at our heels again!”
“Eh? what?” queried Prince Andrey.
Bilibin came out to meet Bolkonsky. His ordinarily composed face looked excited.
“No, no, confess that this is charming,” he said, “this story of the bridge of Tabor. They have crossed it without striking a blow.”
Prince Andrey could not understand.
“Why, where do you come from not to know what every coachman in the town knows by now?”
“I come from the archduchess. I heard nothing there.”
“And didn't you see that people are packing up everywhere?”
“I have seen nothing … But what's the matter?” Prince Andrey asked impatiently.
“What's the matter? The matter is that the French have crossed the bridge that Auersperg was defending, and they haven't blown up the bridge, so that Murat is at this moment running along the road to Bränn, and to-day or to-morrow they'll be here.”
“Here? But how is it the bridge wasn't blown up, since it was mined?”
“Why, that's what I ask you. No one—not Bonaparte himself—can tell why.” Bolkonsky shrugged his shoulders.
“But if they have crossed the bridge, then it will be all over with the army; it will be cut off,” he said.
“That's the whole point,” answered Bilibin. “Listen. The French enter Vienna, as I told you. Everything is satisfactory. Next day, that is yesterday, Messieurs les Maréchaux, Murat, Lannes, and Beliard get on their horses and ride off to the bridge. (Remark that all three are Gascons.) ‘Gentlemen,' says one, ‘you know that the Tabor bridge has been mined and countermined, and is protected by a formidable fortification and fifteen thousand troops, who have orders to blow up the bridge and not to let us pass. But our gracious Emperor Napoleon will be pleased if we take the bridge. Let us go us there and take it.' ‘Yes, let us go,' say the others; and they start off and take the bridge, cross it, and now with their whole army on this side of the Danube, they are coming straight upon us, and upon you and your communications.”
“Leave off jesting,” said Prince Andrey, with mournful seriousness. The news grieved Prince Andrey, and yet it gave him pleasure. As soon as he heard that the Russian army was in such a hopeless position, the idea struck him that he was the very man destined to extricate the Russian army from that position, and that it had come—the Toulon—that would lift him for ever from out of the ranks of unknown officers, and open the first path to glory for him! As he listened to Bilibin, he was already considering how, on reaching the army, he would, at a council of war, give the opinion that alone could save the army, and how he would be entrusted alone to execute the plan.
“Leave off joking,” he said.
“I'm not joking,” Bilibin went on. “Nothing could be more truthful or more melancholy. These three gentlemen advance to the bridge alone and wave white handkerchiefs; they declare that it's a truce, and that they, the marshals, are come for a parley with Prince Auersperg. The officer on duty lets them into the tête du pont. They tell him a thousand Gascon absurdities; say that the war is over, that Emperor Francis has arranged a meeting with Bonaparte, that they desire to see Prince Auersperg, and so on. The officer sends for Auersperg. These Gascon gentlemen embrace the officers, make jokes, and sit about on the cannons, while a French battalion meantime advances unnoticed on the bridge, flings the sacks of inflammable material into the river, and marches up to the tête du pont. Finally the lieutenant-general himself appears, our dear Prince Auersperg von Mautern. ‘My dear enemy! Flower of Austrian chivalry! hero of the Turkish war! Hostility is at end, we can take each other's hands … the Emperor Napoleon burns with impatience to make the acquaintance of Prince Auersperg.' In a word, these gentlemen—not Gascons for nothing—so bewilder Auersperg with fair words—he is so flattered at this speedy intimacy with French marshals, so dazzled by the spectacle of their cloaks, and of the ostrich feathers of Murat—that their fire gets into his eyes and makes him forget that he ought to be firing on the enemy” (in spite of the interest of his story, Bilibin did not omit to pause after this mot, to give time for its appreciation). “A French battalion runs into the tête du pont, spikes the cannons, and the bridge is taken. No, but really the best part of the whole episode,” he went on, his excitement subsiding under the interest of his own story, “is that the sergeant in charge of the cannon which was to give the signal for firing the mines and blowing up the bridge, this sergeant seeing the French troops running on to the bridge wanted to fire, but Lannes pulled his arm away. The sergeant, who seems to have been sharper than his general, goes up to Auersperg and says: ‘Prince, they're deceiving you, here are the French!' Murat sees the game is up if he lets the sergeant have his say. With an affectation of surprise (a true Gascon!) he addresses Auersperg: ‘Is this the Austrian discipline so highly extolled all over the world,' says he, ‘do you let a man of low rank speak to you like this?' It was a stroke of genius. The Prince of Auersperg is touched in his honour and has the sergeant put under arrest. No, but confess that all this story of the bridge of Tabor is charming. It is neither stupidity, nor cowardice …”
“It is treason, perhaps,” said Prince Andrey, vividly picturing to himself grey overcoats, wounds, the smoke and sound of firing, and the glory awaiting him.
“Not that either. This puts the court into a pretty pickle,” pursued Bilibin. “It is not treason, nor cowardice, nor stupidity; it is just as it was at Ulm …” He seemed to ponder, seeking the phrase, “it is … c'est du Mack. Nous sommes mackés,” he said, feeling he was uttering un mot, and a fresh one, one that would be repeated. His creased-up brows let the puckers smooth out quickly in sign of satisfaction, and with a faint smile he fell to scrutinizing his finger-nails.
“Where are you off to?” he said, suddenly turning to Prince Andrey, who had got up and was going to his room.
“I must start.”
“To the army.”
“But you meant to stay another two days?”
“But now I am going at once”; and Prince Andrey, after a few words arranging about his journey, went to his room.
“Do you know, my dear boy,” said Bilibin, coming into his room, “I have been thinking about you. What are you going for?” And in support of the irrefutability of his arguments on the subject, all the creases ran off his face.
Prince Andrey looked inquiringly at him and made no reply.
“Why are you going? I know you consider that it's your duty to gallop off to the army now that the army is in danger. I understand that, my boy, it's heroism.”
“Nothing of the kind,” said Prince Andrey.
“But you are un philosophe, be one fully, look at things from the other side, and you will see that it is your duty, on the contrary, to take care of yourself. Leave that to others who are no good for anything else … You have received no orders to go back, and you are not dismissed from here, so that you can remain and go with us, where our ill-luck takes us. They say they are going to Olmätz. And Olmätz is a very charming town. And we can travel there comfortably together in my carriage.”
“That's enough joking, Bilibin,” said Bolkonsky.
“I am speaking to you sincerely as a friend. Consider where are you going and with what object now, when you can stay here. You have two alternatives before you” (he puckered up the skin of his left temple) “either you won't reach the army before peace will be concluded, or you will share the defeat and disgrace with Kutuzov's whole army.” And Bilibin let his brow go smooth again, feeling that his dilemma was beyond attack.
“That I can't enter into,” said Prince Andrey coldly, but he thought: “I am going to save the army.”
“My dear fellow, you are a hero,” said Bilibin