BILIBIN was now in a diplomatic capacity at the headquarters of the army, and though he wrote in French, with French jests, and French turns of speech, he described the whole campaign with an impartial self-criticism and self-mockery exclusively Russian. Bilibin wrote that the obligation of diplomatic discretion was a torture to him, and that he was happy to have in Prince Andrey a trustworthy correspondent to whom he could pour out all the spleen that had been accumulating in him at the sight of what was going on in the army. The letter was dated some time back, before the battle of Eylau.
“Since our great success at Austerlitz, you know, my dear prince,” wrote Bilibin, “that I have not left headquarters. Decidedly I have acquired a taste for warfare, and it is just as well for me. What I have seen in these three months is incredible.
“I will begin ab ovo. ‘The enemy of the human race,' as you know, is attacking the Prussians. The Prussians are our faithful allies, who have only deceived us three times in three years. We stand up for them. But it occurs that the enemy of the human race pays no attention to our fine speeches, and in his uncivil and savage way flings himself upon the Prussians without giving them time to finish the parade that they had begun, and by a couple of conjuring tricks thrashes them completely, and goes to take up his quarters in the palace of Potsdam.
“ ‘I most earnestly desire,' writes the King of Prussia to Bonaparte, ‘that your majesty may be received and treated in my palace in a manner agreeable to you, and I have hastened to take all the measures to that end which circumstances allowed. May I have succeeded!' The Prussian generals pride themselves on their politeness towards the French, and lay down their arms at the first summons.
“The head of the garrison at Glogau, who has ten thousand men, asks the King of Prussia what he is to do if he is summoned to surrender.…All these are actual facts.
“In short, hoping only to produce an effect by our military attitude, we find ourselves at war in good earnest, and, what is more, at war on our own frontiers with and for the King of Prussia. Everything is fully ready, we only want one little thing, that is the commander-in-chief. As it is thought that the successes at Austerlitz might have been more decisive if the commander-in-chief had not been so young, the men of eighty have been passed in review, and of Prosorovsky and Kamensky the latter is preferred. The general comes to us in a kîbik after the fashion of Suvorov, and is greeted with acclamations of joy and triumph.
“On the 4th comes the first post from Petersburg. The mails are taken to the marshal's room, for he likes to do everything himself. I am called to sort the letters and take those meant for us. The marshal looks on while we do it, and waits for the packets addressed to him. We seek—there are none. The marshal gets impatient, sets to work himself, and finds letters from the Emperor for Count T., Prince V., and others. Then he throws himself into one of his furies. He rages against everybody, snatches hold of the letters, opens them, and reads those from the Emperor to other people.
“ ‘Ah, so that's how I'm being treated! No confidence in me! Oh, ordered to keep an eye on me, very well; get along with you!'
“And then he writes the famous order of the day to General Bennigsen:
“ ‘I am wounded, I cannot ride on horseback, consequently cannot command the army. You have led your corps d'armée defeated to Pultusk! Here it remains exposed and destitute of wood and of forage, and in need of assistance, and so, as you reported yourself to Count Buxhevden yesterday, you must think of retreat to our frontier, and so do today.'
“ ‘All my expeditions on horseback,' he writes to the Emperor, ‘have given me a saddle sore, which, after my former journeys, quite prevents my sitting a horse, and commanding an army so widely scattered; and therefore I have handed over the said command to the general next in seniority to me, Count Buxhevden, having despatched to him all my suite and appurtenances of the same, advising him, if bread should run short, to retreat further into the interior of Prussia, seeing that bread for one day's rations only is left, and some regiments have none, as the commanders Osterman and Sedmoretsky have reported, and the peasantry of the country have had everything eaten up. I shall myself remain in the hospital at Ostrolenka till I am cured. In regard to which I must humbly submit the report that if the army remains another fortnight in its present bivouac, by spring not a man will be left in health.
“ ‘Graciously discharge from his duty an old man who is sufficiently disgraced by his inability to perform the great and glorious task for which he was chosen. I shall await here in the hospital your most gracious acceptance of my retirement, that I may not have to act the part of a secretary rather than a commander. My removal is not producing the slightest sensation—a blind man is leaving the army, that is all. More like me can be found in Russia by thousands!'
“The marshal is angry with the Emperor and punishes all of us; isn't it logical!
“That is the first act. In the next the interest and the absurdity rise, as they ought. After the marshal has departed it appears that we are within sight of the enemy and shall have to give battle. Buxhevden is commanding officer by right of seniority, but General Bennigsen is not of that opinion, the rather that it is he and his corps who face the enemy, and he wants to seize the opportunity to fight a battle ‘on his own hand,' as the Germans say. He fights it. It is the battle of Pultusk, which is counted a great victory, but which in my opinion is nothing of the kind. We civilians, you know, have a very ugly way of deciding whether battles are lost or won. The side that retreats after the battle has lost, that is what we say, and according to that we lost the battle of Pultusk. In short, we retreat after the battle, but we send a message to Petersburg with news of a victory, and the general does not give up the command to Buxhevden, hoping to receive from Petersburg the title of commander-in-chief in return for his victory. During this interregnum we begin an excessively interesting and original scheme of manœuvres. The aim does not, as it should, consist in avoiding or attacking the enemy, but solely in avoiding General Buxhevden, who by right of seniority should be our commanding officer. We pursue this object with so much energy that even when we cross a river which is not fordable we burn the bridges in order to separate ourselves from our enemy, who, at the moment, is not Bonaparte but Buxhevden. General Buxhevden was nearly attacked and taken by a superior force of the enemy, in consequence of one of our fine manœuvres which saved us from him. Buxhevden pursues us; we scuttle. No sooner does he cross to our side of the river than we cross back to the other. At last our enemy Buxhevden catches us and attacks us. The two generals quarrel. There is even a challenge on Buxhevden's part and an epileptic fit on Bennigsen's. But at the critical moment the messenger who carried the news of our Pultusk victory brings us from Petersburg our appointment as commander-in-chief, and the first enemy, Buxhevden, being overthrown, we are able to think of the second, Bonaparte. But what should happen at that very moment but the rising against us of a third enemy, which is the ‘holy armament' fiercely crying out for bread, meat, biscuits, hay, and I don't know what else! The storehouses are empty, the roads impassable. The ‘holy armament' sets itself to pillage, and that in a way of which the last campaign can give you no notion. Half the regiments have turned themselves into free companies, and are overrunning the country with fire and sword. The inhabitants are totally ruined, the hospitals are overflowing with sick, and famine is everywhere. Twice over the headquarters have been attacked by bands of marauders, and the commander-in-chief himself has had to ask for a battalion to drive them off. In one of these attacks my empty trunk and my dressing-gown were carried off. The Emperor proposes to give authority to all the commanders of divisions to shoot marauders, but I greatly fear this will oblige one half of the army to shoot the other.”
Prince Andrey at first read only with his eyes, but unconsciously what he read (though he knew how much faith to put in Bilibin) began to interest him more and more. When he reached this passage, he crumpled up the letter and threw it away. It was not what he read that angered him; he was angry that the far-away life out there—in which he had no part—could trouble him. He closed his eyes, rubbed his forehead with his hand, as though to drive out all interest in what he had been reading, and listened to what was passing in the nursery. Suddenly he fancied a strange sound through the door. A panic seized him; he was afraid something might have happened to the baby while he was reading the letter. He went on tiptoe to the door of the nursery and opened it.
At the instant that he went in, he saw that the nurse was hiding something from him with a scared face, and Princess Marya was no longer beside the crib.
“My dear,” he heard behind him Princess Marya whisper—in a tone of despair it seemed to him. As so often happens after prolonged sleeplessness and anxiety, he was seized by a groundless panic; the idea came into his mind that the baby was dead. All he saw and heard seemed a confirmation of his terror.
“All is over,” he thought, and a cold sweat came out on his forehead. He went to the crib, beside himself, believing that he would find it empty, that the nurse had been hiding the dead baby. He opened the curtains, and for a long while his hurrying, frightened eyes could not find the baby. At last he saw him. The red-cheeked child lay stretched across the crib, with its head lower than the pillow; and it was making a smacking sound with its lips in its sleep and breathing evenly.
Prince Andrey rejoiced at seeing the child, as though he had already lost him. He bent down and tried with his lips whether the baby was feverish, as his sister had shown him. The soft forehead was moist; he touched the head with his hand—even the hair was wet: the child was in such a thorough perspiration. He was not dead; on the contrary, it was evident that the crisis was over and he was better. Prince Andrey longed to snatch up, to squeeze, to press to his heart that little helpless creature; he did not dare to do so. He stood over him, gazing at his head and his little arms and legs that showed beneath the quilt. He heard a rustle beside him, and a shadow seemed to come under the canopy of the crib. He did not look round, and still gazing at the baby's face, listened to his regular breathing. The dark shadow was Princess Marya, who with noiseless steps had approached the crib, lifted the canopy, and let it fall again behind her. Prince Andrey knew it was she without looking round, and held out his hand to her. She squeezed his hand.
“He is in a perspiration,” said Prince Andrey.
“I was coming to tell you so.”
The baby faintly stirred in its sleep, smiled and rubbed its forehead against the pillow.
Prince Andrey looked at his sister. In the even half light under the hanging of the crib, Princess Marya's luminous eyes shone more than usual with the happy tears that stood in them. She bent forward to her brother and kissed him, her head catching in the canopy of the crib. They shook their fingers at one another, and still stood in the twilight of the canopy, as though unwilling to leave that seclusion where they three were alone, shut off from all the world. Prince Andrey, ruffling his hair against the muslin hangings, was the first to move away. “Yes, that is the one thing left me now,” he said with a sigh.