ROSTOV had arrived at Tilsit on the day least suitable for interceding in Denisov's behalf. It was out of the question for him to go himself to the general in attendance, since he was wearing civilian dress, and had come to Tilsit without permission to do so, and Boris, even had he been willing, could not have done so on the day following Rostov's arrival. On that day, the 27th of June, the preliminaries of peace were signed. The Emperors exchanged orders: Alexander received the Legion of Honour, and Napoleon the Order of St. Andrey of the first degree, and that day had been fixed for the dinner to be given by a battalion of French guards to the Preobrazhensky battalion. The Emperors were to be present at this banquet. Rostov felt so uncomfortable and ill at ease with Boris, that when the latter peeped in at him after supper he pretended to be asleep, and the next day he left early in the morning to avoid seeing him. In a frock coat and round hat, Nikolay strolled about the town, staring at the French and their uniforms, examining the streets and the houses where the Russian and the French Emperors were staying. In the market-place he saw tables set out and preparations for the banquet; in the streets he saw draperies hung across with flags of the Russian and French colours, and huge monograms of A and N. In the windows of the houses, too, there were flags and monograms.
“Boris doesn't care to help me, and I don't care to apply to him. That question's closed,” thought Nikolay; “everything's over between us, but I'm not going away from here without having done all I can for Denisov, and, above all, getting the letter given to the Emperor. To the Emperor? … He is here!” thought Rostov, who had unconsciously gone back to the house occupied by Alexander.
Saddle horses were standing at the entrance, and the suite were riding up, evidently getting ready for the Emperor to come out.
“Any minute I may see him,” thought Rostov. “If only I could give him the letter directly, and tell him all … could they really arrest me for my frock coat? Impossible. He would understand on which side the truth lay. He understands everything, he knows everything. Who can be juster and more magnanimous than he? Besides, even if they were to arrest me for being here, what would it matter?” he thought, looking at an officer who was going into the house. “Why, people go in, I see. Oh! it's all nonsense. I'll go and give the letter to the Emperor myself; so much the worse for Drubetskoy who has driven me to it.” And all at once, with a decision he would never have expected of himself, Rostov, fingering the letter in his pocket, went straight into the house where the Emperor was staying.
“No, this time I won't miss my opportunity as I did after Austerlitz,” he thought, expecting every minute to meet the Emperor, and feeling a rush of blood to the heart at the idea. “I will fall at his feet and will beseech him. He will lift me up, hear me out, and thank me too. ‘I am happy when I can do good, but to cancel injustice is the greatest happiness,' ” Rostov fancied the Emperor would say to him. And he passed up the stairs regardless of the inquisitive eyes that were turned upon him. The broad staircase led straight upwards from the entry; on the right was a closed door. Below, under the stairs, was a door to the rooms on the ground floor.
“Whom are you looking for?” some one asked him.
“To give a letter, a petition, to his majesty,” said Nikolay, with a quiver in his voice.
“A petition—to the officer on duty, this way; please” (he was motioned to the door below). “Only it won't receive attention.”
Hearing this indifferent voice, Rostov felt panic-stricken at what he was doing; the idea that he might meet the Emperor at any minute was so fascinating and consequently so terrible, that he was ready to fly; but an attendant meeting him opened the door to the officer's room for him, and Rostov went in.
A short, stout man of about thirty in white breeches, high boots, and in a batiste shirt, apparently only just put on, was standing in this room. A valet was buttoning behind him some fine-looking, new, silk-embroidered braces, which for some reason attracted Rostov's notice. The stout man was conversing with some one in the adjoining room.
“A good figure and in her first bloom,” he was saying, but seeing Rostov he broke off and frowned.
“What do you want? A petition? …”
“What is it?” asked some one in the next room.
“Another petition,” answered the man in the braces.
“Tell him to come later. He'll be coming out directly; we must go.”
“Later, later, to-morrow. It's too late.…”
Rostov turned away and would have gone out, but the man in the braces stopped him.
“From whom is it? Who are you?”
“From Major Denisov,” answered Rostov.
“Who are you—an officer?”
“A lieutenant, Count Rostov.”
“What audacity! Send it through the proper channel. And go along with you, go.…” And he began putting on the uniform the valet handed him.
Rostov went out into the hall again, and noticed that by this time there were a great many officers and generals in full dress, and he had to pass through their midst.
Cursing his temerity, ready to faint at the thought that he might any minute meet the Emperor and be put to shame before him and placed under arrest, fully aware by now of all the indecorum of his action, and regretting it, Rostov was making his way out of the house with downcast eyes, through the crowd of the gorgeously dressed suite, when a familiar voice called to him, and a hand detained him.
“Well, sir, what are you doing here in a frock coat?” asked the bass voice.
It was a cavalry general who had won the Emperor's special favour during this campaign, and had formerly been in command of the division in which Rostov was serving.
Rostov began in dismay to try and excuse himself, but seeing the good-naturedly jocose face of the general, he moved on one side, and in an excited voice told him of the whole affair, begging him to intercede for Denisov, whom the general knew.
The general on hearing Rostov's story shook his head gravely. “I'm sorry, very sorry for the gallant fellow; give me the letter.”
Rostov had scarcely time to give him the letter and tell him all about Denisov's scrape, when the clank of rapid footsteps with spurs was heard on the stairs, and the general left his side and moved up to the steps. The gentlemen of the Emperor's suite ran downstairs and went to their horses. The postillion, the same one who had been at Austerlitz, led up the Emperor's horse, and on the stairs was heard a light footstep which Rostov knew at once. Forgetting the danger of being recognised, Rostov moved right up to the steps together with some curious persons from the town; and again after two years he saw the features he adored: the same face, the same glance, the same walk, the same combination of majesty and mildness.… And the feeling of enthusiasm and devotion to the Emperor rose up again in Rostov's heart with all its old force. The Emperor wore the uniform of the Preobrazhensky regiment, white elk-skin breeches and high boots, and a star which Rostov did not recognise (it was the star of the Legion of Honour). He came out on the steps, holding his hat under his arm, and putting on his glove. He stopped, looking round and seeming to shed brightness around him with his glance. To some one of the generals he said a few words. He recognised, too, the former commander of Rostov's division, smiled to him, and summoned him to him.
All the suite stood back, and Rostov saw the general talking at some length to the Emperor.
The Emperor said a few words to him, and took a step towards his horse. Again the crowd of the suite and the street gazers, among whom was Rostov, moved up closer to the Emperor. Standing still with his hand on the saddle, the Emperor turned to the cavalry general and said aloud with the obvious intention of being heard by all: “I cannot, general, and I cannot because the law is mightier than I am,” and he put his foot in the stirrup. The general bent his head respectfully; the Emperor took his seat and galloped up the street. Rostov, wild with enthusiasm, ran after him with the crowd.