IN THE YEAR 1811 there was living in Moscow a French doctor called Metivier, who was rapidly coming into fashion. He was a very tall, handsome man, polite as only a Frenchman is, and was said by every one in Moscow to be an extraordinarily clever doctor. He was received in the very best houses, not merely as a doctor, but as an equal.
Prince Nikolay Andreitch had always ridiculed medicine, but of late he had by Mademoiselle Bourienne's advice allowed this doctor to see him, and had become accustomed to his visits. Metivier used to see the old prince twice a week.
On St. Nikolay's day, the name-day of the old prince, all Moscow was driving up to the approach of his house, but he gave orders for no one to be admitted to see him. Only a few guests, of whom he gave a list to Princess Marya, were to be invited to dinner.
Metivier, who arrived in the morning with his felicitations, thought himself as the old prince's doctor entitled to forcer la consigne, as he told Princess Marya, and went in to the prince. It so happened that on that morning of his name-day the old prince was in one of his very worst tempers. He had spent the whole morning wandering about the house, finding fault with every one, and affecting not to understand what was said to him and to be misunderstood by everybody. Princess Marya knew that mood well from subdued and fretful grumbling, which usually found vent in a violent outburst of fury, and as though facing a cocked and loaded gun, she went all the morning in expectation of an explosion. The morning passed off fairly well, till the doctor's arrival. After admitting the doctor, Princess Marya sat down with a book in the drawing-room near the door, where she could hear all that passed in the prince's study.
At first she heard Metivier's voice alone, then her father's voice, then both voices began talking at once. The door flew open, and in the doorway she saw the handsome, terrified figure of Metivier with his shock of black hair, and the old prince in a skull-cap and dressing-gown, his face hideous with rage and his eyes lowered.
“You don't understand,” screamed the old prince, “but I do! French spy, slave of Bonaparte, spy, out of my house—away, I tell you!” And he slammed the door. Metivier, shrugging his shoulders, went up to Mademoiselle Bourienne, who ran out of the next room at the noise.
“The prince is not quite well, bile and rush of blood to the head. Calm yourself, I will look in to-morrow,” said Metivier; and putting his fingers to his lips he hurried off.
Through the door could be heard steps shuffling in slippers and shouts: “Spies, traitors, traitors everywhere! Not a minute of peace in my own house!”
After Metivier's departure the old prince sent for his daughter, and the whole fury of his passion spent itself on her. She was to blame for the spy's having been admitted to see him. Had not he told her, told her to make a list, and that those not on the list were on no account to be admitted? Why then had that scoundrel been shown up? She was to blame for everything. With her he could not have a minute of peace, could not die in peace, he told her.
“No, madame, we must part, we must part, I tell you! I can put up with no more,” he said, and went out of the room. And as though afraid she might find some comfort, he turned back and trying to assume an air of calmness, he added: “And don't imagine that I have said this in a moment of temper; no, I'm quite calm and I have thought it well over, and it shall be so—you shall go away, and find some place for yourself!…” But he could not restrain himself, and with the vindictive fury which can only exist where a man loves, obviously in anguish, he shook his fists and screamed at her: “Ah! if some fool would marry her!” He slammed the door, sent for Mademoiselle Bourienne, and subsided into his study.
At two o'clock the six persons he had selected arrived to dinner. Those guests—the celebrated Count Rastoptchin, Prince Lopuhin and his nephew, General Tchatrov, an old comrade of the prince's in the field, and of the younger generation Pierre and Boris Drubetskoy were awaiting him in the drawing-room. Boris, who had come on leave to Moscow shortly before, had been anxious to be presented to Prince Nikolay Andreitch, and had succeeded in so far ingratiating himself in his favour, that the old prince made in his case an exception from his usual rule of excluding all young unmarried men from his house.
The prince did not receive what is called “society,” but his house was the centre of a little circle into which—though it was not talked of much in the town—it was more flattering to be admitted than anywhere else. Boris had grasped that fact a week previously, when he heard Rastoptchin tell the commander-in-chief of Moscow, who had invited him to dine on St. Nikolay's day, that he could not accept his invitation.
“On that day I always go to pay my devotions to the relics of Prince Nikolay Andreitch.”
“Oh yes, yes…” assented the commander-in-chief. “How is he?…”
The little party assembled before dinner in the old-fashioned, lofty drawing-room, with its old furniture, was like the solemn meeting of some legal council board.
All sat silent, or if they spoke, spoke in subdued tones. Prince Nikolay Andreitch came in, serious and taciturn. Princess Marya seemed meeker and more timid than usual. The guests showed no inclination to address their conversation to her, for they saw that she had no thought for what they were saying. Count Rastoptchin maintained the conversation alone, relating the latest news of the town and the political world. Lopuhin and the old general took part in the conversation at rare intervals. Prince Nikolay Andreitch listened like a presiding judge receiving a report submitted to him, only testifying by his silence, or from time to time by a brief word, that he was taking cognizance of the facts laid before him.
The tone of the conversation was based on the assumption that no one approved of what was being done in the political world. Incidents were related obviously confirming the view that everything was going from bad to worse. But in every story that was told, and in every criticism that was offered, what was striking was the way that the speaker checked himself, or was checked, every time the line was reached where a criticism might have reference to the person of the Tsar himself.
At dinner the conversation turned on the last political news, Napoleon's seizure of the possessions of the Duke of Oldenburg, and the Russian note, hostile to Napoleon, which had been despatched to all the European courts.
“Bonaparte treats all Europe as a pirate does a captured vessel,” said Rastoptchin, repeating a phrase he had uttered several times before. “One only marvels at the long-suffering or the blindness of the ruling sovereigns. Now it's the Pope's turn, and Bonaparte doesn't scruple to try and depose the head of the Catholic Church, and no one says a word. Our Emperor alone has protested against the seizure of the possessions of the Duke of Oldenburg. And even…” Count Rastoptchin broke off, feeling that he was on the very border line beyond which criticism was impossible.
“Other domains have been offered him instead of the duchy of Oldenburg,” said the old prince. “He shifts the dukes about, as I might move my serfs from Bleak Hills to Bogutcharovo and the Ryazan estates.”
“The Duke of Oldenburg supports his misfortune with admirable force of character and resignation,” said Boris putting in his word respectfully. He said this because on his journey from Petersburg he had had the honour of being presented to the duke. The old prince looked at the young man as though he would have liked to say something in reply, but changed his mind, considering him too young.
“I have read our protest about the Oldenburg affair, and I was surprised at how badly composed the note was,” said Count Rastoptchin in the casual tone of a man criticising something with which he is very familiar.
Pierre looked at Rastoptchin in naïve wonder, unable to understand why he should be troubled by the defective composition of the note.
“Does it matter how the note is worded, count,” he said, “if the meaning is forcible?”
“My dear fellow, with our five hundred thousand troops, it should be easy to have a good style,” said Count Rastoptchin.
Pierre perceived the point of Count Rastoptchin's dissatisfaction with the wording of the note.
“I should have thought there were scribblers enough to write it,” said the old prince. “Up in Petersburg they do nothing but write—not notes only, but new laws they keep writing. My Andryusha up there has written a whole volume of new laws for Russia. Nowadays they're always at it!” And he laughed an unnatural laugh.
The conversation paused for a moment; the old general cleared his throat to draw attention.
“Did you hear of the last incident at the review in Petersburg? Didn't the new French ambassadors expose themselves!”
“Eh? Yes, I did hear something; he said something awkward in the presence of his majesty.”
“His majesty drew his attention to the grenadier division and the parade march,” pursued the general; “and it seems the ambassador took no notice and had the insolence to say ‘We in France,' says he, ‘don't pay attention to such trivial matters.' The emperor did not vouchsafe him a reply. At the review that followed the emperor, they say, did not once deign to address him.”
Every one was silent; upon this fact which related to the Tsar personally, no criticism could be offered.
“Impudent rogues!” said the old prince. “Do you know Metivier? I turned him out of the house to-day. He was here, he was allowed to come in, in spite of my begging no one should be admitted,” said the old prince, glancing angrily at his daughter. And he told them his whole conversation with the French doctor and his reasons for believing Metivier to be a spy. Though his reasons were very insufficient and obscure, no one raised an objection.
After the meat, champagne was handed round. The guests rose from their places to congratulate the old prince. Princess Marya too went up to him. He glanced at her with a cold, spiteful glance, and offered her his shaven, wrinkled cheek. The whole expression of his face told her that their morning's conversation was not forgotten, that his resolution still held good, and that it was only owing to the presence of their visitors that he did not tell her so now.
When they went into the drawing-room to coffee, the old men sat together.
Prince Nikolay Andreitch grew more animated, and began to express his views on the impending war. He said that our wars with Bonaparte would be unsuccessful so long as we sought alliances with the Germans and went meddling in European affairs, into which we had been drawn by the Peace of Tilsit. We had no business to fight for Austria or against Austria. Our political interests all lay in the East, and as regards Bonaparte, the one thing was an armed force on the frontier, and a firm policy, and he would never again dare to cross the Russian frontier, as he had done in 1807.
“And how should we, prince, fight against the French!” said Count Rastoptchin. “Can we arm ourselves against our teachers and divinities? Look at our young men, look at our ladies. Our gods are the French, and Paris—our Paradise.”
He began talking more loudly, obviously with the intention of being heard by every one.
“Our fashions are French, our ideas are French, our feelings are French! You have sent Metivier about his business because he's a Frenchman and a scoundrel, but our ladies are crawling on their hands and knees after him. Yesterday I was at an evening party, and out of five ladies three were Catholics and had a papal indulgence for embroidering on Sundays. And they sitting all but naked, like the sign-boards of some public bath-house, if you'll excuse my saying so. Ah, when one looks at our young people, prince, one would like to take Peter the Great's old cudgel out of the museum and break a few ribs in the good old Russian style, to knock the nonsense out of them!”
All were silent. The old prince looked at Rastoptchin with a smile on his face and shook his head approvingly.
“Well, good-bye, your excellency; don't you be ill,” said Rastoptchin, getting up with the brisk movements characteristic of him, and holding out his hand to the old prince.
“Good-bye, my dear fellow. Your talk is a music I'm always glad to listen to!” said the old prince, keeping hold of his hand and offering him his cheek for a kiss. The others, too, got up when Rastoptchin did.