BLEAK HILLS the estate of Prince Nikolay Andreitch Bolkonsky, was sixty versts from Smolensk, a little to the rear of it, and three versts from the main road to Moscow.
The same evening on which the old prince gave Alpatitch his instructions, Dessalle asked for a few words with Princess Marya, and told her that since the prince was not quite well and was taking no steps to secure his own safety, though from Prince Andrey's letter it was plain that to stay on at Bleak Hills was not free from danger, he respectfully advised her to write herself, and send by Alpatitch a letter to the governor at Smolensk, and to ask him to let her know the position of affairs and the degree of danger they were running at Bleak Hills. Dessalle wrote the letter to the governor for Princess Marya and she signed it, and the letter was given to Alpatitch with instructions to give it to the governor, and in case there was danger, to come back as quickly as possible.
When he had received all his orders, Alpatitch put on his white beaver hat — a gift from the prince — and carrying a stick in his hand, like the prince, went out, accompanied by all his household, to get into the leather gig harnessed to three sleek, roan horses.
The bells were tied up and stuffed with paper. The prince allowed no one at Bleak Hills to drive with bells. But Alpatitch loved to have bells ringing when he went a long journey. All Alpatitch's satellites, the counting-house clerk, the servants' cook and the head cook, two old women, a foot-boy, a coachman, and various other servants saw him off.
His daughter put chintz-covered, down pillows under him and behind his back. His old sister-in-law slyly popped in a kerchief full of things. One of the coachmen helped him to get in.
“There, there, women's fuss! Women folk, women folk!” said Alpatitch, puffing and talking rapidly, just as the old prince used to talk. He sat down in the gig, giving the counting-house clerk his last directions about the work to be done in the fields; and then dropping his imitation of the prince, Alpatitch took his hat off his bald head and crossed himself three times.
“If there's anything … you turn back, Yakov Alpatitch; for Christ's sake, think of us,” his wife called to him, alluding to the rumours of war and of the enemy near.
“Ah, these women and their fuss!” Alpatitch muttered to himself as he drove off, looking about him at the fields. He saw rye turning yellow, thick oats still green, and here and there patches still black, where they were only just beginning the second ploughing. Alpatitch drove on, admiring the crop of corn, singularly fine that season, staring at the rye fields, in some of which reaping was already beginning, meditating like a true husbandman on the sowing and the harvest, and wondering whether he had forgotten any of the prince's instructions. He stopped twice to feed his horses on the way, and towards the evening of the 4th of August reached the town.
All the way Alpatitch had met and overtaken waggons and troops, and as he drove into Smolensk he heard firing in the distance, but he scarcely heeded the sound. What struck him more than anything was that close to Smolensk he saw a splendid field of oats being mown down by some soldiers evidently for forage; there was a camp, too, pitched in the middle of it. This did make an impression upon Alpatitch, but he soon forgot it in thinking over his own affairs.
All the interests of Alpatitch's life had been for over thirty years bounded by the will of the prince, and he never stepped outside that limit. Anything that had nothing to do with carrying out the prince's orders had no interest, had in fact no existence for Alpatitch.
On reaching Smolensk on the evening of the 4th of August, Alpatitch put up where he had been in the habit of putting up for the last thirty years, at a tavern kept by a former house-porter, Ferapontov, beyond the Dnieper in the Gatchensky quarter. Twelve years before, Ferapontov had profited by Alpatitch's good offices to buy timber from the old prince, and had begun going into trade; and by now he had a house, an inn and a corn-dealer's shop in the town. Ferapontov was a stout, dark, ruddy peasant of forty, with thick lips, a thick, knobby nose, similar knobby bumps over his black, knitted brows, and a round belly.
He was standing in his print shirt and his waistcoat in front of his shop, which looked into the street. He saw Alpatitch, and went up to him.
“You're kindly welcome, Yakov Alpatitch. Folk are going out of the town, while you come into it,” said he.
“How's that? Out of town?” said Alpatitch.
“To be sure, I always say folks are fools. Always frightened of the French.”
“Women's nonsense, women's nonsense!” replied Alpatitch.
“That's just what I think, Yakov Alpatitch. I say there's a notice put up that they won't let them come in, so to be sure that's right. But the peasants are asking as much as three roubles for a cart and horse—they've no conscience!”
Yakov Alpatitch heard without heeding. He asked for a samovar, and for hay for his horses; and after drinking tea lay down to sleep.
All night long the troops were moving along the street by the tavern. Next day Alpatitch put on a tunic, which he kept for wearing in town, and went out to execute his commissions. It was a sunny morning, and by eight o'clock it was hot. “A precious day for the harvest,” as Alpatitch thought. From early morning firing could be heard from beyond the town.
At eight o'clock the boom of cannon mingled with the rattle of musketry. The streets were thronged with people, hurrying about, and also with soldiers, but drivers plied for hire, the shopkeepers stood at their shops, and services were being held in the churches just as usual. Alpatitch went to the shops, to the government offices, to the post and to the governor's. Everywhere that he went every one was talking of the war, and of the enemy who was attacking the town. All were asking one another what was to be done, and trying to calm each other's fears.
At the governor's house, Alpatitch found a great number of people, and saw Cossacks, and a travelling carriage belonging to the governor at the entrance. On the steps Yakov Alpatitch met two gentlemen, one of whom he knew. This gentleman, a former police-captain, was speaking with great heat.
“Well, this is no jesting matter,” he said. “Good luck for him who has only himself to think of. It's bad enough for one alone, but when one has a family of thirteen and a whole property.…Things have come to such a pass that we shall all be ruined; what's one to say of the government after that?…Ugh, I'd hang the brigands.…”
“Come, come, hush!” said the other.
“What do I care! let him hear! Why, we're not dogs!” said the former police-captain, and looking round, he caught sight of Alpatitch.
“Ah, Yakov Alpatitch, how do you come here?”
“By command of his excellency to his honour the governor,” answered Alpatitch, lifting his head proudly and putting his hand into his bosom, as he always did when he mentioned the old prince.…“His honour was pleased to bid me inquire into the position of affairs,” he said.
“Well, you may as well know then,” cried the gentleman; “they have brought matters to such a pass that there are no carts to be got, nothing!…That's it again, do you hear?” he said, pointing in the direction from which the sounds of firing came.
“They have brought us all to ruin…the brigands!” he declared again, and he went down the steps.
Alpatitch shook his head and went up. The waiting-room was full of merchants, women, and clerks, looking dumbly at one another. The door of the governor's room opened, all of them got up and made a forward movement. A clerk ran out of the room, said something to a merchant, called a stout official with a cross on his neck to follow him, and vanished again, obviously trying to avoid all the looks and the questions addressed to him. Alpatitch moved forward, and the next time the same clerk emerged, he put his hand into his buttoned coat, and addressed him, handing him the two letters.
“To his honour the Baron Ash from the general-in-chief Prince Bolkonsky,” he boomed out with so much pomposity and significance that the clerk turned to him and took the letters. A few minutes afterwards Alpatitch was shown into the presence of the governor, who said to him hurriedly, “Inform the prince and the princess that I knew nothing about it. I acted on the highest instructions—here.…”
He gave Alpatitch a document.
“Still, as the prince is not well my advice to him is to go to Moscow. I'm setting off myself immediately. Tell them…”But the governor did not finish; a dusty and perspiring officer ran into the room and began saying something in French. A look of horror came into the governor's face.
“You can go,” he said, nodding to Alpatitch, and he put some questions to the officer. Eager, panic-stricken, helpless glances were turned upon Alpatitch when he came out of the governor's room. Alpatitch could not help listening now to firing, which seemed to come closer and to be getting hotter, as he hurried back to the inn. The document the governor had given to Alpatitch ran as follows:
“I guarantee that the town of Smolensk is not in the slightest danger, and it is improbable that it should be threatened in any way. I myself from one side, and Prince Bagration from the other, will effect a junction before Smolensk on the 22nd instant, and both armies will proceed with their joint forces to defend their compatriots of the province under your government, till their efforts beat back the enemies of our country, or till their gallant ranks are cut down to the last warrior. You will see from this that you have a perfect right to reassure the inhabitants of Smolensk, as they are defended by two such valiant armies and can be confident of their victory.
(“By order of Barclay de Tolly to the civil governor of Smolensk. Baron Ash. 1812.”)
Crowds of people were moving uneasily about the streets. Waggons, loaded up with household crockery, chairs, and cupboards, were constantly emerging from the gates of houses, and moving along the streets. Carts were standing at the entrance of the house next to Ferapontov's, and women were wailing and exchanging good-byes. The yard dog was frisking about the horses, barking.
Alpatitch's step was more hurried than usual as he entered the yard, and went straight under the shed to his horses and cart. The coachman was asleep; he waked him up, told him to put the horses in, and went into the outer room of the house. In the private room of the family, he heard the wailing of children, the heartrending sobs of a woman, and the furious, husky shouting of Ferapontov. The cook came fluttering into the outer room like a frightened hen, just as Alpatitch walked in.
“He's beating her to death—beating the mistress!…He's beaten her so, thrashed her so!…”
“What for?” asked Alpatitch.
“She kept begging to go away. A woman's way! Take me away, says she; don't bring me to ruin with all my little children; folks are all gone, says she, what are we about? So he fell to beating her…beating and thrashing her!”
Alpatitch nodded his head, apparently in approval at those words; and not caring to hear more he went towards the door on the opposite side leading to the room in which his purchases had been left.
“Wretch, villain,” screamed a thin, pale woman, bursting out at that moment with a child in her arms and her kerchief torn off her head. She ran down the steps into the yard. Ferapontov was going after her, but seeing Alpatitch, he pulled down his waistcoat, smoothed his hair, yawned and followed Alpatitch into the room.
“Do you want to be getting off already?” he asked. Without answering the question or looking round at him, Alpatitch collected his purchases and asked how much he owed him.
“We'll reckon up! Been at the governor's, eh?” asked Ferapontov. “What did you hear?”
Alpatitch replied that the governor had told him nothing definite.
“How are we to pack up and go with our business?” said Ferapontov. “Seven roubles to pay for cartage to Dorogobuzh. What I say is: they have no conscience!” said he. “Selivanov, he did a good turn on Friday, sold flour to the army for nine roubles the sack. What do you say to some tea?” he added. While the horses were being harnessed, Alpatitch and Ferapontov drank tea and discussed the price of corn, the crops, and the favourable weather for the harvest.
“It's getting quieter though,” said Ferapontov, getting up after drinking three cups of tea. “I suppose, our side has got the best of it. It's been said they won't let them in. So we're in force it seems.…The other day they were saying Matvey Ivanitch Platov drove them into the river Marina: eighteen thousand of them he drowned in one day.”
Alpatitch gathered up his purchases, handed them to the coachman, and settled his accounts with Ferapontov. There was the sound of wheels and hoofs and the ringing of bells as the gig drove out of the gates.
It was by now long past midday, half the street lay in shadow, while half was in brilliant sunshine. Alpatitch glanced out of the window and went to the door. All of a sudden there came a strange sound of a faraway hiss and thump, followed by the boom of cannons, mingling into a dim roar that set the windows rattling.
Alpatitch went out into the street; two men were running along the street towards the bridge. From different sides came the hiss and thud of cannon balls and the bursting of grenades, as they fell in the town. But these sounds were almost unheard, and the inhabitants scarcely noticed them, in comparison with the boom of the cannons they heard beyond the town. It was the bombardment, which Napoleon had ordered to be opened upon the town at four o'clock from one hundred and thirty cannons. The people did not at first grasp the meaning of this bombardment.
The sounds of the dropping grenades and cannon balls at first only excited the curiosity of the people. Ferapontov's wife, who had till then been wailing in the shed, ceased, and with the baby in her arms went out to the gate, staring in silence at the people, and listening to the sounds.
The cook and shopman came out to the gate. All of them were trying with eager curiosity to get a glimpse of the projectiles as they flew over their heads. Several persons came round the corner in eager conversation.
“What force!” one was saying; “roof and ceiling were smashed up to splinters.”
“Like a pig routing into the earth, it went!” said another.
“Isn't it first-rate? Wakes one up!” he said laughing.
“It's as well you skipped away or it would have flattened you out.”
Others joined this group. They stopped and described how a cannon ball had dropped on a house close to them. Meanwhile other projectiles—now a cannon ball, with rapid, ominous hiss, and now a grenade with a pleasant whistle—flew incessantly over the people's heads: but not one fell close, all of them flew over. Alpatitch got into his gig. Ferapontov was standing at the gate.
“Will you never have done gaping!” he shouted to the cook, who in her red petticoat, with her sleeves tucked up and her bare elbows swinging, had stepped to the corner to listen to what was being said.
“A wonder it is!” she was saying, but hearing her master's voice, she came back, pulling down her tucked-up skirt.
Again something hissed, but very close this time, like a bird swooping down; there was a flash of fire in the middle of the street, the sound of a shot, and the street was filled with smoke.
“Scoundrel, what are you about?” shouted Ferapontov, running up to the cook.
At the same instant there rose a piteous wailing from the women; the baby set up a terrified howling, and the people crowded with pale faces round the cook. Above them all rose out of the crowd the moans and cries of the cook.
“O-o-oy, good kind souls, blessed friends! don't let me die! Good kind souls!…”
Five minutes later no one was left in the street. The cook, with her leg broken by the bursting grenade, had been carried into the kitchen. Alpatitch, his coachman, Ferapontov's wife and children and the porter were sitting in the cellar listening. The thunder of the cannon, the hiss of the balls, and the piteous moaning of the cook, which rose above all the noise, never ceased for an instant. Ferapontov's wife alternately dandled and soothed her baby, and asked in a frightened whisper of every one who came into the cellar where was her husband, who had remained in the street. The shopman told her the master had gone with the crowd to the cathedral, where they were raising on high the wonder-working, holy picture of Smolensk.
Towards dusk the cannonade began to subside. Alpatitch came out of the cellar and stood in the doorway.
The clear evening sky was all overcast with smoke. And a new crescent moon looked strange, shining high up in the sky, through that smoke. After the terrible thunder of the cannons had ceased, a hush seemed to hang over the town, broken only by the footsteps, which seemed all over the town, the sound of groans and distant shouts, and the crackle of fires. The cook's moans had ceased now. On two sides black clouds of smoke from fires rose up and drifted away. Soldiers in different uniforms walked and ran about the streets in different directions, not in ranks, but like ants out of a disturbed ant heap. Several of them ran in Ferapontov's yard before Alpatitch's eyes. He went out to the gate. A regiment, crowded and hurrying, blocked up the street, going back.
“The town's surrendered; get away, get away,” said an officer noticing his figure; and turning immediately to the soldiers, he shouted, “I'll teach you to run through the yards!”
Alpatitch went back to the house, and calling the coachman told him to set off. Alpatitch and the coachman were followed out by all the household of Ferapontov. When they saw the smoke and even the flames of burning houses, which began to be visible now in the dusk, the women, who had been silent till then, broke into a sudden wail, as they gazed at the fires. As though seconding them, similar wails rose up in other parts of the street. Alpatitch and the coachman with trembling hands pulled out the tangled reins and the traces of the horses under the shed.
As Alpatitch was driving out of the gate, he saw about a dozen soldiers in loud conversation in Ferapontov's open shop. They were filling their bags and knapsacks with wheaten flour and sunflower seeds. At that moment Ferapontov returned and went into the shop. On seeing the soldiers, he was about to shout at them, but all at once he stopped short, and clutching at his hair broke into a sobbing laugh.
“Carry it all away, lads! Don't leave it for the devils,” he shouted, snatching up the sacks himself and pitching them into the street. Some of the soldiers ran away in a fright, others went on filling up their bags. Seeing Alpatitch, Ferapontov turned to him.
“It's all over with Russia!” he shouted. “Alpatitch! it's all over! I'll set fire to it myself. It's over…”Ferapontov ran into the house.
An unbroken stream of soldiers was blocking up the whole street, so that Alpatitch could not pass and was obliged to wait. Ferapontov's wife and children were sitting in a cart too, waiting till it was possible to start.
It was by now quite dark. There were stars in the sky, and from time to time the new moon shone through the veil of smoke. Alpatitch's and his hostess's vehicles moved slowly along in the rows of soldiers and of other conveyances, and on the slope down to the Dnieper they had to halt altogether. In a lane not far from the cross-roads where the traffic had come to a full stop, there were shops and a house on fire. The fire was by now burning down. The flame died down and was lost in black smoke, then flared up suddenly, lighting up with strange distinctness the faces of the crowd at the cross-roads. Black figures were flitting about before the fire, and talk and shouts could be heard above the unceasing crackling of the flames. Alpatitch, seeing that it would be some time before his gig could move forward, got out and went back to the lane to look at the fire. Soldiers were scurrying to and fro before the fire; and Alpatitch saw two soldiers with a man in a frieze coat dragging burning beams from the fire across the street to a house near, while others carried armfuls of hay.
Alpatitch joined a great crowd of people standing before a high corn granary in full blaze. The walls were all in flames; the back wall had fallen in; the plank roof was breaking down, and the beams were glowing. The crowd were evidently watching for the moment when the roof would fall in. Alpatitch too waited to see it.
“Alpatitch!” the old man suddenly heard a familiar voice calling to him.
“Mercy on us, your excellency,” answered Alpatitch, instantly recognising the voice of his young master.
Prince Andrey, wearing a cape, and mounted on a black horse, was in the crowd, and looking at Alpatitch.
“How did you come here?” he asked.
“Your…your excellency!” Alpatitch articulated, and he broke into sobs.…“Your, your…is it all over with us, really? Master…”
“How is it you are here?” repeated Prince Andrey. The flames flared up at that instant, and Alpatitch saw in the bright light his young master's pale and worn face. Alpatitch told him how he had been sent to the town and had difficulty in getting away.
“What do you say, your excellency, is it all over with us?” he asked again.
Prince Andrey, making no reply, took out his note-book, and raising his knee, scribbled in pencil on a leaf he had torn out. He wrote to his sister:
“Smolensk has surrendered,” he wrote. “Bleak Hills will be occupied by the enemy within a week. Set off at once for Moscow. Let me know at once when you start; send a messenger to Usvyazh.”
Scribbling these words, and giving Alpatitch the paper, he gave him further directions about sending off the old prince, the princess and his son with his tutor, and how and where to let him hear, as soon as they had gone. Before he had finished giving those instructions, a staff officer, followed by his suite, galloped up to him.
“You a colonel,” shouted the staff officer, in a voice Prince Andrey knew speaking with a German accent. “Houses are being set on fire in your presence and you stand still! What's the meaning of it? You will answer for it,” shouted Berg, who was now assistant to the head of the staff of the assistant of the chief officer of the staff of the commander of the left flank of the infantry of the first army, a very agreeable and prominent position, so Berg said.
Prince Andrey stared at him, and without making any reply went on addressing Alpatitch.
“Tell them then that I shall wait for an answer till the 10th, and if I don't receive news by the 10th, that they have all gone away, I shall be obliged to throw up everything and go myself to Bleak Hills.”
“Prince,” said Berg, recognising Prince Andrey, “I only speak because it's my duty to carry out my instructions, because I always do exactly carry out…You must please excuse me,” Berg tried to apologise.
There was a crash in the fire. The flames subsided for an instant; black clouds of smoke rolled under the roof. There was another fearful crash, and the falling of some enormous weight.
“Ooo-roo!” the crowd yelled, as the ceiling of the granary fell in, and a smell of baked cakes rose from the burning wheat. The flames flared up again, and lighted up the delighted and careworn faces of the crowd around it.
The man in the frieze coat, brandishing his arms in the air, was shouting:
“First-rate! Now she's started! First-rate, lads!…” “That's the owner himself,” murmured voices.
“So you tell them everything I have told you,” said Prince Andrey, addressing Alpatitch. And without bestowing a word on Berg, who stood mute beside him, he put spurs to his horse and rode down the lane.