War And Peace

CHAPTER XVII

Chinese

AFTER THE TSAR had left Moscow, the life of that city flowed on in its old accustomed channel, and the current of that life ran so much as usual that it was difficult to remember the days of patriotic fervour and enthusiasm, and hard to believe that Russia actually was in danger, and that the members of the English club were also her devoted sons, ready to make any sacrifice for her sake. The one thing that recalled the general patriotic fervour of the days of the Tsar's presence in Moscow was the call for contributions of men and money, and these demands were presented at once in a legal, official form, so that they seemed inevitable. As the enemy drew nearer to Moscow the attitude taken by its inhabitants in regard to their position did not become more serious, but, on the contrary, more frivolous, as is always the case with people who see a great danger approaching. At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal force in the heart of man: one very reasonably tells the man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of avoiding it; the other even more reasonably says that it is too painful and harassing to think of the danger, since it is not in a man's power to provide for everything and escape from the general march of events; and that it is therefore better to turn aside from the painful subject till it has come, and to think of what is pleasant. In solitude a man generally yields to the first voice; in society to the second. So it was now with the inhabitants of Moscow. It was long since there had been so much gaiety in Moscow as that year.

Rastoptchin's posters, with a print at the top of a gin-shop, a potman, and the Moscow artisan, Karpushka Tchigirin, “who, having gone into the militia, heard that Bonaparte meant to come to Moscow, was mightily wroth thereat, used very bad language about all the French, came out of the gin-shop and began to address the people assembled under the eagles,” were as much read and discussed as the last bouts rimés of Vassily Lvovitch Pushkin.

In the corner room of the club the members gathered together to read these posters; and some liked the way Karpushka was made to jeer at the French, saying that “they would be blown out with Russian cabbage, that Russian porridge would rip their guts open, and cabbage soup would finish them off; that they were all dwarfs, and a village lass could toss three of them on her pitchfork single-handed!”

Some people did not approve of this tone, and said it was vulgar and stupid. People said that Rastoptchin had sent all Frenchmen, and even foreigners, out of Moscow, and that there had been spies and agents of Napoleon among them. But they talked of this principally in order to repeat the witticisms uttered by Rastoptchin on the occasion. The foreigners had been put on a barque sailing to Nizhny, and Rastoptchin had said to them: “Keep yourselves to yourselves, get into the barque, and take care it does not become the barque of Charon to you.” People talked too of all the government offices having been removed from Moscow, and added Shinshin's joke, that for that alone Moscow ought to be grateful to Napoleon. People said that Mamonov's regiment was costing him eight hundred thousand; that Bezuhov was spending even more on his; but that the noblest proof of Bezuhov's patriotism was that he was going to put on the uniform himself and ride at the head of his regiment, without any charge for seats to spectators.

“You have no mercy on any one,” said Julie Drubetskoy, gathering up a pinch of scraped lint in her slender fingers covered with rings.

Julie was intending to leave Moscow next day, and was giving a farewell soirée.

Bezuhov est ridicule, but he is so good-natured, so nice; how can you take pleasure in being so caustique?”

“Forfeit!” said a young man in a volunteer's uniform, whom Julie called “mon chevalier,” and was taking with her to Nizhny.

In Julie's circle, as in many circles in Moscow, it was a principle now to speak nothing but Russian, and those who made a mistake by speaking French had to pay a forfeit for the benefit of the committee of voluntary subscriptions.

“Another forfeit for a Gallicism,” said a Russian writer who happened to be present. “ ‘Take pleasure!' is not Russian.”

“You have no mercy on any one,” Julie went on to the volunteer, paying no attention to the remark of the author.

Caustique, I admit,” she said, “and I'll pay for the pleasure of telling you the truth. I am ready to pay even more; but I am not responsible for Gallicisms,” she said to the writer. “I have neither the time nor the money to engage a teacher and learn Russian like Prince Galitzin. Ah, here he is!” added Julie. “Quand on … No, no,” she protested to the volunteer, “you're not going to catch me. When one speaks of the sun, one sees its rays. We were just talking of you,” she said, smiling affably to Pierre, and adding, with the easy lying characteristic of society women, “We were saying your regiment was certain to be a finer one than Mamonov's.”

“Oh, don't talk to me about my regiment,” answered Pierre, kissing his hostess's hand, and sitting down beside her. “I am so heartily sick of it!”

“You will take the command of it yourself, of course?” said Julie with a sly and sarcastic look towards the volunteer.

The latter was by no means so ready to be caustic in Pierre's presence, and his countenance betokened perplexity as to what Julie's smile could signify. In spite of his absent-mindedness and good nature, Pierre's presence never failed to cut short any attempt at ridicule at his expense.

“No,” answered Pierre, laughing and looking at his huge, bulky figure; “I should make too good a target for the French, and indeed I'm afraid I could hardly scramble on to a horse's back.”

Among the people picked out as subjects for gossip, Julie's friends happened to pitch on the Rostovs. “Their pecuniary position is very serious, I am told,” said Julie. “And the count is so unreasonable. The Razumovskys wanted to buy his house and his estate in the environs, and the matter is still dragging on. He will ask too much.”

“No, I fancy purchase will be concluded in a few days,” said some one. “Though it's madness to buy anything in Moscow just now.”

“Why so?” said Julie. “Surely you don't suppose that Moscow is in any danger.”

“Why are you leaving it then?”

“I? That's a strange question. I am going because … well, because everybody's going, and I am not a Jeanne d'Arc nor an Amazon.”

“Oh, oh! Give me another strip of linen to scrape.”

“He ought to be able to pay off all his debts, if he sets about it properly,” the volunteer observed of Count Rostov.

“He's a good-hearted old fellow, but very foolish.”

“And why are they staying on here so long? They were meaning to leave for the country long ago. Natalie is quite well again now, I suppose?” Julie asked Pierre, with a sly smile.

“They are waiting for their younger son,” said Pierre. “He went into Obolensky's Cossacks, and was sent off to Byela Tserkov. The regiment is being formed there. But now they have transferred him to my regiment, and he is expected every day. The count wanted to get away long ago, but nothing would induce the countess to leave Moscow till her son's return.”

“I saw them the day before yesterday at the Arharovs'. Natalie has quite recovered her looks and her spirits. She sang a song. How easily some people get over everything!”

“Get over what?” Pierre asked, looking displeased.

Julie smiled.

“O count, you know, such chivalrous knights as you are only to be found in Madame Suza's novels.”

“Knights! What do you mean?” Pierre asked blushing.

“Come now, my dear count. C'est la fable de tout Moscou. Je vous admire, ma parole d'honneur.”

“Forfeit! forfeit!” said the volunteer.

“Oh, very well. One cannot talk, what a bore it is!”

“What is the talk of all Moscow?” said Pierre angrily, rising to his feet.

“Nonsense, count, you know!”

“I know nothing about it,” said Pierre.

“I know what great friends you have always been with Natalie, and so … But, I was always more friendly with Vera. That darling Vera.”

“No, madam,” Pierre persisted in a tone of annoyance. “I have by no means taken upon myself the rôle of Countess Rostov's knight; indeed, it's almost a month since I have been near them. But I cannot understand the cruelty …”

Qui s'excuse s'accuse,” cried Julie, smiling, and waving the lint triumphantly, and that she might have the last word, she promptly changed the subject. “By the way, I have heard poor Marie Bolkonsky arrived in Moscow yesterday. Have you heard she has lost her father?”

“Really? Where is she? I should like to see her,” said Pierre.

“I spent the evening with her yesterday. She is going on to-day or to-morrow morning to their estate in the province with her nephew.”

“Well, how is she? Tell me,” said Pierre.

“Oh, she is well, but very sad. But do you know who rescued her? It is quite a romance. Nikolay Rostov. She was surrounded; they tried to kill her and wounded her servants. He rushed in and saved her.…”

“Another romance,” said the volunteer. “This general flight is evidently intended to marry off all the old maids. Katish is one, Princess Bolkonsky another.”

“You know, I really do believe she's un petit peu amoureuse du jeune bomme.”

“Forfeit! forfeit! forfeit!”

“But how is one to say that in Russian?”

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