War And Peace



ANNA PAVLOVNA'S PRESENTIMENT was in fact fulfilled. Next day, during the special service at court in honour of the Tsar's birthday, Prince Volkonsky was called out of church and received a despatch from Prince Kutuzov. This was the despatch Kutuzov had sent off on the day of the battle from Tatarinovo. Kutuzov wrote that the Russians had not retreated a single step, that the French had lost far more than our troops, that he was writing off in haste from the field of battle before he had time to collect the latest intelligence. So it had been a victory, it appeared. And at once, without leaving church, the assembled court offered up thanks to the Creator for His succour, and for the victory.

Anna Pavlovna's presentiment had been fulfilled, and the whole morning a mood of joyous festivity prevailed in the town. Every one accepted the victory as a conclusive one, and some people were already beginning to talk of Napoleon's having been taken prisoner, of his disposition, and the selection of a new sovereign for France

At a distance from the scene of action and amid the conditions of court life, it is very difficult for events to be reflected in their true force and dimensions. Public events are involuntarily grouped about some private incident. So in this case, the courtiers' rejoicing was as much due to the fact of the news of this victory having arrived precisely on the Tsar's birthday as to the fact of the victory itself. It was like a successfully arranged surprise. Kutuzov's despatches had spoken, too, of the Russian losses, and among them had mentioned the names of Tutchkov, Bagration, and Kutaissov. The melancholy side, too, of the event was unconsciously in this Petersburg world concentrated about a single incident—the death of Kutaissov. Every one knew him, the Tsar liked him, he was young and interesting. All met that day with the words:

“How wonderful it should have happened so! Just in the Te Deum. But what a loss—Kutaissov! Ah, what a pity!”

“What did I tell you about Kutuzov?” Prince Vassily said now with the pride of a prophet. “I always said he was the only man capable of conquering Napoleon.”

But next day no news came from the army, and the public voice began to waver. The courtiers suffered agonies over the agonies of suspense which the Tsar was suffering.

“Think of the Emperor's position!” the courtiers said; and they no longer sang the praises of Kutuzov as two days before, but upbraided him as the cause of the Tsar's uneasiness that day. Prince Vassily no longer boasted of his protégé Kutuzov, but was mute when the commander-in-chief was the subject of conversation. Moreover, on the evening of that day everything seemed to conspire to throw the Peters-burg world into agitation and uneasiness: a terrible piece of news came to add to their alarms. Countess Elena Bezuhov died quite suddenly of the terrible illness which had been so amusing to talk about. At larger gatherings every one repeated the official story that Countess Bezuhov had died of a terrible attack of angina pectoris, but in intimate circles people told in detail how the Queen of Spain's own medical attendant had prescribed to Ellen small doses of a certain drug to bring about certain desired results; but that Ellen, tortured by the old count's suspecting her, and by her husband's not having answered her letter (that unfortunate, dissipated Pierre), had suddenly taken an enormous dose of the drug prescribed, and had died in agonies before assistance could be given. The story ran that Prince Vassily and the old count had been going to take proceedings against the Italian; but the latter had produced notes in his possession from the unhappy deceased of such a character that they had promptly let him go.

Conversation centred round three melancholy facts—the Tsar's state of suspense, the loss of Kutaissov, and the death of Ellen.

On the third day after Kutuzov's despatch, a country gentleman arrived in Petersburg from Moscow, and the news of the surrender of Moscow to the French was all over the town. This was awful! Think of the position of the Emperor! Kutuzov was a traitor, and during the “visits of condolence” paid to Prince Vassily on the occasion of his daughter's death, when he spoke of Kutuzov, whose praises he had once sung so loudly—it was pardonable in his grief to forget what he had said before—he said that nothing else was to be expected from a blind and dissolute old man.

“I only wonder how such a man could possibly be trusted with the fate of Russia.”

So long as the news was not official, it was still possible to doubt its truth; but next day the following communication arrived from Count Rastoptchin:

“Prince Kutuzov's adjutant has brought me a letter in which he asks me to furnish police-officers to escort the army to the Ryazan road. He says that he is regretfully abandoning Moscow. Sire! Kutuzov's action decides the fate of that capital and of your empire. Russia will shudder to learn of the abandonment of the city, where the greatness of Russia is centred, where are the ashes of our forefathers. I am following the army. I have had everything carried away; all that is left me is to weep over the fate of my country.”

On receiving this communication, the Tsar sent Prince Volkonsky with the following rescript to Kutuzov:

“Prince Mihail Ilarionovitch! I have received no communication from you since the 29th of August. Meanwhile I have received, by way of Yaroslavl, from the governor of Moscow the melancholy intelligence that you have decided with the army to abandon Moscow. You can imagine the effect this news has had upon me, and your silence redoubles my astonishment. I am sending herewith Staff-General Prince Volkonsky, to ascertain from you the position of the army and of the causes that have led you to so melancholy a decision.”




Back Home