"Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes. But I warn you, if you don't tell me that this means war, if you still
try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that Antichrist- I really believe he is Antichrist- I will have nothing
more to do with you and you are no longer my friend, no longer my 'faithful slave,' as you call yourself! But how do you do?
I see I have frightened you- sit down and tell me all the news."
It was in July, 1805, and the speaker was the well-known Anna Pavlovna Scherer, maid of honor and favorite of the Empress
Marya Fedorovna. With these words she greeted Prince Vasili Kuragin, a man of high rank and importance, who was the first
to arrive at her reception. Anna Pavlovna had had a cough for some days. She was, as she said, suffering from la grippe; grippe
being then a new word in St. Petersburg, used only
by the elite.
All her invitations without exception, written in French, and delivered by a scarlet-liveried footman that morning,
ran as follows:
"If you have nothing better to do, Count [or Prince], and if the prospect of spending an evening with a poor invalid
is not too terrible, I shall be very charmed to see you tonight between 7 and 10- Annette Scherer."
"Heavens! what a virulent attack!" replied the prince, not in the least disconcerted by this reception. He had just
entered, wearing an embroidered court uniform, knee breeches, and shoes, and had stars on his breast and a serene expression
on his flat face. He spoke in that refined French in which our grandfathers not only spoke but thought, and with the gentle,
patronizing intonation natural to a man of importance who had grown old in society and at court. He went up to Anna Pavlovna,
kissed her hand, presenting to her his bald, scented, and shining head, and complacently seated himself on the sofa.
"First of all, dear friend, tell me how you are. Set your friend's mind at rest," said he without altering his tone,
beneath the politeness and affected sympathy of which indifference and even irony could be discerned.
"Can one be well while suffering morally? Can one be calm in times like these if one has any feeling?" said Anna Pavlovna.
"You are staying the whole evening, I hope?"
"And the fete at the English ambassador's? Today is Wednesday. I must put in an appearance there," said the prince.
"My daughter is coming for me to take me there."
"I thought today's fete had been canceled. I confess all these festivities and fireworks are becoming wearisome."
"If they had known that you wished it, the entertainment would have been put off," said the prince, who, like a wound-up
clock, by force of habit said things he did not even wish to be believed.
"Don't tease! Well, and what has been decided about Novosiltsev's dispatch? You know everything."
"What can one say about it?" replied the prince in a cold, listless tone. "What has been decided? They have decided
that Buonaparte has burnt his boats, and I believe that we are ready to burn ours."
Prince Vasili always spoke languidly, like an actor repeating a stale part. Anna Pavlovna Scherer on the contrary,
despite her forty years, overflowed with animation and impulsiveness. To be an enthusiast had become her social vocation and,
sometimes even when she did not feel like it, she became enthusiastic in order not to disappoint the expectations of those
who knew her. The subdued smile which, though it did not suit her faded features, always played round her lips expressed,
as in a spoiled child, a continual consciousness of her charming defect, which she neither wished, nor could, nor considered
it necessary, to correct.
In the midst of a conversation on political matters Anna Pavlovna burst out:
"Oh, don't speak to me of Austria. Perhaps I don't understand things, but Austria never has wished, and does not wish, for war. She is betraying us! Russia alone must save Europe. Our gracious sovereign recognizes
his high vocation and will be true to it. That is the one thing I have faith in! Our good and wonderful sovereign has to perform
the noblest role on earth, and he is so virtuous and noble that God will not forsake him. He will fulfill his vocation and
crush the hydra of revolution, which has become more terrible than ever in the person of this murderer and villain! We alone
must avenge the blood of the just one.... Whom, I ask you, can we rely on?... England with her commercial spirit will not and cannot understand
the Emperor Alexander's loftiness of soul. She has refused to evacuate Malta. She wanted to find, and still seeks, some secret motive in our actions. What answer did Novosiltsev get? None. The
English have not understood and cannot understand the self-abnegation of our Emperor who wants nothing for himself, but only
desires the good of mankind. And what have they promised? Nothing! And what little they have promised they will not perform!
Prussia has always declared that Buonaparte
is invincible, and that all Europe is powerless before him....
And I don't believe a word that Hardenburg says, or Haugwitz either. This famous Prussian neutrality is just a trap. I have
faith only in God and the lofty destiny of our adored monarch. He will save Europe!"
She suddenly paused, smiling at her own impetuosity.
"I think," said the prince with a smile, "that if you had been sent instead of our dear Wintzingerode you would have
captured the King of Prussia's consent by assault. You are so eloquent. Will
you give me a cup of tea?"
"In a moment. A propos," she added, becoming calm again, "I am expecting two very interesting men tonight, le Vicomte
de Mortemart, who is connected with the Montmorencys through the Rohans, one of the best French families. He is one of the
genuine emigres, the good ones. And also the Abbe Morio. Do you know that profound thinker? He has been received by the Emperor.
Had you heard?"
"I shall be delighted to meet them," said the prince. "But tell me," he added with studied carelessness as if it had
only just occurred to him, though the question he was about to ask was the chief motive of his visit, "is it true that the
Dowager Empress wants Baron Funke to be appointed first secretary at Vienna? The baron by all accounts is a poor creature."
Prince Vasili wished to obtain this post for his son, but others were trying through the Dowager Empress Marya Fedorovna
to secure it for the baron.
Anna Pavlovna almost closed her eyes to indicate that neither she nor anyone else had a right to criticize what the
Empress desired or was pleased with.
"Baron Funke has been recommended to the Dowager Empress by her sister," was all she said, in a dry and mournful tone.
As she named the Empress, Anna Pavlovna's face suddenly assumed an expression of profound and sincere devotion and
respect mingled with sadness, and this occurred every time she mentioned her illustrious patroness. She added that Her Majesty
had deigned to show Baron Funke beaucoup d'estime, and again her face clouded over with sadness.
The prince was silent and looked indifferent. But, with the womanly and courtierlike quickness and tact habitual to
her, Anna Pavlovna wished both to rebuke him (for daring to speak he had done of a man recommended to the Empress) and at
the same time to console him, so she said:
"Now about your family. Do you know that since your daughter came out everyone has been enraptured by her? They say
she is amazingly beautiful."
The prince bowed to signify his respect and gratitude.
"I often think," she continued after a short pause, drawing nearer to the prince and smiling amiably at him as if to
show that political and social topics were ended and the time had come for intimate conversation- "I often think how unfairly
sometimes the joys of life are distributed. Why has fate given you two such splendid children? I don't speak of Anatole, your
youngest. I don't like him," she added in a tone admitting of no rejoinder and raising her eyebrows. "Two such charming children.
And really you appreciate them less than anyone, and so you don't deserve to have them."
And she smiled her ecstatic smile.
"I can't help it," said the prince. "Lavater would have said I lack the bump of paternity."
"Don't joke; I mean to have a serious talk with you. Do you know I am dissatisfied with your younger son? Between ourselves"
(and her face assumed its melancholy expression), "he was mentioned at Her Majesty's and you were pitied...."
The prince answered nothing, but she looked at him significantly, awaiting a reply. He frowned.
"What would you have me do?" he said at last. "You know I did all a father could for their education, and they have
both turned out fools. Hippolyte is at least a quiet fool, but Anatole is an active one. That is the only difference between
them." He said this smiling in a way more natural and animated than usual, so that the wrinkles round his mouth very clearly
revealed something unexpectedly coarse and unpleasant.
"And why are children born to such men as you? If you were not a father there would be nothing I could reproach you
with," said Anna Pavlovna, looking up pensively.
"I am your faithful slave and to you alone I can confess that my children are the bane of my life. It is the cross
I have to bear. That is how I explain it to myself. It can't be helped!"
He said no more, but expressed his resignation to cruel fate by a gesture. Anna Pavlovna meditated.
"Have you never thought of marrying your prodigal son Anatole?" she asked. "They say old maids have a mania for matchmaking,
and though I don't feel that weakness in myself as yet,I know a little person who is very unhappy with her father. She is
a relation of yours, Princess Mary Bolkonskaya."
Prince Vasili did not reply, though, with the quickness of memory and perception befitting a man of the world, he indicated
by a movement of the head that he was considering this information.
"Do you know," he said at last, evidently unable to check the sad current of his thoughts, "that Anatole is costing
me forty thousand rubles a year? And," he went on after a pause, "what will it be in five years, if he goes on like this?"
Presently he added: "That's what we fathers have to put up with.... Is this princess of yours rich?"
"Her father is very rich and stingy. He lives in the country. He is the well-known Prince Bolkonski who had to retire
from the army under the late Emperor, and was nicknamed 'the King of Prussia.' He is very clever but eccentric, and a bore. The poor girl is very unhappy. She has a brother; I think you know
him, he married Lise Meinen lately. He is an aide-de-camp of Kutuzov's and will be here tonight."
"Listen, dear Annette," said the prince, suddenly taking Anna Pavlovna's hand and for some reason drawing it downwards.
"Arrange that affair for me and I shall always be your most devoted slave- slafe wigh an f, as a village elder of mine writes
in his reports. She is rich and of good family and that's all I want."
And with the familiarity and easy grace peculiar to him, he raised the maid of honor's hand to his lips, kissed it,
and swung it to and fro as he lay back in his armchair, looking in another direction.
"Attendez," said Anna Pavlovna, reflecting, "I'll speak to Lise, young Bolkonski's wife, this very evening, and perhaps
the thing can be arranged. It shall be on your family's behalf that I'll start my apprenticeship as old maid."
All is quiet in Moscow. The squeak of wheels is seldom heard in the snow-covered street. There are no lights left in the windows and the
street lamps have been extinguished. Only the sound of bells, borne over the city from the church towers, suggests the approach
of morning. The streets are deserted. At rare intervals a night-cabman’s sledge kneads up the snow and sand in the street
as the driver makes his way to another corner where he falls asleep while waiting for a fare. An old woman passes by on her
way to church, where a few wax candles burn with a red light reflected on the gilt mountings of the icons. Workmen are already
getting up after the long winter night and going to their work—but for the gentlefolk it is still evening.
From a window in Chevalier’s Restaurant a light—illegal
at that hour—is still to be seen through a chink in the shutter. At the entrance a carriage, a sledge, and a cabman’s
sledge, stand close together with their backs to the curbstone. A three-horse sledge from the post-station is there also.
A yard-porter muffled up and pinched with cold is sheltering behind the corner of the house.
‘And what’s the good of all this jawing?’
thinks the footman who sits in the hall weary and haggard. ‘This always happens when I’m on duty.’ From
the adjoining room are heard the voices of three young men, sitting there at a table on which are wine and the remains of
supper. One, a rather plain, thin, neat little man, sits looking with tired kindly eyes at his friend, who is about to start
on a journey. Another, a tall man, lies on a sofa beside a table on which are empty bottles, and plays with his watch-key.
A third, wearing a short, fur-lined coat, is pacing up and down the room stopping now and then to crack an almond between
his strong, rather thick, but well-tended fingers. He keeps smiling at something and his face and eyes are all aglow. He speaks
warmly and gesticulates, but evidently does not find the words he wants and those that occur to him seem to him inadequate
to express what has risen to his heart.
‘Now I can speak out fully,’ said the traveller.
‘I don’t want to defend myself, but I should like you at least to understand me as I understand myself, and not
look at the matter superficially. You say I have treated her badly,’ he continued, addressing the man with the kindly
eyes who was watching him.
‘Yes, you are to blame,’ said the latter, and his
look seemed to express still more kindliness and weariness.
‘I know why you say that,’ rejoined the one who
was leaving. ‘To be loved is in your opinion as great a happiness as to love, and if a man obtains it, it is enough
for his whole life.’
‘Yes, quite enough, my dear fellow, more than enough!’
confirmed the plain little man, opening and shutting his eyes.
‘But why shouldn’t the man love too?’ said
the traveller thoughtfully, looking at his friend with something like pity. ‘Why shouldn’t one love? Because love
doesn’t come ... No, to be beloved is a misfortune. It is a misfortune to feel guilty because you do not give something
you cannot give. O my God!’ he added, with a gesture of his arm. ‘If it all happened reasonably, and not all topsy-turvy—not
in our way but in a way of its own! Why, it’s as if I had stolen that love! You think so too, don’t deny it. You
must think so. But will you believe it, of all the horrid and stupid things I have found time to do in my life—and there
are many—this is one I do not and cannot repent of. Neither at the beginning nor afterwards did I lie to myself or to
her. It seemed to me that I had at last fallen in love, but then I saw that it was an involuntary falsehood, and that that
was not the way to love, and I could not go on, but she did. Am I to blame that I couldn’t? What was I to do?’
‘Well, it’s ended now!’ said his friend,
lighting a cigar to master his sleepiness. ‘The fact is that you have not yet loved and do not know what love is.’
The man in the fur-lined coat was going to speak again, and
put his hands to his head, but could not express what he wanted to say.
‘Never loved! ... Yes, quite true, I never have! But
after all, I have within me a desire to love, and nothing could be stronger than that desire! But then, again, does such love
exist? There always remains something incomplete. Ah well! What’s the use of talking? I’ve made an awful mess
of life! But anyhow it’s all over now; you are quite right. And I feel that I am beginning a new life.’
‘Which you will again make a mess of,’ said the
man who lay on the sofa playing with his watch-key. But the traveller did not listen to him.
‘I am sad and yet glad to go,’ he continued. ‘Why
I am sad I don’t know.’
And the traveller went on talking about himself, without noticing
that this did not interest the others as much as it did him. A man is never such an egotist as at moments of spiritual ecstasy.
At such times it seems to him that there is nothing on earth more splendid and interesting than himself.
‘Dmitri Andreich! The coachman won’t wait any longer!’
said a young serf, entering the room in a sheepskin coat, with a scarf tied round his head. ‘The horses have been standing
since twelve, and it’s now !’
Dmitri Andreich looked at his serf, Vanyusha. The scarf round
Vanyusha’s head, his felt boots and sleepy face, seemed to be calling his master to a new life of labour, hardship,
‘True enough! Good-bye!’ said he, feeling for the
unfastened hook and eye on his coat.
In spite of advice to mollify the coachman by another tip,
he put on his cap and stood in the middle of the room. The friends kissed once, then again, and after a pause, a third time.
The man in the fur-lined coat approached the table and emptied a champagne glass, then took the plain little man’s hand
‘Ah well, I will speak out all the same ... I must and
will be frank with you because I am fond of you ... Of course you love her—I always thought so—don’t you?’
‘Yes,’ answered his friend, smiling still more
‘Please sir, I have orders to put out the candles,’
said the sleepy attendant, who had been listening to the last part of the conversation and wondering why gentlefolk always
talk about one and the same thing. ‘To whom shall I make out the bill? To you, sir?’ he added, knowing whom to
address and turning to the tall man.
‘To me,’ replied the tall man. ‘How much?’
The tall man considered for a moment, but said nothing and
put the bill in his pocket.
The other two continued their talk.
‘Good-bye, you are a capital fellow!’ said the
short plain man with the mild eyes. Tears filled the eyes of both. They stepped into the porch.
‘Oh, by the by,’ said the traveller, turning with
a blush to the tall man, ‘will you settle Chevalier’s bill and write and let me know?’
‘All right, all right!’ said the tall man, pulling
on his gloves. ‘How I envy you!’ he added quite unexpectedly when they were out in the porch.
The traveller got into his sledge, wrapped his coat about him,
and said: ‘Well then, come along!’ He even moved a little to make room in the sledge for the man who said he envied
him—his voice trembled.
‘Good-bye, Mitya! I hope that with God’s help you...’
said the tall one. But his wish was that the other would go away quickly, and so he could not finish the sentence.
They were silent a moment. Then someone again said, ‘Good-bye,’
and a voice cried, ‘Ready,’ and the coachman touched up the horses.
‘Hy, Elisar!’ One of the friends called out, and
the other coachman and the sledge-drivers began moving, clicking their tongues and pulling at the reins. Then the stiffened
carriage-wheels rolled squeaking over the frozen snow.
‘A fine fellow, that Olenin!’ said one of the friends.
‘But what an idea to go to the Caucasus—as
a cadet, too! I wouldn’t do it for anything. ... Are you dining at the club to-morrow?’