"And what do you think of this latest comedy, the coronation at Milan?" asked Anna Pavlovna,"and of the comedy of the people of Genoa and Lucca laying their petitions before Monsieur Buonaparte, and Monsieur Buonaparte sitting on a throne and granting the petitions of the nations? Adorable! It is enough to make one's head whirl! It is as if the whole world had gone crazy."
Prince Andrew looked Anna Pavlovna straight in the face with a sarcastic smile.
"'Dieu me la donne, gare a qui la touche!'* They say he was very fine when he said that," he remarked, repeating the words in Italian:"'Dio mi l'ha dato. Guai a chi la tocchi!'"
*God has given it to me, let him who touches it beware!
"I hope this will prove the last drop that will make the glass run over," Anna Pavlovna continued."The sovereigns will not be able to endure this man who is a menace to everything."
"The sovereigns? I do not speak of Russia," said the vicomte, polite but hopeless:"The sovereigns, madame . . . What have they done for Louis XVII, for the Queen, or for Madame Elizabeth? Nothing!" and he became more animated."And believe me, they are reaping the reward of their betrayal of the Bourbon cause. The sovereigns! Why, they are sending ambassadors to compliment the usurper."
And sighing disdainfully, he again changed his position.
Prince Hippolyte, who had been gazing at the vicomte for some time through his lorgnette, suddenly turned completely round toward the little princess, and having asked for a needle began tracing the Conde coat of arms on the table. He explained this to her with as much gravity as if she had asked him to do it.
"Baton de gueules, engrele de gueules d' azur — maison Conde," said he.
The princess listened, smiling.
"If Buonaparte remains on the throne of France a year longer," the vicomte continued, with the air of a man who, in a matter with which he is better acquainted than anyone else, does not listen to others but follows the current of his own thoughts,"things will have gone too far. By intrigues, violence, exile, and executions, French society — I mean good French society — will have been forever destroyed, and then . . ."
He shrugged his shoulders and spread out his hands. Pierre wished to make a remark, for the conversation interested him, but Anna Pavlovna, who had him under observation, interrupted:
"The Emperor Alexander," said she, with the melancholy which always accompanied any reference of hers to the Imperial family,"has declared that he will leave it to the French people themselves to choose their own form of government; and I believe that once free from the usurper, the whole nation will certainly throw itself into the arms of its rightful king," she concluded, trying to be amiable to the royalist emigrant.
"That is doubtful," said Prince Andrew."Monsieur le Vicomte quite rightly supposes that matters have already gone too far. I think it will be difficult to return to the old regime."
"From what I have heard," said Pierre, blushing and breaking into the conversation,"almost all the aristocracy has already gone over to Bonaparte's side."
"It is the Buonapartists who say that," replied the vicomte without looking at Pierre."At the present time it is difficult to know the real state of French public opinion."
"Bonaparte has said so," remarked Prince Andrew with a sarcastic smile.
It was evident that he did not like the vicomte and was aiming his remarks at him, though without looking at him.
"'I showed them the path to glory, but they did not follow it,'" Prince Andrew continued after a short silence, again quoting Napoleon's words."'I opened my antechambers and they crowded in.' I do not know how far he was justified in saying so."
"Not in the least," replied the vicomte."After the murder of the duc even the most partial ceased to regard him as a hero. If to some people," he went on, turning to Anna Pavlovna,"he ever was a hero, after the murder of the duc there was one martyr more in heaven and one hero less on earth."
Before Anna Pavlovna and the others had time to smile their appreciation of the vicomte's epigram, Pierre again broke into the conversation, and though Anna Pavlovna felt sure he would say something inappropriate, she was unable to stop him.
"The execution of the Duc d'Enghien," declared Monsieur Pierre,"was a political necessity, and it seems to me that Napoleon showed greatness of soul by not fearing to take on himself the whole responsibility of that deed."
"Dieu! Mon Dieu!" muttered Anna Pavlovna in a terrified whisper.
"What, Monsieur Pierre . . . Do you consider that assassination shows greatness of soul?" said the little princess, smiling and drawing her work nearer to her.
"Oh! Oh!" exclaimed several voices.
"Capital!" said Prince Hippolyte in English, and began slapping his knee with the palm of his hand.
The vicomte merely shrugged his shoulders. Pierre looked solemnly at his audience over his spectacles and continued.
"I say so," he continued desperately,"because the Bourbons fled from the Revolution leaving the people to anarchy, and Napoleon alone understood the Revolution and quelled it, and so for the general good, he could not stop short for the sake of one man's life."
"Won't you come over to the other table?" suggested Anna Pavlovna.
But Pierre continued his speech without heeding her.
"No," cried he, becoming more and more eager,"Napoleon is great because he rose superior to the Revolution, suppressed its abuses, preserved all that was good in it — equality of citizenship and freedom of speech and of the press — and only for that reason did he obtain power."
"Yes, if having obtained power, without availing himself of it to commit murder he had restored it to the rightful king, I should have called him a great man," remarked the vicomte.
"He could not do that. The people only gave him power that he might rid them of the Bourbons and because they saw that he was a great man. The Revolution was a grand thing!" continued Monsieur Pierre, betraying by this desperate and provocative proposition his extreme youth and his wish to express all that was in his mind.
"What? Revolution and regicide a grand thing? . . . Well, after that . . . But won't you come to this other table?" repeated Anna Pavlovna.
"Rousseau's Contrat social," said the vicomte with a tolerant smile.
"I am not speaking of regicide, I am speaking about ideas."
"Yes: ideas of robbery, murder, and regicide," again interjected an ironical voice.
"Those were extremes, no doubt, but they are not what is most important. What is important are the rights of man, emancipation from prejudices, and equality of citizenship, and all these ideas Napoleon has retained in full force."
"Liberty and equality," said the vicomte contemptuously, as if at last deciding seriously to prove to this youth how foolish his words were,"high-sounding words which have long been discredited. Who does not love liberty and equality? Even our Saviour preached liberty and equality. Have people since the Revolution become happier? On the contrary. We wanted liberty, but Buonaparte has destroyed it."