War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy Book II: Chapters 9–21

CHAPTER XII

At the levee Prince Andrew stood among the Austrian officers as he had been told to, and the Emperor Francis merely looked fixedly into his face and just nodded to him with to him with his long head. But after it was over, the adjutant he had seen the previous day ceremoniously informed Bolkonski that the Emperor desired to give him an audience. The Emperor Francis received him standing in the middle of the room. Before the conversation began Prince Andrew was struck by the fact that the Emperor seemed confused and blushed as if not knowing what to say.

"Tell me, when did the battle begin?" he asked hurriedly.

Prince Andrew replied. Then followed other questions just as simple:"Was Kutuzov well? When had he left Krems?" and so on. The Emperor spoke as if his sole aim were to put a given number of questions- the answers to these questions, as was only too evident, did not interest him.

"At what o'clock did the battle begin?" asked the Emperor.

"I cannot inform Your Majesty at what o'clock the battle began at the front, but at Durrenstein, where I was, our attack began after five in the afternoon," replied Bolkonski growing more animated and expecting that he would have a chance to give a reliable account, which he had ready in his mind, of all he knew and had seen. But the Emperor smiled and interrupted him.

"How many miles?"

"From where to where, Your Majesty?"

"From Durrenstein to Krems."

"Three and a half miles, Your Majesty."

"The French have abandoned the left bank?"

"According to the scouts the last of them crossed on rafts during the night."

"Is there sufficient forage in Krems?"

"Forage has not been supplied to the extent . . ."

The Emperor interrupted him.

"At what o'clock was General Schmidt killed?"

"At seven o'clock, I believe."

"At seven o'clock? It's very sad, very sad!"

The Emperor thanked Prince Andrew and bowed. Prince Andrew withdrew and was immediately surrounded by courtiers on all sides. Everywhere he saw friendly looks and heard friendly words. Yesterday's adjutant reproached him for not having stayed at the palace, and offered him his own house. The Minister of War came up and congratulated him on the Maria Theresa Order of the third grade, which the Emperor was conferring on him. The Empress' chamberlain invited him to see Her Majesty. The archduchess also wished to see him. He did not know whom to answer, and for a few seconds collected his thoughts. Then the Russian ambassador took him by the shoulder, led him to the window, and began to talk to him.

Contrary to Bilibin's forecast the news he had brought was joyfully received. A thanksgiving service was arranged, Kutuzov was awarded the Grand Cross of Maria Theresa, and the whole army received rewards. Bolkonski was invited everywhere, and had to spend the whole morning calling on the principal Austrian dignitaries. Between four and five in the afternoon, having made all his calls, he was returning to Bilibin's house thinking out a letter to his father about the battle and his visit to Brunn. At the door he found a vehicle half full of luggage. Franz, Bilibin's man, was dragging a portmanteau with some difficulty out of the front door.

Before returning to Bilibin's Prince Andrew had gone to bookshop to provide himself with some books for the campaign, and had spent some time in the shop.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Oh, your excellency!" said Franz, with difficulty rolling the portmanteau into the vehicle,"we are to move on still farther. The scoundrel is again at our heels!"

"Eh? What?" asked Prince Andrew.

Bilibin came out to meet him. His usually calm face showed excitement.

"There now! Confess that this is delightful," said he."This affair of the Thabor Bridge, at Vienna . . . . They have crossed without striking a blow!"

Prince Andrew could not understand.

"But where do you come from not to know what every coachman in the town knows?"

"I come from the archduchess'. I heard nothing there."

"And you didn't see that everybody is packing up?"

"I did not . . . What is it all about?" inquired Prince Andrew impatiently.

"What's it all about? Why, the French have crossed the bridge that Auersperg was defending, and the bridge was not blown up: so Murat is now rushing along the road to Brunn and will be here in a day or two."

"What? Here? But why did they not blow up the bridge, if it was mined?"

"That is what I ask you. No one, not even Bonaparte, knows why."

Bolkonski shrugged his shoulders.

"But if the bridge is crossed it means that the army too is lost? It will be cut off," said he.

"That's just it," answered Bilibin."Listen! The French entered Vienna as I told you. Very well. Next day, which was yesterday, those gentlemen, messieurs les marechaux,* Murat, Lannes,and Belliard, mount and ride to bridge. (Observe that all three are Gascons.) 'Gentlemen,' says one of them, 'you know the Thabor Bridge is mined and doubly mined and that there are menacing fortifications at its head and an army of fifteen thousand men has been ordered to blow up the bridge and not let us cross? But it will please our sovereign the Emperor Napoleon if we take this bridge, so let us three go and take it!' 'Yes, let's!' say the others. And off they go and take the bridge, cross it, and now with their whole army are on this side of the Danube, marching on us, you, and your lines of communication."

*The marshalls.

"Stop jesting," said Prince Andrew sadly and seriously. This news grieved him and yet he was pleased.

As soon as he learned that the Russian army was in such a hopeless situation it occurred to him that it was he who was destined to lead it out of this position; that here was the Toulon that would lift him from the ranks of obscure officers and offer him the first step to fame! Listening to Bilibin he was already imagining how on reaching the army he would give an opinion at the war council which would be the only one that could save the army, and how he alone would be entrusted with the executing of the plan.

"Stop this jesting," he said

"I am not jesting," Bilibin went on."Nothing is truer or sadder. These gentlemen ride onto the bridge alone and wave white handkerchiefs; they assure the officer on duty that they, the marshals, are on their way to negotiate with Prince Auersperg. He lets them enter the tete-de-pont.* They spin him a thousand gasconades, saying that the war is over, that the Emperor Francis is arranging a meeting with Bonaparte, that they desire to see Prince Auersperg, and so on. The officer sends for Auersperg; these gentlemen embrace the officers, crack jokes, sit on the cannon, and meanwhile a French battalion gets to the bridge unobserved, flings the bags of incendiary material into the water, and approaches the tete-de-pont. At length appears the lieutenant general, our dear Prince Auersperg von Mautern himself. 'Dearest foe! Flower of the Austrian army, hero of the Turkish wars Hostilities are ended, we can shake one another's hand . . . . The Emperor Napoleon burns with impatience to make Prince Auersperg's acquaintance.' In a word, those gentlemen, Gascons indeed, so bewildered him with fine words, and he is so flattered by his rapidly established intimacy with the French marshals, and so dazzled by the sight of Murat's mantle and ostrich plumes, qu'il n'y voit que du feu, et oublie celui qu'il devait faire faire sur l'ennemi!"*[2] In spite of the animation of his speech, Bilibin did not forget to pause after this mot to give time for its due appreciation."The French battalion rushes to the bridgehead, spikes the guns, and the bridge is taken! But what is best of all," he went on, his excitement subsiding under the delightful interest of his own story,"is that the sergeant in charge of the cannon which was to give the signal to fire the mines and blow up the bridge, this sergeant, seeing that the French troops were running onto the bridge, was about to fire, but Lannes stayed his hand. The sergeant, who was evidently wiser than his general, goes up to Auersperg and says: 'Prince, you are being deceived, here are the French!' Murat, seeing that all is lost if the sergeant is allowed to speak, turns to Auersperg with feigned astonishment (he is a true Gascon) and says: 'I don't recognize the world-famous Austrian discipline, if you allow a subordinate to address you like that!' It was a stroke of genius. Prince Auersperg feels his dignity at stake and orders the sergeant to be arrested. Come, you must own that this affair of the Thabor Bridge is delightful! It is not exactly stupidity, nor rascality . . . ."

*Bridgehead.

*[2] That their fire gets into his eyes and he forgets that he ought to be firing at the enemy.

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