War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy Book VIII: Chapters 1–5


In 1811 there was living in Moscow a French doctor — Metivier — who had rapidly become the fashion. He was enormously tall, handsome, amiable as Frenchmen are, and was, as all Moscow said, an extraordinarily clever doctor. He was received in the best houses not merely as a doctor, but as an equal.

Prince Nicholas had always ridiculed medicine, but latterly on Mademoiselle Bourienne's advice had allowed this doctor to visit him and had grown accustomed to him. Metivier came to see the prince about twice a week.

On December 6 — St. Nicholas' Day and the prince's name day — all Moscow came to the prince's front door but he gave orders to admit no one and to invite to dinner only a small number, a list of whom he gave to Princess Mary.

Metivier, who came in the morning with his felicitations, considered it proper in his quality of doctor de forcer la consigne,* as he told Princess Mary, and went in to see the prince. It happened that on that morning of his name day the prince was in one of his worst moods. He had been going about the house all the morning finding fault with everyone and pretending not to understand what was said to him and not to be understood himself. Princess Mary well knew this mood of quiet absorbed querulousness, which generally culminated in a burst of rage, and she went about all that morning as though facing a cocked and loaded gun and awaited the inevitable explosion. Until the doctor's arrival the morning had passed off safely. After admitting the doctor, Princess Mary sat down with a book in the drawing room near the door through which she could hear all that passed in the study.

*To force the guard.

At first she heard only Metivier's voice, then her father's, then both voices began speaking at the same time, the door was flung open, and on the threshold appeared the handsome figure of the terrified Metivier with his shock of black hair, and the prince in his dressing gown and fez, his face distorted with fury and the pupils of his eyes rolled downwards.

"You don't understand?" shouted the prince,"but I do! French spy, slave of Buonaparte, spy, get out of my house! Be off, I tell you . . ."

Metivier, shrugging his shoulders, went up to Mademoiselle Bourienne who at the sound of shouting had run in from an adjoining room.

"The prince is not very well: bile and rush of blood to the head. Keep calm, I will call again tomorrow," said Metivier; and putting his fingers to his lips he hastened away.

Through the study door came the sound of slippered feet and the cry:"Spies, traitors, traitors everywhere! Not a moment's peace in my own house!"

After Metivier's departure the old prince called his daughter in, and the whole weight of his wrath fell on her. She was to blame that a spy had been admitted. Had he not told her, yes, told her to make a list, and not to admit anyone who was not on that list? Then why was that scoundrel admitted? She was the cause of it all. With her, he said, he could not have a moment's peace and could not die quietly.

"No, ma'am! We must part, we must part! Understand that, understand it! I cannot endure any more," he said, and left the room. Then, as if afraid she might find some means of consolation, he returned and trying to appear calm added:"And don't imagine I have said this in a moment of anger. I am calm. I have thought it over, and it will be carried out — we must part; so find some place for yourself . . . ." But he could not restrain himself and with the virulence of which only one who loves is capable, evidently suffering himself, he shook his fists at her and screamed:

"If only some fool would marry her!" Then he slammed the door, sent for Mademoiselle Bourienne, and subsided into his study.

At two o'clock the six chosen guests assembled for dinner.

These guests — the famous Count Rostopchin, Prince Lopukhin with his nephew, General Chatrov an old war comrade of the prince's, and of the younger generation Pierre and Boris Drubetskoy — awaited the prince in the drawing room.

Boris, who had come to Moscow on leave a few days before, had been anxious to be presented to Prince Nicholas Bolkonski, and had contrived to ingratiate himself so well that the old prince in his case made an exception to the rule of not receiving bachelors in his house.

The prince's house did not belong to what is known as fashionable society, but his little circle — though not much talked about in town — was one it was more flattering to be received in than any other. Boris had realized this the week before when the commander in chief in his presence invited Rostopchin to dinner on St. Nicholas' Day, and Rostopchin had replied that he could not come:

"On that day I always go to pay my devotions to the relics of Prince Nicholas Bolkonski."

"Oh, yes, yes!" replied the commander in chief."How is he? . . ."

The small group that assembled before dinner in the lofty old-fashioned drawing room with its old furniture resembled the solemn gathering of a court of justice. All were silent or talked in low tones. Prince Nicholas came in serious and taciturn. Princess Mary seemed even quieter and more diffident than usual. The guests were reluctant to address her, feeling that she was in no mood for their conversation. Count Rostopchin alone kept the conversation going, now relating the latest town news, and now the latest political gossip.

Lopukhin and the old general occasionally took part in the conversation. Prince Bolkonski listened as a presiding judge receives a report, only now and then, silently or by a brief word, showing that he took heed of what was being reported to him. The tone of the conversation was such as indicated that no one approved of what was being done in the political world. Incidents were related evidently confirming the opinion that everything was going from bad to worse, but whether telling a story or giving an opinion the speaker always stopped, or was stopped, at the point beyond which his criticism might touch the sovereign himself.

At dinner the talk turned on the latest political news: Napoleon's seizure of the Duke of Oldenburg's territory, and the Russian Note, hostile to Napoleon, which had been sent to all the European courts.

"Bonaparte treats Europe as a pirate does a captured vessel," said Count Rostopchin, repeating a phrase he had uttered several times before."One only wonders at the long-suffering or blindness of the crowned heads. Now the Pope's turn has come and Bonaparte doesn't scruple to depose the head of the Catholic Church — yet all keep silent! Our sovereign alone has protested against the seizure of the Duke of Oldenburg's territory, and even . . ." Count Rostopchin paused, feeling that he had reached the limit beyond which censure was impossible.

"Other territories have been offered in exchange for the Duchy of Oldenburg," said Prince Bolkonski."He shifts the Dukes about as I might move my serfs from Bald Hills to Bogucharovo or my Ryazan estates."

"The Duke of Oldenburg bears his misfortunes with admirable strength of character and resignation," remarked Boris, joining in respectfully.

He said this because on his journey from Petersburg he had had the honor of being presented to the Duke. Prince Bolkonski glanced at the young man as if about to say something in reply, but changed his mind, evidently considering him too young.

"I have read our protests about the Oldenburg affair and was surprised how badly the Note was worded," remarked Count Rostopchin in the casual tone of a man dealing with a subject quite familiar to him.

Pierre looked at Rostopchin with naive astonishment, not understanding why he should be disturbed by the bad composition of the Note.

"Does it matter, Count, how the Note is worded," he asked,"so long as its substance is forcible?"

"My dear fellow, with our five hundred thousand troops it should be easy to have a good style," returned Count Rostopchin.

Pierre now understood the count's dissatisfaction with the wording of the Note.

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