"One would have thought quill drivers enough had sprung up," remarked the old prince."There in Petersburg they are always writing- not notes only but even new laws. My Andrew there has written a whole volume of laws for Russia. Nowadays they are always writing!" and he laughed unnaturally.
There was a momentary pause in the conversation; the old general cleared his throat to draw attention.
"Did you hear of the last event at the review in Petersburg? The figure cut by the new French ambassador."
"Eh? Yes, I heard something: he said something awkward in His Majesty's presence."
"His Majesty drew attention to the Grenadier division and to the march past," continued the general,"and it seems the ambassador took no notice and allowed himself to reply that: 'We in France pay no attention to such trifles!' The Emperor did not condescend to reply. At the next review, they say, the Emperor did not once deign to address him."
All were silent. On this fact relating to the Emperor personally, it was impossible to pass any judgment.
"Impudent fellows!" said the prince."You know Metivier? I turned him out of my house this morning. He was here; they admitted him spite of my request that they should let no one in," he went on, glancing angrily at his daughter.
And he narrated his whole conversation with the French doctor and the reasons that convinced him that Metivier was a spy. Though these reasons were very insufficient and obscure, no one made any rejoinder.
After the roast, champagne was served. The guests rose to congratulate the old prince. Princess Mary, too, went round to him.
He gave her a cold, angry look and offered her his wrinkled, clean-shaven cheek to kiss. The whole expression of his face told her that he had not forgotten the morning's talk, that his decision remained in force, and only the presence of visitors hindered his speaking of it to her now.
When they went into the drawing room where coffee was served, the old men sat together.
Prince Nicholas grew more animated and expressed his views on the impending war.
He said that our wars with Bonaparte would be disastrous so long as we sought alliances with the Germans and thrust ourselves into European affairs, into which we had been drawn by the Peace of Tilsit."We ought not to fight either for or against Austria. Our political interests are all in the East, and in regard to Bonaparte the only thing is to have an armed frontier and a firm policy, and he will never dare to cross the Russian frontier, as was the case in 1807!"
"How can we fight the French, Prince?" said Count Rostopchin."Can we arm ourselves against our teachers and divinities? Look at our youths, look at our ladies! The French are our Gods: Paris is our Kingdom of Heaven."
He began speaking louder, evidently to be heard by everyone.
"French dresses, French ideas, French feelings! There now, you turned Metivier out by the scruff of his neck because he is a Frenchman and a scoundrel, but our ladies crawl after him on their knees. I went to a party last night, and there out of five ladies three were Roman Catholics and had the Pope's indulgence for doing woolwork on Sundays. And they themselves sit there nearly naked, like the signboards at our Public Baths if I may say so. Ah, when one looks at our young people, Prince, one would like to take Peter the Great's old cudgel out of the museum and belabor them in the Russian way till all the nonsense jumps out of them."
All were silent. The old prince looked at Rostopchin with a smile and wagged his head approvingly.
"Well, good-by, your excellency, keep well!" said Rostopchin, getting up with characteristic briskness and holding out his hand to the prince.
"Good-by, my dear fellow . . . . His words are music, I never tire of hearing him!" said the old prince, keeping hold of the hand and offering his cheek to be kissed.
Following Rostopchin's example the others also rose.