Bald Hills, Prince Nicholas Bolkonski's estate, lay forty miles east from Smolensk and two miles from the main road to Moscow.
The same evening that the prince gave his instructions to Alpatych, Dessalles, having asked to see Princess Mary, told her that, as the prince was not very well and was taking no steps to secure his safety, though from Prince Andrew's letter it was evident that to remain at Bald Hills might be dangerous, he respectfully advised her to send a letter by Alpatych to the Provincial Governor at Smolensk, asking him to let her know the state of affairs and the extent of the danger to which Bald Hills was exposed. Dessalles wrote this letter to the Governor for Princess Mary, she signed it, and it was given to Alpatych with instructions to hand it to the Governor and to come back as quickly as possible if there was danger.
Having received all his orders Alpatych, wearing a white beaver hat- a present from the prince — and carrying a stick as the prince did, went out accompanied by his family. Three well-fed roans stood ready harnessed to a small conveyance with a leather hood.
The larger bell was muffled and the little bells on the harness stuffed with paper. The prince allowed no one at Bald Hills to drive with ringing bells; but on a long journey Alpatych liked to have them. His satellites — the senior clerk, a countinghouse clerk, a scullery maid, a cook, two old women, a little pageboy, the coachman, and various domestic serfs — were seeing him off.
His daughter placed chintz-covered down cushions for him to sit on and behind his back. His old sister-in-law popped in a small bundle, and one of the coachmen helped him into the vehicle.
"There! There! Women's fuss! Women, women!" said Alpatych, puffing and speaking rapidly just as the prince did, and he climbed into the trap.
After giving the clerk orders about the work to be done, Alpatych, not trying to imitate the prince now, lifted the hat from his bald head and crossed himself three times.
"If there is anything . . . come back, Yakov Alpatych! For Christ's sake think of us!" cried his wife, referring to the rumors of war and the enemy.
"Women, women! Women's fuss!" muttered Alpatych to himself and started on his journey, looking round at the fields of yellow rye and the still-green, thickly growing oats, and at other quite black fields just being plowed a second time.
As he went along he looked with pleasure at the year's splendid crop of corn, scrutinized the strips of ryefield which here and there were already being reaped, made his calculations as to the sowing and the harvest, and asked himself whether he had not forgotten any of the prince's orders.
Having baited the horses twice on the way, he arrived at the town toward evening on the fourth of August.
Alpatych kept meeting and overtaking baggage trains and troops on the road. As he approached Smolensk he heard the sounds of distant firing, but these did not impress him. What struck him most was the sight of a splendid field of oats in which a camp had been pitched and which was being mown down by the soldiers, evidently for fodder. This fact impressed Alpatych, but in thinking about his own business he soon forgot it.
All the interests of his life for more than thirty years had been bounded by the will of the prince, and he never went beyond that limit. Everything not connected with the execution of the prince's orders did not interest and did not even exist for Alpatych.
On reaching Smolensk on the evening of the fourth of August he put up in the Gachina suburb across the Dnieper, at the inn kept by Ferapontov, where he had been in the habit of putting up for the last thirty years. Some thirty years ago Ferapontov, by Alpatych's advice, had bought a wood from the prince, had begun to trade, and now had a house, an inn, and a corn dealer's shop in that province. He was a stout, dark, red-faced peasant in the forties, with thick lips, a broad knob of a nose, similar knobs over his black frowning brows, and a round belly.
Wearing a waistcoat over his cotton shirt, Ferapontov was standing before his shop which opened onto the street. On seeing Alpatych he went up to him.
"You're welcome, Yakov Alpatych. Folks are leaving the town, but you have come to it," said he.
"Why are they leaving the town?" asked Alpatych.
"That's what I say. Folks are foolish! Always afraid of the French."
"Women's fuss, women's fuss!" said Alpatych.
"Just what I think, Yakov Alpatych. What I say is: orders have been given not to let them in, so that must be right. And the peasants are asking three rubles for carting — it isn't Christian!"
Yakov Alpatych heard without heeding. He asked for a samovar and for hay for his horses, and when he had had his tea he went to bed.
All night long troops were moving past the inn. Next morning Alpatych donned a jacket he wore only in town and went out on business. It was a sunny morning and by eight o'clock it was already hot."A good day for harvesting," thought Alpatych.
From beyond the town firing had been heard since early morning. At eight o'clock the booming of cannon was added to the sound of musketry. Many people were hurrying through the streets and there were many soldiers, but cabs were still driving about, tradesmen stood at their shops, and service was being held in the churches as usual. Alpatych went to the shops, to government offices, to the post office, and to the Governor's. In the offices and shops and at the post office everyone was talking about the army and about the enemy who was already attacking the town, everybody was asking what should be done, and all were trying to calm one another.
In front of the Governor's house Alpatych found a large number of people, Cossacks, and a traveling carriage of the Governor's. At the porch he met two of the landed gentry, one of whom he knew. This man, an ex-captain of police, was saying angrily:
"It's no joke, you know! It's all very well if you're single. 'One man though undone is but one,' as the proverb says, but with thirteen in your family and all the property . . . They've brought us to utter ruin! What sort of governors are they to do that? They ought to be hanged — the brigands! . . ."
"Oh come, that's enough!" said the other.
"What do I care? Let him hear! We're not dogs," said the ex-captain of police, and looking round he noticed Alpatych.
"Oh, Yakov Alpatych! What have you come for?"
"To see the Governor by his excellency's order," answered Alpatych, lifting his head and proudly thrusting his hand into the bosom of his coat as he always did when he mentioned the prince . . . ."He has ordered me to inquire into the position of affairs," he added.
"Yes, go and find out!" shouted the angry gentleman."They've brought things to such a pass that there are no carts or anything! . . . There it is again, do you hear?" said he, pointing in the direction whence came the sounds of firing.
"They've brought us all to ruin . . . the brigands!" he repeated, and descended the porch steps.
Alpatych swayed his head and went upstairs. In the waiting room were tradesmen, women, and officials, looking silently at one another. The door of the Governor's room opened and they all rose and moved forward. An official ran out, said some words to a merchant, called a stout official with a cross hanging on his neck to follow him, and vanished again, evidently wishing to avoid the inquiring looks and questions addressed to him. Alpatych moved forward and next time the official came out addressed him, one hand placed in the breast of his buttoned coat, and handed him two letters.