BOOK TEN: 1812
Napoleon began the war with Russia because he could not resist going to Dresden, could not help having his head turned by the homage he received, could not help donning a Polish uniform and yielding to the stimulating influence of a June morning, and could not refrain from bursts of anger in the presence of Kurakin and then of Balashev.
Alexander refused negotiations because he felt himself to be personally insulted. Barclay de Tolly tried to command the army in the best way, because he wished to fulfill his duty and earn fame as a great commander. Rostov charged the French because he could not restrain his wish for a gallop across a level field; and in the same way the innumerable people who took part in the war acted in accord with their personal characteristics, habits, circumstances, and aims. They were moved by fear or vanity, rejoiced or were indignant, reasoned, imagining that they knew what they were doing and did it of their own free will, but they all were involuntary tools of history, carrying on a work concealed from them but comprehensible to us. Such is the inevitable fate of men of action, and the higher they stand in the social hierarchy the less are they free.
The actors of 1812 have long since left the stage, their personal interests have vanished leaving no trace, and nothing remains of that time but its historic results.
Providence compelled all these men, striving to attain personal aims, to further the accomplishment of a stupendous result no one of them at all expected--neither Napoleon, nor Alexander, nor still less any of those who did the actual fighting.
The cause of the destruction of the French army in 1812 is clear to us now. No one will deny that that cause was, on the one hand, its advance into the heart of Russia late in the season without any preparation for a winter campaign and, on the other, the character given to the war by the burning of Russian towns and the hatred of the foe this aroused among the Russian people. But no one at the time foresaw (what now seems so evident) that this was the only way an army of eight hundred thousand men--the best in the world and led by the best general--could be destroyed in conflict with a raw army of half its numerical strength, and led by inexperienced commanders as the Russian army was. Not only did no one see this, but on the Russian side every effort was made to hinder the only thing that could save Russia, while on the French side, despite Napoleon's experience and so-called military genius, every effort was directed to pushing on to Moscow at the end of the summer, that is, to doing the very thing that was bound to lead to destruction.
In historical works on the year 1812 French writers are very fond of saying that Napoleon felt the danger of extending his line, that he sought a battle and that his marshals advised him to stop at Smolensk, and of making similar statements to show that the danger of the campaign was even then understood. Russian authors are still fonder of telling us that from the commencement of the campaign a Scythian war plan was adopted to lure Napoleon into the depths of Russia, and this plan some of them attribute to Pfuel, others to a certain Frenchman, others to Toll, and others again to Alexander himself- pointing to notes, projects, and letters which contain hints of such a line of action. But all these hints at what happened, both from the French side and the Russian, are advanced only because they fit in with the event. Had that event not occurred these hints would have been forgotten, as we have forgotten the thousands and millions of hints and expectations to the contrary which were current then but have now been forgotten because the event falsified them. There are always so many conjectures as to the issue of any event that however it may end there will always be people to say: "I said then that it would be so," quite forgetting that amid their innumerable conjectures many were to quite the contrary effect.
Conjectures as to Napoleon's awareness of the danger of extending his line, and (on the Russian side) as to luring the enemy into the depths of Russia, are evidently of that kind, and only by much straining can historians attribute such conceptions to Napoleon and his marshals, or such plans to the Russian commanders. All the facts are in flat contradiction to such conjectures. During the whole period of the war not only was there no wish on the Russian side to draw the French into the heart of the country, but from their first entry into Russia everything was done to stop them. And not only was Napoleon not afraid to extend his line, but he welcomed every step forward as a triumph and did not seek battle as eagerly as in former campaigns, but very lazily.
At the very beginning of the war our armies were divided, and our sole aim was to unite them, though uniting the armies was no advantage if we meant to retire and lure the enemy into the depths of the country. Our Emperor joined the army to encourage it to defend every inch of Russian soil and not to retreat. The enormous Drissa camp was formed on Pfuel's plan, and there was no intention of retiring farther. The Emperor reproached the commanders in chief for every step they retired. He could not bear the idea of letting the enemy even reach Smolensk, still less could he contemplate the burning of Moscow, and when our armies did unite he was displeased that Smolensk was abandoned and burned without a general engagement having been fought under its walls.
So thought the Emperor, and the Russian commanders and people were still more provoked at the thought that our forces were retreating into the depths of the country.
Napoleon having cut our armies apart advanced far into the country and missed several chances of forcing an engagement. In August he was at Smolensk and thought only of how to advance farther, though as we now see that advance was evidently ruinous to him.
The facts clearly show that Napoleon did not foresee the danger of the advance on Moscow, nor did Alexander and the Russian commanders then think of luring Napoleon on, but quite the contrary. The luring of Napoleon into the depths of the country was not the result of any plan, for no one believed it to be possible; it resulted from a most complex interplay of intrigues, aims, and wishes among those who took part in the war and had no perception whatever of the inevitable, or of the one way of saving Russia. Everything came about fortuitously. The armies were divided at the commencement of the campaign. We tried to unite them, with the evident intention of giving battle and checking the enemy's advance, and by this effort to unite them while avoiding battle with a much stronger enemy, and necessarily withdrawing the armies at an acute angle--we led the French on to Smolensk. But we withdrew at an acute angle not only because the French advanced between our two armies; the angle became still more acute and we withdrew still farther, because Barclay de Tolly was an unpopular foreigner disliked by Bagration (who would come his command), and Bagration--being in command of the second army--tried to postpone joining up and coming under Barclay's command as long as he could. Bagration was slow in effecting the junction--though that was the chief aim of all at headquarters--because, as he alleged, he exposed his army to danger on this march, and it was best for him to retire more to the left and more to the south, worrying the enemy from flank and rear and securing from the Ukraine recruits for his army; and it looks as if he planned this in order not to come under the command of the detested foreigner Barclay, whose rank was inferior to his own.
The Emperor was with the army to encourage it, but his presence and ignorance of what steps to take, and the enormous number of advisers and plans, destroyed the first army's energy and it retired.
The intention was to make a stand at the Drissa camp, but Paulucci, aiming at becoming commander in chief, unexpectedly employed his energy to influence Alexander, and Pfuel's whole plan was abandoned and the command entrusted to Barclay. But as Barclay did not inspire confidence his power was limited. The armies were divided, there was no unity of command, and Barclay was unpopular; but from this confusion, division, and the unpopularity of the foreign commander in chief, there resulted on the one hand indecision and the avoidance of a battle (which we could not have refrained from had the armies been united and had someone else, instead of Barclay, been in command) and on the other an ever-increasing indignation against the foreigners and an increase in patriotic zeal.
At last the Emperor left the army, and as the most convenient and indeed the only pretext for his departure it was decided that it was necessary for him to inspire the people in the capitals and arouse the nation in general to a patriotic war. And by this visit of the Emperor to Moscow the strength of the Russian army was trebled.
He left in order not to obstruct the commander in chief's undivided control of the army, and hoping that more decisive action would then be taken, but the command of the armies became still more confused and enfeebled. Bennigsen, the Tsarevich, and a swarm of adjutants general remained with the army to keep the commander in chief under observation and arouse his energy, and Barclay, feeling less free than ever under the observation of all these "eyes of the Emperor," became still more cautious of undertaking any decisive action and avoided giving battle.
Barclay stood for caution. The Tsarevich hinted at treachery and demanded a general engagement. Lubomirski, Bronnitski, Wlocki, and the others of that group stirred up so much trouble that Barclay, under pretext of sending papers to the Emperor, dispatched these Polish adjutants general to Petersburg and plunged into an open struggle with Bennigsen and the Tsarevich.
At Smolensk the armies at last reunited, much as Bagration disliked it.
Bagration drove up in a carriage to to the house occupied by Barclay. Barclay donned his sash and came out to meet and report to his senior officer Bagration.
Despite his seniority in rank Bagration, in this contest of magnanimity, took his orders from Barclay, but, having submitted, agreed with him less than ever. By the Emperor's orders Bagration reported direct to him. He wrote to Arakcheev, the Emperor's confidant: "It must be as my sovereign pleases, but I cannot work with the Minister (meaning Barclay). For God's sake send me somewhere else if only in command of a regiment. I cannot stand it here. Headquarters are so full of Germans that a Russian cannot exist and there is no sense in anything. I thought I was really serving my sovereign and the Fatherland, but it turns out that I am serving Barclay. I confess I do not want to."
The swarm of Bronnitskis and Wintzingerodes and their like still further embittered the relations between the commanders in chief, and even less unity resulted. Preparations were made to fight the French before Smolensk. A general was sent to survey the position. This general, hating Barclay, rode to visit a friend of his own, a corps commander, and, having spent the day with him, returned to Barclay and condemned, as unsuitable from every point of view, the battleground he had not seen.
While disputes and intrigues were going on about the future field of battle, and while we were looking for the French--having lost touch with them--the French stumbled upon Neverovski's division and reached the walls of Smolensk.
It was necessary to fight an unexpected battle at Smolensk to save our lines of communication. The battle was fought and thousands were killed on both sides.
Smolensk was abandoned contrary to the wishes of the Emperor and of the whole people. But Smolensk was burned by its own inhabitants-who had been misled by their governor. And these ruined inhabitants, setting an example to other Russians, went to Moscow thinking only of their own losses but kindling hatred of the foe. Napoleon advanced farther and we retired, thus arriving at the very result which caused his destruction.
The day after his son had left, Prince Nicholas sent for Princess Mary to come to his study.
"Well? Are you satisfied now?" said he. "You've made me quarrel with my son! Satisfied, are you? That's all you wanted! Satisfied?... It hurts me, it hurts. I'm old and weak and this is what you wanted. Well then, gloat over it! Gloat over it!"
After that Princess Mary did not see her father for a whole week. He was ill and did not leave his study.
Princess Mary noticed to her surprise that during this illness the old prince not only excluded her from his room, but did not admit Mademoiselle Bourienne either. Tikhon alone attended him.
At the end of the week the prince reappeared and resumed his former way of life, devoting himself with special activity to building operations and the arrangement of the gardens and completely breaking off his relations with Mademoiselle Bourienne. His looks and cold tone to his daughter seemed to say: "There, you see? You plotted against me, you lied to Prince Andrew about my relations with that Frenchwoman and made me quarrel with him, but you see I need neither her nor you!"
Princess Mary spent half of every day with little Nicholas, watching his lessons, teaching him Russian and music herself, and talking to Dessalles; the rest of the day she spent over her books, with her old nurse, or with "God's folk" who sometimes came by the back door to see her.
Of the war Princess Mary thought as women do think about wars. She feared for her brother who was in it, was horrified by and amazed at the strange cruelty that impels men to kill one another, but she did not understand the significance of this war, which seemed to her like all previous wars. She did not realize the significance of this war, though Dessalles with whom she constantly conversed was passionately interested in its progress and tried to explain his own conception of it to her, and though the "God's folk" who came to see her reported, in their own way, the rumors current among the people of an invasion by Antichrist, and though Julie (now Princess Drubetskaya), who had resumed correspondence with her, wrote patriotic letters from Moscow.
"I write you in Russian, my good friend," wrote Julie in her Frenchified Russian, "because I have a detestation for all the French, and the same for their language which I cannot support to hear spoken.... We in Moscow are elated by enthusiasm for our adored Emperor.
"My poor husband is enduring pains and hunger in Jewish taverns, but the news which I have inspires me yet more.
"You heard probably of the heroic exploit of Raevski, embracing his two sons and saying: 'I will perish with them but we will not be shaken!' And truly though the enemy was twice stronger than we, we were unshakable. We pass the time as we can, but in war as in war! The princesses Aline and Sophie sit whole days with me, and we, unhappy widows of live men, make beautiful conversations over our charpie, only you, my friend, are missing..." and so on.
The chief reason Princess Mary did not realize the full significance of this war was that the old prince never spoke of it, did not recognize it, and laughed at Dessalles when he mentioned it at dinner. The prince's tone was so calm and confident that Princess Mary unhesitatingly believed him.
All that July the old prince was exceedingly active and even animated. He planned another garden and began a new building for the domestic serfs. The only thing that made Princess Mary anxious about him was that he slept very little and, instead of sleeping in his study as usual, changed his sleeping place every day. One day he would order his camp bed to be set up in the glass gallery, another day he remained on the couch or on the lounge chair in the drawing room and dozed there without undressing, while--instead of Mademoiselle Bourienne--a serf boy read to him. Then again he would spend a night in the dining room.
On August 1, a second letter was received from Prince Andrew. In his first letter which came soon after he had left home, Prince Andrew had dutifully asked his father's forgiveness for what he had allowed himself to say and begged to be restored to his favor. To this letter the old prince had replied affectionately, and from that time had kept the Frenchwoman at a distance. Prince Andrew's second letter, written near Vitebsk after the French had occupied that town, gave a brief account of the whole campaign, enclosed for them a plan he had drawn and forecasts as to the further progress of the war. In this letter Prince Andrew pointed out to his father the danger of staying at Bald Hills, so near the theater of war and on the army's direct line of march, and advised him to move to Moscow.
At dinner that day, on Dessalles' mentioning that the French were said to have already entered Vitebsk, the old prince remembered his son's letter.
"There was a letter from Prince Andrew today," he said to Princess Mary--"Haven't you read it?"
"No, Father," she replied in a frightened voice.
She could not have read the letter as she did not even know it had arrived.
"He writes about this war," said the prince, with the ironic smile that had become habitual to him in speaking of the present war.
"That must be very interesting," said Dessalles. "Prince Andrew is in a position to know..."
"Oh, very interesting!" said Mademoiselle Bourienne.
"Go and get it for me," said the old prince to Mademoiselle Bourienne. "You know--under the paperweight on the little table."
Mademoiselle Bourienne jumped up eagerly.
"No, don't!" he exclaimed with a frown. "You go, Michael Ivanovich."
Michael Ivanovich rose and went to the study. But as soon as he had left the room the old prince, looking uneasily round, threw down his napkin and went himself.
"They can't do anything... always make some muddle," he muttered.
While he was away Princess Mary, Dessalles, Mademoiselle Bourienne, and even little Nicholas exchanged looks in silence. The old prince returned with quick steps, accompanied by Michael Ivanovich, bringing the letter and a plan. These he put down beside him--not letting anyone read them at dinner.
On moving to the drawing room he handed the letter to Princess Mary and, spreading out before him the plan of the new building and fixing his eyes upon it, told her to read the letter aloud. When she had done so Princess Mary looked inquiringly at her father. He was examining the plan, evidently engrossed in his own ideas.
"What do you think of it, Prince?" Dessalles ventured to ask.
"I? I?..." said the prince as if unpleasantly awakened, and not taking his eyes from the plan of the building.
"Very possibly the theater of war will move so near to us that..."
"Ha ha ha! The theater of war!" said the prince. "I have said and still say that the theater of war is Poland and the enemy will never get beyond the Niemen."
Dessalles looked in amazement at the prince, who was talking of the Niemen when the enemy was already at the Dnieper, but Princess Mary, forgetting the geographical position of the Niemen, thought that what her father was saying was correct.
"When the snow melts they'll sink in the Polish swamps. Only they could fail to see it," the prince continued, evidently thinking of the campaign of 1807 which seemed to him so recent. "Bennigsen should have advanced into Prussia sooner, then things would have taken a different turn..."
"But, Prince," Dessalles began timidly, "the letter mentions Vitebsk...."
"Ah, the letter? Yes..." replied the prince peevishly. "Yes... yes..." His face suddenly took on a morose expression. He paused. "Yes, he writes that the French were beaten at... at... what river is it?"
Dessalles dropped his eyes.
"The prince says nothing about that," he remarked gently.
"Doesn't he? But I didn't invent it myself."
No one spoke for a long time.
"Yes... yes... Well, Michael Ivanovich," he suddenly went on, raising his head and pointing to the plan of the building, "tell me how you mean to alter it...."
Michael Ivanovich went up to the plan, and the prince after speaking to him about the building looked angrily at Princess Mary and Dessalles and went to his own room.
Princess Mary saw Dessalles' embarrassed and astonished look fixed on her father, noticed his silence, and was struck by the fact that her father had forgotten his son's letter on the drawing-room table; but she was not only afraid to speak of it and ask Dessalles the reason of his confusion and silence, but was afraid even to think about it.
In the evening Michael Ivanovich, sent by the prince, came to Princess Mary for Prince Andrew's letter which had been forgotten in the drawing room. She gave it to him and, unpleasant as it was to her to do so, ventured to ask him what her father was doing.
"Always busy," replied Michael Ivanovich with a respectfully ironic smile which caused Princess Mary to turn pale. "He's worrying very much about the new building. He has been reading a little, but now"--Michael Ivanovich went on, lowering his voice--"now he's at his desk, busy with his will, I expect." (One of the prince's favorite occupations of late had been the preparation of some papers he meant to leave at his death and which he called his "will.")
"And Alpatych is being sent to Smolensk?" asked Princess Mary.
"Oh, yes, he has been waiting to start for some time."
When Michael Ivanovich returned to the study with the letter, the old prince, with spectacles on and a shade over his eyes, was sitting at his open bureau with screened candles, holding a paper in his outstretched hand, and in a somewhat dramatic attitude was reading his manuscript--his "Remarks" as he termed it--which was to be transmitted to the Emperor after his death.
When Michael Ivanovich went in there were tears in the prince's eyes evoked by the memory of the time when the paper he was now reading had been written. He took the letter from Michael Ivanovich's hand, put it in his pocket, folded up his papers, and called in Alpatych who had long been waiting.
The prince had a list of things to be bought in Smolensk and, walking up and down the room past Alpatych who stood by the door, he gave his instructions.
"First, notepaper--do you hear? Eight quires, like this sample, gilt-edged... it must be exactly like the sample. Varnish, sealing wax, as in Michael Ivanovich's list."
He paced up and down for a while and glanced at his notes.
"Then hand to the governor in person a letter about the deed."
Next, bolts for the doors of the new building were wanted and had to be of a special shape the prince had himself designed, and a leather case had to be ordered to keep the "will" in.
The instructions to Alpatych took over two hours and still the prince did not let him go. He sat down, sank into thought, closed his eyes, and dozed off. Alpatych made a slight movement.
"Well, go, go! If anything more is wanted I'll send after you."
Alpatych went out. The prince again went to his bureau, glanced into it, fingered his papers, closed the bureau again, and sat down at the table to write to the governor.
It was already late when he rose after sealing the letter. He wished to sleep, but he knew he would not be able to and that most depressing thoughts came to him in bed. So he called Tikhon and went through the rooms with him to show him where to set up the bed for that night.
He went about looking at every corner. Every place seemed unsatisfactory, but worst of all was his customary couch in the study. That couch was dreadful to him, probably because of the oppressive thoughts he had had when lying there. It was unsatisfactory everywhere, but the corner behind the piano in the sitting room was better than other places: he had never slept there yet.
With the help of a footman Tikhon brought in the bedstead and began putting it up.
"That's not right! That's not right!" cried the prince, and himself pushed it a few inches from the corner and then closer in again.
"Well, at last I've finished, now I'll rest," thought the prince, and let Tikhon undress him.
Frowning with vexation at the effort necessary to divest himself of his coat and trousers, the prince undressed, sat down heavily on the bed, and appeared to be meditating as he looked contemptuously at his withered yellow legs. He was not meditating, but only deferring the moment of making the effort to lift those legs up and turn over on the bed. "Ugh, how hard it is! Oh, that this toil might end and you would release me!" thought he. Pressing his lips together he made that effort for the twenty-thousandth time and lay down. But hardly had he done so before he felt the bed rocking backwards and forwards beneath him as if it were breathing heavily and jolting. This happened to him almost every night. He opened his eyes as they were closing.
"No peace, damn them!" he muttered, angry he knew not with whom. "Ah yes, there was something else important, very important, that I was keeping till I should be in bed. The bolts? No, I told him about them. No, it was something, something in the drawing room. Princess Mary talked some nonsense. Dessalles, that fool, said something. Something in my pocket--can't remember..."
"Tikhon, what did we talk about at dinner?"
"About Prince Michael..."
"Be quiet, quiet!" The prince slapped his hand on the table. "Yes, I know, Prince Andrew's letter! Princess Mary read it. Dessalles said something about Vitebsk. Now I'll read it."
He had the letter taken from his pocket and the table--on which stood a glass of lemonade and a spiral wax candle--moved close to the bed, and putting on his spectacles he began reading. Only now in the stillness of the night, reading it by the faint light under the green shade, did he grasp its meaning for a moment.
"The French at Vitebsk, in four days' march they may be at Smolensk; perhaps are already there! Tikhon!" Tikhon jumped up. "No, no, I don't want anything!" he shouted.
He put the letter under the candlestick and closed his eyes. And there rose before him the Danube at bright noonday: reeds, the Russian camp, and himself a young general without a wrinkle on his ruddy face, vigorous and alert, entering Potemkin's gaily colored tent, and a burning sense of jealousy of "the favorite" agitated him now as strongly as it had done then. He recalled all the words spoken at that first meeting with Potemkin. And he saw before him a plump, rather sallow-faced, short, stout woman, the Empress Mother, with her smile and her words at her first gracious reception of him, and then that same face on the catafalque, and the encounter he had with Zubov over her coffin about his right to kiss her hand.
"Oh, quicker, quicker! To get back to that time and have done with all the present! Quicker, quicker--and that they should leave me in peace!"
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.
"To his Honor Baron Asch, from General-in-Chief Prince Bolkonski," he announced with such solemnity and significance that the official turned to him and took the letters.
A few minutes later the Governor received Alpatych and hurriedly said to him:
"Inform the prince and princess that I knew nothing: I acted on the highest instructions--here..." and he handed a paper to Alpatych. "Still, as the prince is unwell my advice is that they should go to Moscow. I am just starting myself. Inform them..."
But the Governor did not finish: a dusty perspiring officer ran into the room and began to say something in French. The Governor's face expressed terror.
"Go," he said, nodding his head to Alpatych, and began questioning the officer.
Eager, frightened, helpless glances were turned on Alpatych when he came out of the Governor's room. Involuntarily listening now to the firing, which had drawn nearer and was increasing in strength, Alpatych hurried to his inn. The paper handed to him by the Governor said this:
"I assure you that the town of Smolensk is not in the slightest danger as yet and it is unlikely that it will be threatened with any. I from the one side and Prince Bagration from the other are marching to unite our forces before Smolensk, which junction will be effected on the 22nd instant, and both armies with their united forces will defend our compatriots of the province entrusted to your care till our efforts shall have beaten back the enemies of our Fatherland, or till the last warrior in our valiant ranks has perished. From this you will see that you have a perfect right to reassure the inhabitants of Smolensk, for those defended by two such brave armies may feel assured of victory." (Instructions from Barclay de Tolly to Baron Asch, the civil governor of Smolensk, 1812.)
People were anxiously roaming about the streets.
Carts piled high with household utensils, chairs, and cupboards kept emerging from the gates of the yards and moving along the streets. Loaded carts stood at the house next to Ferapontov's and women were wailing and lamenting as they said good-by. A small watchdog ran round barking in front of the harnessed horses.
Alpatych entered the innyard at a quicker pace than usual and went straight to the shed where his horses and trap were. The coachman was asleep. He woke him up, told him to harness, and went into the passage. From the host's room came the sounds of a child crying, the despairing sobs of a woman, and the hoarse angry shouting of Ferapontov. The cook began running hither and thither in the passage like a frightened hen, just as Alpatych entered.
"He's done her to death. Killed the mistress!... Beat her... dragged her about so!..."
"What for?" asked Alpatych.
"She kept begging to go away. She's a woman! 'Take me away,' says she, 'don't let me perish with my little children! Folks,' she says, 'are all gone, so why,' she says, 'don't we go?' And he began beating and pulling her about so!"
At these words Alpatych nodded as if in approval, and not wishing to hear more went to the door of the room opposite the innkeeper's, where he had left his purchases.
"You brute, you murderer!" screamed a thin, pale woman who, with a baby in her arms and her kerchief torn from her head, burst through the door at that moment and down the steps into the yard.
Ferapontov came out after her, but on seeing Alpatych adjusted his waistcoat, smoothed his hair, yawned, and followed Alpatych into the opposite room.
"Going already?" said he.
Alpatych, without answering or looking at his host, sorted his packages and asked how much he owed.
"We'll reckon up! Well, have you been to the Governor's?" asked Ferapontov. "What has been decided?"
Alpatych replied that the Governor had not told him anything definite.
"With our business, how can we get away?" said Ferapontov. "We'd have to pay seven rubles a cartload to Dorogobuzh and I tell them they're not Christians to ask it! Selivanov, now, did a good stroke last Thursday--sold flour to the army at nine rubles a sack. Will you have some tea?" he added.
While the horses were being harnessed Alpatych and Ferapontov over their tea talked of the price of corn, the crops, and the good weather for harvesting.
"Well, it seems to be getting quieter," remarked Ferapontov, finishing his third cup of tea and getting up. "Ours must have got the best of it. The orders were not to let them in. So we're in force, it seems.... They say the other day Matthew Ivanych Platov drove them into the river Marina and drowned some eighteen thousand in one day."
Alpatych collected his parcels, handed them to the coachman who had come in, and settled up with the innkeeper. The noise of wheels, hoofs, and bells was heard from the gateway as a little trap passed out.
It was by now late in the afternoon. Half the street was in shadow, the other half brightly lit by the sun. Alpatych looked out of the window and went to the door. Suddenly the strange sound of a far-off whistling and thud was heard, followed by a boom of cannon blending into a dull roar that set the windows rattling.
He went out into the street: two men were running past toward the bridge. From different sides came whistling sounds and the thud of cannon balls and bursting shells falling on the town. But these sounds were hardly heard in comparison with the noise of the firing outside the town and attracted little attention from the inhabitants. The town was being bombarded by a hundred and thirty guns which Napoleon had ordered up after four o'clock. The people did not at once realize the meaning of this bombardment.
At first the noise of the falling bombs and shells only aroused curiosity. Ferapontov's wife, who till then had not ceased wailing under the shed, became quiet and with the baby in her arms went to the gate, listening to the sounds and looking in silence at the people.
The cook and a shop assistant came to the gate. With lively curiosity everyone tried to get a glimpse of the projectiles as they flew over their heads. Several people came round the corner talking eagerly.
"What force!" remarked one. "Knocked the roof and ceiling all to splinters!"
"Routed up the earth like a pig," said another.
"That's grand, it bucks one up!" laughed the first. "Lucky you jumped aside, or it would have wiped you out!"
Others joined those men and stopped and told how cannon balls had fallen on a house close to them. Meanwhile still more projectiles, now with the swift sinister whistle of a cannon ball, now with the agreeable intermittent whistle of a shell, flew over people's heads incessantly, but not one fell close by, they all flew over. Alpatych was getting into his trap. The innkeeper stood at the gate.
"What are you staring at?" he shouted to the cook, who in her red skirt, with sleeves rolled up, swinging her bare elbows, had stepped to the corner to listen to what was being said.
"What marvels!" she exclaimed, but hearing her master's voice she turned back, pulling down her tucked-up skirt.
Once more something whistled, but this time quite close, swooping downwards like a little bird; a flame flashed in the middle of the street, something exploded, and the street was shrouded in smoke.
"Scoundrel, what are you doing?" shouted the innkeeper, rushing to the cook.
At that moment the pitiful wailing of women was heard from different sides, the frightened baby began to cry, and people crowded silently with pale faces round the cook. The loudest sound in that crowd was her wailing.
"Oh-h-h! Dear souls, dear kind souls! Don't let me die! My good souls!..."
Five minutes later no one remained in the street. The cook, with her thigh broken by a shell splinter, had been carried into the kitchen. Alpatych, his coachman, Ferapontov's wife and children and the house porter were all sitting in the cellar, listening. The roar of guns, the whistling of projectiles, and the piteous moaning of the cook, which rose above the other sounds, did not cease for a moment. The mistress rocked and hushed her baby and when anyone came into the cellar asked in a pathetic whisper what had become of her husband who had remained in the street. A shopman who entered told her that her husband had gone with others to the cathedral, whence they were fetching the wonder-working icon of Smolensk.
Toward dusk the cannonade began to subside. Alpatych left the cellar and stopped in the doorway. The evening sky that had been so clear was clouded with smoke, through which, high up, the sickle of the new moon shone strangely. Now that the terrible din of the guns had ceased a hush seemed to reign over the town, broken only by the rustle of footsteps, the moaning, the distant cries, and the crackle of fires which seemed widespread everywhere. The cook's moans had now subsided. On two sides black curling clouds of smoke rose and spread from the fires. Through the streets soldiers in various uniforms walked or ran confusedly in different directions like ants from a ruined ant-hill. Several of them ran into Ferapontov's yard before Alpatych's eyes. Alpatych went out to the gate. A retreating regiment, thronging and hurrying, blocked the street.
Noticing him, an officer said: "The town is being abandoned. Get away, get away!" and then, turning to the soldiers, shouted:
"I'll teach you to run into the yards!"
Alpatych went back to the house, called the coachman, and told him to set off. Ferapontov's whole household came out too, following Alpatych and the coachman. The women, who had been silent till then, suddenly began to wail as they looked at the fires--the smoke and even the flames of which could be seen in the failing twilight--and as if in reply the same kind of lamentation was heard from other parts of the street. Inside the shed Alpatych and the coachman arranged the tangled reins and traces of their horses with trembling hands.
As Alpatych was driving out of the gate he saw some ten soldiers in Ferapontov's open shop, talking loudly and filling their bags and knapsacks with flour and sunflower seeds. Just then Ferapontov returned and entered his shop. On seeing the soldiers he was about to shout at them, but suddenly stopped and, clutching at his hair, burst into sobs and laughter:
"Loot everything, lads! Don't let those devils get it!" he cried, taking some bags of flour himself and throwing them into the street.
Some of the soldiers were frightened and ran away, others went on filling their bags. On seeing Alpatych, Ferapontov turned to him:
"Russia is done for!" he cried. "Alpatych, I'll set the place on fire myself. We're done for!..." and Ferapontov ran into the yard.
Soldiers were passing in a constant stream along the street blocking it completely, so that Alpatych could not pass out and had to wait. Ferapontov's wife and children were also sitting in a cart waiting till it was possible to drive out.
Night had come. There were stars in the sky and the new moon shone out amid the smoke that screened it. On the sloping descent to the Dnieper Alpatych's cart and that of the innkeeper's wife, which were slowly moving amid the rows of soldiers and of other vehicles, had to stop. In a side street near the crossroads where the vehicles had stopped, a house and some shops were on fire. This fire was already burning itself out. The flames now died down and were lost in the black smoke, now suddenly flared up again brightly, lighting up with strange distinctness the faces of the people crowding at the crossroads. Black figures flitted about before the fire, and through the incessant crackling of the flames talking and shouting could be heard. Seeing that his trap would not be able to move on for some time, Alpatych got down and turned into the side street to look at the fire. Soldiers were continually rushing backwards and forwards near it, and he saw two of them and a man in a frieze coat dragging burning beams into another yard across the street, while others carried bundles of hay.
Alpatych went up to a large crowd standing before a high barn which was blazing briskly. The walls were all on fire and the back wall had fallen in, the wooden roof was collapsing, and the rafters were alight. The crowd was evidently watching for the roof to fall in, and Alpatych watched for it too.
"Alpatych!" a familiar voice suddenly hailed the old man.
"Mercy on us! Your excellency!" answered Alpatych, immediately recognizing the voice of his young prince.
Prince Andrew in his riding cloak, mounted on a black horse, was looking at Alpatych from the back of the crowd.
"Why are you here?" he asked.
"Your... your excellency," stammered Alpatych and broke into sobs. "Are we really lost? Master!..."
"Why are you here?" Prince Andrew repeated.
At that moment the flames flared up and showed his young master's pale worn face. Alpatych told how he had been sent there and how difficult it was to get away.
"Are we really quite lost, your excellency?" he asked again.
Prince Andrew without replying took out a notebook and raising his knee began writing in pencil on a page he tore out. He wrote to his sister:
"Smolensk is being abandoned. Bald Hills will be occupied by the enemy within a week. Set off immediately for Moscow. Let me know at once when you will start. Send by special messenger to Usvyazh."
Having written this and given the paper to Alpatych, he told him how to arrange for departure of the prince, the princess, his son, and the boy's tutor, and how and where to let him know immediately. Before he had had time to finish giving these instructions, a chief of staff followed by a suite galloped up to him.
"You are a colonel?" shouted the chief of staff with a German accent, in a voice familiar to Prince Andrew. "Houses are set on fire in your presence and you stand by! What does this mean? You will answer for it!" shouted Berg, who was now assistant to the chief of staff of the commander of the left flank of the infantry of the first army, a place, as Berg said, "very agreeable and well en evidence."
Prince Andrew looked at him and without replying went on speaking to Alpatych.
"So tell them that I shall await a reply till the tenth, and if by the tenth I don't receive news that they have all got away I shall have to throw up everything and come myself to Bald Hills."
"Prince," said Berg, recognizing Prince Andrew, "I only spoke because I have to obey orders, because I always do obey exactly.... You must please excuse me," he went on apologetically.
Something cracked in the flames. The fire died down for a moment and wreaths of black smoke rolled from under the roof. There was another terrible crash and something huge collapsed.
"Ou-rou-rou!" yelled the crowd, echoing the crash of the collapsing roof of the barn, the burning grain in which diffused a cakelike aroma all around. The flames flared up again, lighting the animated, delighted, exhausted faces of the spectators.
The man in the frieze coat raised his arms and shouted:
"It's fine, lads! Now it's raging... It's fine!"
"That's the owner himself," cried several voices.
"Well then," continued Prince Andrew to Alpatych, "report to them as I have told you"; and not replying a word to Berg who was now mute beside him, he touched his horse and rode down the side street.
From Smolensk the troops continued to retreat, followed by the enemy. On the tenth of August the regiment Prince Andrew commanded was marching along the highroad past the avenue leading to Bald Hills. Heat and drought had continued for more than three weeks. Each day fleecy clouds floated across the sky and occasionally veiled the sun, but toward evening the sky cleared again and the sun set in reddish-brown mist. Heavy night dews alone refreshed the earth. The unreaped corn was scorched and shed its grain. The marshes dried up. The cattle lowed from hunger, finding no food on the sun-parched meadows. Only at night and in the forests while the dew lasted was there any freshness. But on the road, the highroad along which the troops marched, there was no such freshness even at night or when the road passed through the forest; the dew was imperceptible on the sandy dust churned up more than six inches deep. As soon as day dawned the march began. The artillery and baggage wagons moved noiselessly through the deep dust that rose to the very hubs of the wheels, and the infantry sank ankle-deep in that soft, choking, hot dust that never cooled even at night. Some of this dust was kneaded by the feet and wheels, while the rest rose and hung like a cloud over the troops, settling in eyes, ears, hair, and nostrils, and worst of all in the lungs of the men and beasts as they moved along that road. The higher the sun rose the higher rose that cloud of dust, and through the screen of its hot fine particles one could look with naked eye at the sun, which showed like a huge crimson ball in the unclouded sky. There was no wind, and the men choked in that motionless atmosphere. They marched with handkerchiefs tied over their noses and mouths. When they passed through a village they all rushed to the wells and fought for the water and drank it down to the mud.
Prince Andrew was in command of a regiment, and the management of that regiment, the welfare of the men and the necessity of receiving and giving orders, engrossed him. The burning of Smolensk and its abandonment made an epoch in his life. A novel feeling of anger against the foe made him forget his own sorrow. He was entirely devoted to the affairs of his regiment and was considerate and kind to his men and officers. In the regiment they called him "our prince," were proud of him and loved him. But he was kind and gentle only to those of his regiment, to Timokhin and the like--people quite new to him, belonging to a different world and who could not know and understand his past. As soon as he came across a former acquaintance or anyone from the staff, he bristled up immediately and grew spiteful, ironical, and contemptuous. Everything that reminded him of his past was repugnant to him, and so in his relations with that former circle he confined himself to trying to do his duty and not to be unfair.
In truth everything presented itself in a dark and gloomy light to Prince Andrew, especially after the abandonment of Smolensk on the sixth of August (he considered that it could and should have been defended) and after his sick father had had to flee to Moscow, abandoning to pillage his dearly beloved Bald Hills which he had built and peopled. But despite this, thanks to his regiment, Prince Andrew had something to think about entirely apart from general questions. Two days previously he had received news that his father, son, and sister had left for Moscow; and though there was nothing for him to do at Bald Hills, Prince Andrew with a characteristic desire to foment his own grief decided that he must ride there.
He ordered his horse to be saddled and, leaving his regiment on the march, rode to his father's estate where he had been born and spent his childhood. Riding past the pond where there used always to be dozens of women chattering as they rinsed their linen or beat it with wooden beetles, Prince Andrew noticed that there was not a soul about and that the little washing wharf, torn from its place and half submerged, was floating on its side in the middle of the pond. He rode to the keeper's lodge. No one at the stone entrance gates of the drive and the door stood open. Grass had already begun to grow on the garden paths, and horses and calves were straying in the English park. Prince Andrew rode up to the hothouse; some of the glass panes were broken, and of the trees in tubs some were overturned and others dried up. He called for Taras the gardener, but no one replied. Having gone round the corner of the hothouse to the ornamental garden, he saw that the carved garden fence was broken and branches of the plum trees had been torn off with the fruit. An old peasant whom Prince Andrew in his childhood had often seen at the gate was sitting on a green garden seat, plaiting a bast shoe.
He was deaf and did not hear Prince Andrew ride up. He was sitting on the seat the old prince used to like to sit on, and beside him strips of bast were hanging on the broken and withered branch of a magnolia.
Prince Andrew rode up to the house. Several limes in the old garden had been cut down and a piebald mare and her foal were wandering in front of the house among the rosebushes. The shutters were all closed, except at one window which was open. A little serf boy, seeing Prince Andrew, ran into the house. Alpatych, having sent his family away, was alone at Bald Hills and was sitting indoors reading the Lives of the Saints. On hearing that Prince Andrew had come, he went out with his spectacles on his nose, buttoning his coat, and, hastily stepping up, without a word began weeping and kissing Prince Andrew's knee.
Then, vexed at his own weakness, he turned away and began to report on the position of affairs. Everything precious and valuable had been removed to Bogucharovo. Seventy quarters of grain had also been carted away. The hay and the spring corn, of which Alpatych said there had been a remarkable crop that year, had been commandeered by the troops and mown down while still green. The peasants were ruined; some of them too had gone to Bogucharovo, only a few remained.
Without waiting to hear him out, Prince Andrew asked:
"When did my father and sister leave?" meaning when did they leave for Moscow.
Alpatych, understanding the question to refer to their departure for Bogucharovo, replied that they had left on the seventh and again went into details concerning the estate management, asking for instructions.
"Am I to let the troops have the oats, and to take a receipt for them? We have still six hundred quarters left," he inquired.
"What am I to say to him?" thought Prince Andrew, looking down on the old man's bald head shining in the sun and seeing by the expression on his face that the old man himself understood how untimely such questions were and only asked them to allay his grief.
"Yes, let them have it," replied Prince Andrew.
"If you noticed some disorder in the garden," said Alpatych, "it was impossible to prevent it. Three regiments have been here and spent the night, dragoons mostly. I took down the name and rank of their commanding officer, to hand in a complaint about it."
"Well, and what are you going to do? Will you stay here if the enemy occupies the place?" asked Prince Andrew.
Alpatych turned his face to Prince Andrew, looked at him, and suddenly with a solemn gesture raised his arm.
"He is my refuge! His will be done!" he exclaimed.
A group of bareheaded peasants was approaching across the meadow toward the prince.
"Well, good-by!" said Prince Andrew, bending over to Alpatych. "You must go away too, take away what you can and tell the serfs to go to the Ryazan estate or to the one near Moscow."
Alpatych clung to Prince Andrew's leg and burst into sobs. Gently disengaging himself, the prince spurred his horse and rode down the avenue at a gallop.
The old man was still sitting in the ornamental garden, like a fly impassive on the face of a loved one who is dead, tapping the last on which he was making the bast shoe, and two little girls, running out from the hot house carrying in their skirts plums they had plucked from the trees there, came upon Prince Andrew. On seeing the young master, the elder one frightened look clutched her younger companion by the hand and hid with her behind a birch tree, not stopping to pick up some green plums they had dropped.
Prince Andrew turned away with startled haste, unwilling to let them see that they had been observed. He was sorry for the pretty frightened little girl, was afraid of looking at her, and yet felt an irresistible desire to do so. A new sensation of comfort and relief came over him when, seeing these girls, he realized the existence of other human interests entirely aloof from his own and just as legitimate as those that occupied him. Evidently these girls passionately desired one thing--to carry away and eat those green plums without being caught--and Prince Andrew shared their wish for the success of their enterprise. He could not resist looking at them once more. Believing their danger past, they sprang from their ambush and, chirruping something in their shrill little voices and holding up their skirts, their bare little sunburned feet scampered merrily and quickly across the meadow grass.
Prince Andrew was somewhat refreshed by having ridden off the dusty highroad along which the troops were moving. But not far from Bald Hills he again came out on the road and overtook his regiment at its halting place by the dam of a small pond. It was past one o'clock. The sun, a red ball through the dust, burned and scorched his back intolerably through his black coat. The dust always hung motionless above the buzz of talk that came from the resting troops. There was no wind. As he crossed the dam Prince Andrew smelled the ooze and freshness of the pond. He longed to get into that water, however dirty it might be, and he glanced round at the pool from whence came sounds of shrieks and laughter. The small, muddy, green pond had risen visibly more than a foot, flooding the dam, because it was full of the naked white bodies of soldiers with brick-red hands, necks, and faces, who were splashing about in it. All this naked white human flesh, laughing and shrieking, floundered about in that dirty pool like carp stuffed into a watering can, and the suggestion of merriment in that floundering mass rendered it specially pathetic.
One fair-haired young soldier of the third company, whom Prince Andrew knew and who had a strap round the calf of one leg, crossed himself, stepped back to get a good run, and plunged into the water; another, a dark noncommissioned officer who was always shaggy, stood up to his waist in the water joyfully wriggling his muscular figure and snorted with satisfaction as he poured the water over his head with hands blackened to the wrists. There were sounds of men slapping one another, yelling, and puffing.
Everywhere on the bank, on the dam, and in the pond, there was healthy, white, muscular flesh. The officer, Timokhin, with his red little nose, standing on the dam wiping himself with a towel, felt confused at seeing the prince, but made up his mind to address him nevertheless.
"It's very nice, your excellency! Wouldn't you like to?" said he.
"It's dirty," replied Prince Andrew, making a grimace.
"We'll clear it out for you in a minute," said Timokhin, and, still undressed, ran off to clear the men out of the pond.
"The prince wants to bathe."
"What prince? Ours?" said many voices, and the men were in such haste to clear out that the prince could hardly stop them. He decided that he would rather wash himself with water in the barn.
"Flesh, bodies, cannon fodder!" he thought, and he looked at his own naked body and shuddered, not from cold but from a sense of disgust and horror he did not himself understand, aroused by the sight of that immense number of bodies splashing about in the dirty pond.
On the seventh of August Prince Bagration wrote as follows from his quarters at Mikhaylovna on the Smolensk road:
Dear Count Alexis Andreevich--(He was writing to Arakcheev but knew that his letter would be read by the Emperor, and therefore weighed every word in it to the best of his ability.)
I expect the Minister [Barclay de Tolly] has already reported the abandonment of Smolensk to the enemy. It is pitiable and sad, and the whole army is in despair that this most important place has been wantonly abandoned. I, for my part, begged him personally most urgently and finally wrote him, but nothing would induce him to consent. I swear to you on my honor that Napoleon was in such a fix as never before and might have lost half his army but could not have taken Smolensk. Our troops fought, and are fighting, as never before. With fifteen thousand men I held the enemy at bay for thirty-five hours and beat him; but he would not hold out even for fourteen hours. It is disgraceful, a stain on our army, and as for him, he ought, it seems to me, not to live. If he reports that our losses were great, it is not true; perhaps about four thousand, not more, and not even that; but even were they ten thousand, that's war! But the enemy has lost masses...
What would it have cost him to hold out for another two days? They would have had to retire of their own accord, for they had no water for men or horses. He gave me his word he would not retreat, but suddenly sent instructions that he was retiring that night. We cannot fight in this way, or we may soon bring the enemy to Moscow...
There is a rumor that you are thinking of peace. God forbid that you should make peace after all our sacrifices and such insane retreats! You would set all Russia against you and every one of us would feel ashamed to wear the uniform. If it has come to this--we must fight as long as Russia can and as long as there are men able to stand...
One man ought to be in command, and not two. Your Minister may perhaps be good as a Minister, but as a general he is not merely bad but execrable, yet to him is entrusted the fate of our whole country.... I am really frantic with vexation; forgive my writing boldly. It is clear that the man who advocates the conclusion of a peace, and that the Minister should command the army, does not love our sovereign and desires the ruin of us all. So I write you frankly: call out the militia. For the Minister is leading these visitors after him to Moscow in a most masterly way. The whole army feels great suspicion of the Imperial aide-de-camp Wolzogen. He is said to be more Napoleon's man than ours, and he is always advising the Minister. I am not merely civil to him but obey him like a corporal, though I am his senior. This is painful, but, loving my benefactor and sovereign, I submit. Only I am sorry for the Emperor that he entrusts our fine army to such as he. Consider that on our retreat we have lost by fatigue and left in the hospital more than fifteen thousand men, and had we attacked this would not have happened. Tell me, for God's sake, what will Russia, our mother Russia, say to our being so frightened, and why are we abandoning our good and gallant Fatherland to such rabble and implanting feelings of hatred and shame in all our subjects? What are we scared at and of whom are we afraid? I am not to blame that the Minister is vacillating, a coward, dense, dilatory, and has all bad qualities. The whole army bewails it and calls down curses upon him...