Book Eleven: 1812 - Chapter X
On the thirteenth of August Pierre reached Moscow. Close to the gates of the city he was met by Count Rostopchin's adjutant.
"We have been looking for you everywhere," said the adjutant. "The count wants to see you particularly. He asks you to come to him at once on a very important matter."
Without going home, Pierre took a cab and drove to see the Moscow commander in chief.
Count Rostopchin had only that morning returned to town from his summer villa at Sokolniki. The anteroom and reception room of his house were full of officials who had been summoned or had come for orders. Vasilchikov and Platov had already seen the count and explained to him that it was impossible to defend Moscow and that it would have to be surrendered. Though this news was being concealed from the inhabitants, the officials--the heads of the various government departments--knew that Moscow would soon be in the enemy's hands, just as Count Rostopchin himself knew it, and to escape personal responsibility they had all come to the governor to ask how they were to deal with their various departments.
As Pierre was entering the reception room a courier from the army came out of Rostopchin's private room.
In answer to questions with which he was greeted, the courier made a despairing gesture with his hand and passed through the room.
While waiting in the reception room Pierre with weary eyes watched the various officials, old and young, military and civilian, who were there. They all seemed dissatisfied and uneasy. Pierre went up to a group of men, one of whom he knew. After greeting Pierre they continued their conversation.
"If they're sent out and brought back again later on it will do no harm, but as things are now one can't answer for anything."
"But you see what he writes..." said another, pointing to a printed sheet he held in his hand.
"That's another matter. That's necessary for the people," said the first.
"What is it?" asked Pierre.
"Oh, it's a fresh broadsheet."
Pierre took it and began reading.
His Serene Highness has passed through Mozhaysk in order to join up with the troops moving toward him and has taken up a strong position where the enemy will not soon attack him. Forty eight guns with ammunition have been sent him from here, and his Serene Highness says he will defend Moscow to the last drop of blood and is even ready to fight in the streets. Do not be upset, brothers, that the law courts are closed; things have to be put in order, and we will deal with villains in our own way! When the time comes I shall want both town and peasant lads and will raise the cry a day or two beforehand, but they are not wanted yet so I hold my peace. An ax will be useful, a hunting spear not bad, but a three-pronged fork will be best of all: a Frenchman is no heavier than a sheaf of rye. Tomorrow after dinner I shall take the Iberian icon of the Mother of God to the wounded in the Catherine Hospital where we will have some water blessed. That will help them to get well quicker. I, too, am well now: one of my eyes was sore but now I am on the lookout with both.
"But military men have told me that it is impossible to fight in the town," said Pierre, "and that the position..."
"Well, of course! That's what we were saying," replied the first speaker.
"And what does he mean by 'One of my eyes was sore but now I am on the lookout with both'?" asked Pierre.
"The count had a sty," replied the adjutant smiling, "and was very much upset when I told him people had come to ask what was the matter with him. By the by, Count," he added suddenly, addressing Pierre with a smile, "we heard that you have family troubles and that the countess, your wife..."
"I have heard nothing," Pierre replied unconcernedly. "But what have you heard?"
"Oh, well, you know people often invent things. I only say what I heard."
"But what did you hear?"
"Well, they say," continued the adjutant with the same smile, "that the countess, your wife, is preparing to go abroad. I expect it's nonsense...."
"Possibly," remarked Pierre, looking about him absent-mindedly. "And who is that?" he asked, indicating a short old man in a clean blue peasant overcoat, with a big snow-white beard and eyebrows and a ruddy face.
"He? That's a tradesman, that is to say, he's the restaurant keeper, Vereshchagin. Perhaps you have heard of that affair with the proclamation."
"Oh, so that is Vereshchagin!" said Pierre, looking at the firm, calm face of the old man and seeking any indication of his being a traitor.
"That's not he himself, that's the father of the fellow who wrote the proclamation," said the adjutant. "The young man is in prison and I expect it will go hard with him."
An old gentleman wearing a star and another official, a German wearing a cross round his neck, approached the speaker.
"It's a complicated story, you know," said the adjutant. "That proclamation appeared about two months ago. The count was informed of it. He gave orders to investigate the matter. Gabriel Ivanovich here made the inquiries. The proclamation had passed through exactly sixty-three hands. He asked one, 'From whom did you get it?' 'From so-and-so.' He went to the next one. 'From whom did you get it?' and so on till he reached Vereshchagin, a half educated tradesman, you know, 'a pet of a trader,'" said the adjutant smiling. "They asked him, 'Who gave it you?' And the point is that we knew whom he had it from. He could only have had it from the Postmaster. But evidently they had come to some understanding. He replied: 'From no one; I made it up myself.' They threatened and questioned him, but he stuck to that: 'I made it up myself.' And so it was reported to the count, who sent for the man. 'From whom did you get the proclamation?' 'I wrote it myself.' Well, you know the count," said the adjutant cheerfully, with a smile of pride, "he flared up dreadfully--and just think of the fellow's audacity, lying, and obstinacy!"
"And the count wanted him to say it was from Klyucharev? I understand!" said Pierre.
"Not at all," rejoined the adjutant in dismay. "Klyucharev had his own sins to answer for without that and that is why he has been banished. But the point is that the count was much annoyed. 'How could you have written it yourself?' said he, and he took up the Hamburg Gazette that was lying on the table. 'Here it is! You did not write it yourself but translated it, and translated it abominably, because you don't even know French, you fool.' And what do you think? 'No,' said he, 'I have not read any papers, I made it up myself.' 'If that's so, you're a traitor and I'll have you tried, and you'll be hanged! Say from whom you had it.' 'I have seen no papers, I made it up myself.' And that was the end of it. The count had the father fetched, but the fellow stuck to it. He was sent for trial and condemned to hard labor, I believe. Now the father has come to intercede for him. But he's a good-for-nothing lad! You know that sort of tradesman's son, a dandy and lady-killer. He attended some lectures somewhere and imagines that the devil is no match for him. That's the sort of fellow he is. His father keeps a cookshop here by the Stone Bridge, and you know there was a large icon of God Almighty painted with a scepter in one hand and an orb in the other. Well, he took that icon home with him for a few days and what did he do? He found some scoundrel of a painter..."