Chapter 10

PRINCE ANDREY stayed at Bränn with a Russian of his acquaintance in the diplomatic service, Bilibin.

“Ah, my dear prince, there’s no one I could have been more pleased to see,” said Bilibin, coming to meet Prince Andrey. “Franz, take the prince’s things to my bedroom,” he said to the servant, who was ushering Bolkonsky in. “What, a messenger of victory? That’s capital. I’m kept indoors ill, as you see.”

After washing and dressing, Prince Andrey came into the diplomat’s luxurious study and sat down to the dinner prepared for him. Bilibin was sitting quietly at the fireplace.

Not his journey only, but all the time he had spent with the army on the march, deprived of all the conveniences of cleanliness and the elegancies of life, made Prince Andrey feel now an agreeable sense of repose among the luxurious surroundings to which he had been accustomed from childhood. Moreover, after his Austrian reception, he was glad to speak—if not in Russian, for they talked French—at least to a Russian, who would, he imagined, share the general Russian dislike (which he felt particularly keenly just then) for the Austrians.

Bilibin was a man of five-and-thirty, a bachelor, of the same circle as Prince Andrey. They had been acquainted in Petersburg, but had become more intimate during Prince Andrey’s last stay at Vienna with Kutuzov. Just as Prince Andrey was a young man, who promised to rise high in a military career, Bilibin promised to do even better in diplomacy. He was still a young man, but not a young diplomat, as he had been in the service since he was sixteen. He had been in Paris and in Copenhagen; and now in Vienna he filled a post of considerable importance. Both the foreign minister and our ambassador at Vienna knew him and valued him. He was not one of that great multitude of diplomats whose qualification is limited to the possession of negative qualities, who need simply avoid doing certain things and speak French in order to be very good diplomats. He was one of those diplomats who like work and understand it, and in spite of his natural indolence, he often spent nights at his writing-table. He worked equally well whatever the object of his work might be. He was interested not in the question “Why?” but in the question “How?” What constituted his diplomatic work, he did not mind, but to draw up a circular, a memorandum, or a report subtly, pointedly, and elegantly, was a task which gave him great pleasure. Apart from such labours, Bilibin’s merits were esteemed the more from his ease in moving and talking in the higher spheres.

Bilibin enjoyed conversation just as he enjoyed work, only when the conversation could be elegantly witty. In society he was continually watching for an opportunity of saying something striking, and did not enter into conversation except under such circumstances. Bilibin’s conversation was continually sprinkled with original, epigrammatic, polished phrases of general interest. These phrases were fashioned in the inner laboratory of Bilibin’s mind, as though intentionally, of portable form, so that insignificant persons could easily remember them and carry them from drawing-room to drawing-room. And Bilibin’s good things were hawked about in Viennese drawing-rooms and afterwards had an influence on so- called great events.

His thin, lean, yellow face was all covered with deep creases, which always looked as clean and carefully washed as the tips of one’s fingers after a bath. The movement of these wrinkles made up the chief play of expression of his countenance. At one moment his forehead wrinkled up in broad furrows, and his eyebrows were lifted, at another moment his eyebrows drooped again and deep lines creased his cheeks. His deep-set, small eyes looked out frankly and good-humouredly.

“Come, now, tell us about your victories,” he said. Bolkonsky in the most modest fashion, without once mentioning himself in connection with it, described the engagement, and afterwards his reception by the war minister.

“They received me and my news like a dog in a game of skittles,” he concluded.

Bilibin grinned, and the creases in his face disappeared.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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