Chapter 21

IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE towards which the Tsar rode there stood, facing each other, the battalion of the Preobrazhensky regiment on the right, and the battalion of the French guards in bearskin caps on the left.

While the Emperor was riding up to one flank of the battalions, who presented arms, another crowd of horsemen was galloping up to the opposite flank, and at the head of them Rostov recognised Napoleon. That figure could be no one else. He galloped up, wearing a little hat, the ribbon of St. Andrey across his shoulder, and a blue uniform open over a white vest. He was riding a grey Arab horse of extremely fine breed, with a crimson, gold-embroidered saddle-cloth. Riding up to Alexander, he raised his hat, and at that moment Rostov, with his cavalryman’s eye, could not help noticing that Napoleon had a bad and uncertain seat on horseback. The battalions shouted hurrah, and vive l’Empereur! Napoleon said something to Alexander. Both Emperors dismounted from their horses and took each other by the hands. Napoleon’s face wore an unpleasantly hypocritical smile. Alexander was saying something to him with a cordial expression.

In spite of the kicking of the horses of the French gendarmes, who were keeping back the crowd, Rostov watched every movement of the Emperor Alexander and of Bonaparte, and never took his eyes off them. What struck him as something unexpected and strange was that Alexander behaved as though Bonaparte were his equal, and that Bonaparte in his manner to the Russian Tsar seemed perfectly at ease, as though this equal and intimate relation with a monarch were something natural and customary with him.

Alexander and Napoleon, with a long tail of suite, moved towards the right flank of the Preobrazhensky battalion, close up to the crowd which was standing there. The crowd found itself unexpectedly so close to the Emperors, that Rostov, who stood in the front part of it, began to be afraid he might be recognised.

“Sire, I ask your permission to give the Legion of Honour to the bravest of your soldiers,” said a harsh, precise voice, fully articulating every letter.

It was little Bonaparte speaking, looking up straight into Alexander’s eyes. Alexander listened attentively to what was said to him, and bending his head smiled amiably.

“To him who bore himself most valiantly in this last war,” added Napoleon, emphasising each syllable, and with an assurance and composure, revolting to Rostov, scanning the rows of Russian soldiers drawn up before him, all presenting arms, and all gazing immovably at the face of their own Emperor.

“Will your majesty allow me to ask the opinion of the colonel?” said Alexander, and he took a few hurried steps towards Prince Kozlovsky, the commander of the battalion. Bonaparte was meanwhile taking the glove off his little white hand, and, tearing it, he threw it away. An adjutant, rushing hurriedly forward from behind, picked it up. “Give it to whom?” the Emperor Alexander asked of Kozlovsky in Russian, in a low voice.

“As your majesty commands.”

The Emperor frowned, with a look of displeasure, and, looking round, said: “Well, we must give him an answer.”

Kozlovsky scanned the ranks with a resolute air, taking in Rostov too, in that glance.

“Won’t it be me!” thought Rostov.

“Lazarev!” the colonel called with a scowling face; and Lazarev, the soldier who was the best shot in firing at the range, stepped smartly forward.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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