Chapter 1

IN THE year 1808 the Emperor Alexander visited Erfurt for another interview with the Emperor Napoleon; and in the highest Petersburg society a great deal was said of the great significance of this meeting.

In 1809 the amity between the two sovereigns of the world, as Napoleon and Alexander used to be called, had become so close that when Napoleon declared war that year with Austria, a Russian corps crossed the frontier to co-operate with their old enemy Bonaparte against their old ally, the Austrian Emperor; so close that in the highest society there was talk of a possible marriage between Napoleon and one of the sisters of the Emperor Alexander. But, apart from foreign policy, the attention of Russian society was at that time drawn with special interest to the internal changes taking place in all departments of the government.

Life meanwhile, the actual life of men with their real interests of health and sickness, labour and rest, with their interests of thought, science, poetry, music, love, affection, hatred, passion, went its way, as always, independently, apart from the political amity or enmity of Napoleon Bonaparte, and apart from all possible reforms.

Prince Andrey had spent two years without a break in the country. All those projects which Pierre had attempted on his estates, and changing continually from one enterprise to another, had never carried out to any real result—all those projects had been carried out by Prince Andrey without display to any one and without any perceptible exertion. He possessed in the highest degree the quality Pierre lacked, that practical tenacity which, without fuss or any great effort on his part, set things in working order.

On one estate of his, three hundred serfs were transformed into free cultivators (it was one of the first examples in Russia), in others forced labour was replaced by payment of rent. On Bogutcharovo a trained midwife had been engaged at his expense to assist the peasant-women in childbirth, and a priest, at a fixed salary, was teaching the children of the peasants and house servants to read and write.

Half his time Prince Andrey spent at Bleak Hills with his father and his son, who was still in the nursery. The other half he passed at his Bogutcharovo retreat, as his father called his estate. In spite of the indifference to all the external events of the world that he had shown to Pierre, he studiously followed them, received many books, and, to his own surprise, when people coming fresh from Petersburg, the very vortex of life, visited him or his father, he noticed that those people, in knowledge of all that was passing in home and foreign politics, were far behind him, though he had never left the country.

Besides looking after his estates, and much general reading of the most varied kind, Prince Andrey was busily engaged at this time upon a critical survey of our two late disastrous campaigns and the composition of a proposal for reforms in our army rules and regulations.

In the spring of 1809 Prince Andrey set off to visit the Ryazan estates, the heritage of his son, whose trustee he was.

Warmed by the spring sunshine he sat in the carriage, looking at the first grass, the first birch leaves and the first flecks of white spring clouds floating over the bright blue of the sky. He was thinking of nothing, but looking about him, light-hearted and thoughtless.

They crossed the ford where he had talked with Pierre a year before. They drove through a muddy village, by threshing floors, and patches of green corn; down hill by a drift of snow still lying near the bridge, up hill along a clay road hollowed out by the rain, by strips of stubble-field, with copse turning green here and there; and drove at last into a birch forest that lay on both sides of the road. In the forest it was almost hot, the wind could not be felt. The birches, all studded with sticky, green leaves, did not stir, and lilac-coloured flowers and the first grass lifted the last year’s leaves and peeped out green from under them. Tiny fir-trees, dotted here and there among the birches, brought a jarring reminder of winter with their coarse, unchanging green. The horses neighed as they entered the forest and were visibly heated.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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