Chapter 3

THE RUSSIAN EMPEROR had meanwhile been spending more than a month in Vilna, holding reviews and inspecting manœuvres. Nothing was in readiness for the war, which all were expecting, though it was to prepare for it that the Tsar had come from Petersburg. There was no general plan of action. The vacillation between all the plans that were proposed and the inability to fix on any one of them, was more marked than ever after the Tsar had been for a month at headquarters. There was a separate commander-in-chief at the head of each of the three armies; but there was no commander with authority over all of them, and the Tsar did not undertake the duties of such a commander-in-chief himself.

The longer the Tsar stayed at Vilna, the less ready was the Russian army for the war, which it had grown weary of expecting. Every effort of the men who surrounded the Tsar seemed to be devoted to making their sovereign spend his time pleasantly and forget the impending war.

Many balls and fêtes were given by the Polish magnates, by members of the court, and by the Tsar himself; and in the month of June it occurred to one of the Polish generals attached to the Tsar’s staff that all the generals on the staff should give a dinner and a ball to the Tsar. The suggestion was eagerly taken up. The Tsar gave his consent. The generals on the staff subscribed the necessary funds. The lady who was most likely to please the Tsar’s taste was selected as hostess for the ball. Count Bennigsen, who had land in the Vilna province, offered his house in the outskirts for this fête, and the 13th of June was the day fixed for a ball, a dinner, with a regatta and fireworks at Zakreta, Count Bennigsen’s suburban house.

On the very day on which Napoleon gave the order to cross the Niemen, and the vanguard of his army crossed the Russian frontier, driving back the Cossacks, Alexander was at the ball given by the generals on his staff at Count Bennigsen’s house.

It was a brilliant and festive entertainment. Connoisseurs declared that rarely had so many beauties been gathered together at one place. Countess Bezuhov, who had been among the Russian ladies who had followed the Tsar from Petersburg to Vilna, was at that ball, her heavy, Russian style of beauty—as it is called—overshadowing the more refined Polish ladies. She was much noticed, and the Tsar had deigned to bestow a dance upon her.

Boris Drubetskoy, who had left his wife at Moscow, and was living “en garçon,” as he said, at Vilna, was also at that ball; and although he was not a general on the staff, he had subscribed a large sum to the ball. Boris was now a wealthy man who had risen to high honours. He no longer sought patronage, but was on an equal footing with the most distinguished men of his age. At Vilna he met Ellen, whom he had not seen for a long while. As Ellen was enjoying the good graces of a very important personage indeed, and Boris had so recently been married, they made no allusion to the past, but met as good- natured, old friends.

At midnight dancing was still going on. Ellen happening to have no suitable partner had herself proposed a mazurka to Boris. They were the third couple. Boris was looking coldly at Ellen’s splendid bare shoulders, which rose out of her dress of dark gauze and gold, and was talking to her of old acquaintances, and yet though others and himself too were unaware of it, he never for a second ceased observing the Tsar who was in the same room. The Tsar was not dancing; he was standing in the doorway, stopping one person after the other with the gracious words he alone knew how to utter.

At the beginning of the mazurka, Boris saw that a general of the staff, Balashov, one of the persons in closest attendance on the Tsar, went up to him, and, regardless of court etiquette, stopped close to him, while he conversed with a Polish lady. After saying a few words to the lady, the Tsar glanced inquiringly at Balashov, and apparently seeing that he was behaving like this only because he had weighty reasons for doing so, he gave the lady a slight nod and turned to Balashov. The Tsar’s countenance betrayed amazement, as soon as Balashov had begun to speak. He took Balashov’s arm and walked across the room with him, unconsciously clearing a space of three yards on each side of him as people hastily drew back. Boris noticed the excited face of Araktcheev as the Tsar walked up the room with Balashov.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.