Chapter 4

AT TWO O’CLOCK in the night of the 13th of June, the Tsar sent for Balashov, and, reading him his letter to Napoleon, commanded him to go in person and give the letter to the French Emperor. As he dismissed Balashov, he repeated to him his declaration that he would never make peace as long as a single enemy under arms remained on Russian soil, and told him to be sure to repeat those words to Napoleon. The Tsar had not inserted them in his letter to Napoleon, because, with his characteristic tact, he felt those words would be inappropriate at the moment when the last efforts were being made for conciliation; but he expressly charged Balashov to repeat that message by word of mouth to Napoleon.

Balashov rode out on the night between the 13th and the 14th, accompanied by a trumpeter and two Cossacks; and at dawn he reached the French outposts at the village of Rykonty on the Russian side of the Niemen. He was stopped by the sentinels of the French cavalry.

A French subaltern of hussars, in a crimson uniform and a fur cap, shouted to Balashov to stop. Balashov did not immediately obey, but went on advancing along the road at a walking pace.

The subaltern, with scowls and muttered abuse, swooped down upon Balashov, drew his sword, and shouted rudely to the Russian general: “Was he deaf that he did not hear when he was spoken to?” Balashov gave him his name. The subaltern sent a soldier to his superior officer.

Paying no further attention to Balashov, the subaltern began talking with his comrades about regimental matters, without looking at the Russian general. It was an exceedingly strange sensation for Balashov, who was used at all times to the dignities of his position, was always in contact with the highest power and authority, and only three hours before had been conversing with the Tsar, to be brought here on Russian soil into collision with this hostile, and still more, disrespectful display of brute force.

The sun was only beginning to rise behind storm-clouds, the air was fresh and dewy. A herd of cattle was being driven along the road from the village. Larks sprang up trilling one after another in the fields, like bubbles rising to the surface of water.

Balashov looked about him, awaiting the arrival of the officer from the village. The Russian Cossacks and trumpeter and the French hussars looked at one another now and then in silence.

A French colonel of hussars, evidently only just out of bed, came riding out of the village on a handsome, sleek, grey horse, accompanied by two hussars. The officers, the soldiers, and the horses all looked smart and well satisfied.

In this early stage of the campaign the troops were well in a state of good discipline, in good, almost parade, order, and engaged in peaceful pursuits, with a shade of martial swagger in their dress, and a shade of gaiety and spirit of adventure in their temper that always accompanies the commencement of a war.

The French colonel had much ado to suppress his yawns, but was courteous in his manner, and evidently understood all the importance of Balashov’s position. He led him past the line of outposts, and informed him that his desire to be presented to the Emperor would in all probability immediately be satisfied, as the Emperor’s quarters were, he believed, not far off.

They rode through the village of Rykonty, past French picket ropes, sentinels, and soldiers, who saluted their colonel and stared with curiosity at the Russian uniform. They came out on the other side of the village, and the colonel told Balashov that they were only two kilometres from the commander of the division, who would receive him and conduct him to his destination.

The sun had by now fully risen and was shining cheerfully on the bright green fields.

They had just passed an inn and were riding uphill when a party of horsemen came riding downhill towards them. The foremost figure was a tall man, in a hat with plumes, mounted on a raven horse, with trappings

  By PanEris using Melati.

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