Chapter 5

DAVOUST was to the Emperor Napoleon what Araktcheev was to Alexander. Davoust was not like Araktcheev a coward, but he was as exacting and as cruel, and as unable to express his devotion except by cruelty.

In the mechanism of the state organism these men are as necessary as wolves in the organism of nature. And they are always to be found in every government; they always make their appearance and hold their own, incongruous as their presence and their close relations with the head of the state may appear. It is only on the theory of this necessity that one can explain the fact that a man so cruel—capable of pulling out grenadiers’ moustaches with his own hand—though unable, from the weakness of his nerves, to face danger, so uncultured, so boorish as Araktcheev, was able to retain such influence with a sovereign of chivalrous tenderness and nobility of character like Alexander.

Balashov found Davoust sitting on a tub in a barn adjoining a peasant’s hut. He was occupied in writing, auditing accounts. An adjutant was standing beside him. Better quarters could have been found, but Marshal Davoust was one of these people who purposely put themselves into the most dismal conditions of life in order to have a right to be dismal. For the same reason they always persist in being busy and in a hurry.

“How could one be thinking of the bright side of life when, as you see, I am sitting on a tub in a dirty barn, hard at work?” was what his face expressed.

The great desire and delight of such people on meeting others enjoying life is to throw their own gloomy, dogged activity into their faces. Davoust gave himself that satisfaction when Balashov was brought in. He appeared even more deeply engrossed in his work when the Russian general entered, and glancing through his spectacles at the face of Balashov, who looked cheerful from the brightness of the morning and his talk with Murat, he did not get up, did not stir even, but scowled more than before, and grinned malignantly.

Observing the disagreeable impression made on Balashov by this reception, Davoust raised his head, and asked him frigidly what he wanted.

Assuming that such a reception could only be due to Davoust’s being unaware that he was a general on the staff of Alexander, and his representative indeed before Napoleon, Balashov hastened to inform him of his rank and his mission. But, contrary to his expectations, Davoust became even surlier and ruder on hearing Balashov’s words.

“Where is your despatch?” he said. “Give it to me. I will send it to the Emperor.”

Balashov said that he was under orders to hand the document to the Emperor in person.

“The commands of your Emperor are obeyed in your army; but here,” said Davoust, “you must do what you are told.”

And, as though to make the Russian general still more sensible of his dependence on brute force, Davoust sent the adjutant for the officer on duty.

Balashov took out the packet that contained the Tsar’s letter, and laid it on the table (a table consisting of a door laid across two tubs with the hinges still hanging on it). Davoust took the packet and read the address on it.

“You are perfectly at liberty to show me respect or not, as you please,” said Balashov. “But, permit me to observe that I have the honour to serve as a general on the staff of his majesty…”

Davoust glanced at him without a word, and plainly derived satisfaction from signs of emotion and confusion on Balashov’s face.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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