Chapter 6

THOUGH BALASHOV was accustomed to the pomp of courts, he was impressed by the splendour and luxury of Napoleon’s court.

Count de Turenne led him into the great reception-room, where a number of generals, gentlemen-in- waiting, and Polish magnates were waiting to see the Emperor. Many of them Balashov had seen at the court of the Russian Emperor. Duroc told him that the Emperor Napoleon would receive the Russian general before going out for his ride.

After a delay of several moments, a gentleman-in-waiting came into the great reception-room, and bowing courteously to Balashov, invited him to follow him.

Balashov went into the little reception-room, from which one door led to the study, the room where he had received the Russian Emperor’s last charges before setting off. Balashov stood for a couple of minutes waiting. Hurried steps were audible through the door. Both halves of the door were swiftly thrown open, and in the complete stillness that followed other firm and resolute steps could be heard from the study: it was Napoleon. He had only just finished dressing for his ride. He was wearing a blue uniform, open over a white waistcoat, that came low down over his round belly, riding-boots, and white doeskin breeches, fitting tightly over his fat, short legs. His short hair had evidently just been brushed, but one lock hung down in the middle of his broad forehead. His plump, white neck stood out in sharp contrast to the black collar of his uniform; he smelt of eau-de-cologne. His still young-looking, full face, with its prominent chin, wore an expression of imperial graciousness and majestically condescending welcome.

He walked out with a quivering strut, his head thrown a little back. His whole stout, short figure, with his broad, fat shoulders and his prominent stomach and chest, had that imposing air of dignity common in men of forty who live in comfort. It was evident, too, that he happened that day to be in a particularly good humour.

He nodded in acknowledgment of Balashov’s low and respectful bow, and going up to him, began to talk at once like a man who values every minute of his time, and will not deign to preface what he is going to say, as he is sure of always speaking well and saying the right thing.

“Good-day, general!” said he. “I have received the Emperor Alexander’s letter that you brought, and I am very glad to see you.” He glanced at Balashov’s face with his large eyes, and immediately looked past him.

It was obvious that he took no interest in Balashov’s personality. It was plain that only what was passing in his soul had for him any interest. All that was outside him had no significance for him, because everything in the world depended, as he fancied, on his will.

“I do not, and did not, desire war,” he said, “but you have forced me to it. Even now” (he threw emphasis on the word) “I am ready to receive any explanations you can give me.” And he began briefly and clearly explaining the grounds of his displeasure with the Russian government.

Judging from the studiously composed and amicable tone of the French Emperor, Balashov was thoroughly persuaded that he was desirous of peace, and intended to enter into negotiations.

“Sire! The Emperor, my sovereign,” Balashov began, meaning to utter the speech he had prepared long before as soon as Napoleon had finished speaking, and looked inquiringly at him. But the look the Emperor turned upon him disconcerted him. “You are embarrassed; recover yourself,” Napoleon seemed to say, as with a hardly perceptible smile he scanned Balashov’s sword and uniform. Balashov regained his composure, and began to speak. He said that the Emperor Alexander did not regard Kurakin’s asking for his passport a sufficient cause for war; that Kurakin had acted on his own initiative without the Tsar’s consent; that the Tsar did not desire war, and that he had no relations with England.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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