AFTER ALL NAPOLEON had said to him, after those outbursts of wrath, and after the last frigidly uttered words, I will not detain you, general; you shall receive my letter, Balashov felt certain that Napoleon would not care to see him again, would avoid indeed seeing again the envoy who had been treated by him with contumely, and had been the eyewitness of his undignified outburst of fury. But to his surprise Balashov received through Duroc an invitation to dine that day at the Emperors table.
There were present at dinner, Bessières, Caulaincourt, and Berthier.
Napoleon met Balashov with a good-humoured and friendly air. He had not the slightest appearance of embarrassment or regret for his outbreak in the morning. On the contrary he seemed trying to encourage Balashov. It was evident that it had long been Napoleons conviction that no possibility existed of his making mistakes. To his mind all he did was good, not because it was in harmony with any preconceived notion of good or bad, but simply because it was he who did it.
The Emperor was in excellent spirits after his ride about Vilna, greeted and followed with acclamations by crowds of the inhabitants. From every window in the streets through which he had passed draperies and flags with his monogram had been hanging, and Polish ladies had been waving handkerchiefs to welcome him.
At dinner he sat Balashov beside him, and addressed him affably. He addressed him indeed as though he regarded Balashov as one of his own courtiers, as one of the people, who would sympathise with his plans and be sure to rejoice at his successes. He talked, among other things, of Moscow, and began asking Balashov questions about the ancient Russian capital, not simply as a traveller of inquiring mind asks about a new place he intends to visit, but apparently with the conviction that Balashov as a Russian must be flattered at his interest in it.
How many inhabitants are there in Moscow, how many horses? Is it true that Moscow is called the holy city? How many churches are there in Moscow? he asked.
And when he was told there were over two hundred churches, he said: Why is there such a great number of churches?
The Russians are very religious, replied Balashov.
A great number, however, of monasteries and churches is always a sign of the backwardness of a people, said Napoleon, looking at Caulaincourt for appreciation of this remark.
Balashov ventured respectfully to differ from the opinion of the French Emperor.
Every country has its customs, he observed.
But theres nothing like that anywhere else in Europe, said Napoleon.
I beg your majestys pardon, said Balashov; besides Russia, there is Spain, where there is also a great number of churches and monasteries.
This reply of Balashovs, which suggested a covert allusion to the recent discomfiture of the French in Spain, was highly appreciated when Balashov repeated it at the court of the Emperor Alexander, though at the time at Napoleons dinner-table it was very little appreciated and passed indeed unnoticed.
From the indifferent and perplexed faces of the marshals present it was obvious that they were puzzled to discover wherein lay the point of the retort, suggested by Balashovs intonation. If there were a point, we fail to catch it, or the remark was perhaps really pointless, their expression seemed to say. So little effect had this retort that Napoleon indeed certainly saw nothing in it; and he naïvely asked Balashov through what towns the direct road from Vilna to Moscow passed. Balashov, who had been all dinner- time on his guard, replied that as, according to the proverb, every road leads to Rome, every road leads
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