to Moscow; that there were very many roads, and among them was the road to Poltava, the one selected by Charles XII. Balashov could not help flushing with delight at the felicity of this reply. Balashov had hardly uttered the last word “Poltava” when Caulaincourt began talking of the badness of the road from Petersburg to Moscow and his own Petersburg reminiscences.

After dinner they went to drink coffee in Napoleon’s study, which had four days before been the study of the Emperor Alexander. Napoleon sat down, stirring his coffee in a Sèvres cup, and motioned Balashov to a seat beside him.

There is a well-known after-dinner mood which is more potent than any rational consideration in making a man satisfied with himself and disposed to regard every one as a friend. Napoleon was under the influence of this mood. He fancied himself surrounded by persons who adored him. He felt no doubt that Balashov too after his dinner was his friend and his worshipper. Napoleon addressed him with an amicable and rather ironical smile.

“This is the very room, I am told, in which the Emperor Alexander used to sit. Strange, isn’t it, general?” he said, obviously without the slightest misgiving that this remark could be other than agreeable to the Russian, since it afforded a proof of his, Napoleon’s, superiority over Alexander.

Balashov could make no reply to this, and he bowed in silence.

“Yes, four days ago, Wintzengerode and Stein were deliberating in this very room,” Napoleon continued, with the same confident and ironical smile. “What I can’t understand,” he said, “is the Emperor Alexander’s gathering round him all my personal enemies. That I do not understand. Didn’t he consider that I might do the same?” he asked Balashov; and obviously the question brought him back to a reminiscence of the morning’s anger, which was still fresh in him. “And let him know that I will do so,” Napoleon said, getting up and pushing away his cup. “I’ll drive all his kith and kin out of Germany—the Würtembergs and Badens and Weimars…Yes, I’ll drive them out. Let him get a refuge ready for them in Russia.”

Balashov bowed his head, with an air that indicated that he would be glad to withdraw, and was simply listening because he had no alternative but to listen to what was said to him. Napoleon did not notice this expression. He was addressing Balashov now, not as the envoy of his enemy, but as a man now quite devoted to him and certain to rejoice at the humiliation of his former master.

“And why has the Emperor Alexander taken the command of his troops? What’s that for? War is my profession, but his work is to reign and not to command armies. What has induced him to take such a responsibility on himself?”

Napoleon again took his snuff-box, walked several times in silence up and down the room, and all at once surprised Balashov by coming close up to him. And with a faint smile, as confidently, rapidly, and swiftly, as though he were doing something that Balashov could not but regard as an honour and a pleasure, he put his hand up to the face of the Russian general of forty, and gave him a little pinch on the ear with a smile on his lips.

To have the ear pulled by the Emperor was regarded as the greatest honour and mark of favour at the French court.

“Well, you say nothing, admirer and courtier of the Emperor Alexander,” he said, as though it were comic that there should be in his presence a courtier and worshipper of any man other than him, Napoleon. “Are the horses ready for the general?” he added, with a slight nod in acknowledgment of Balashov’s bow. “Give him mine; he has a long way to go.…”

The letter taken back by Balashov was Napoleon’s last letter to Alexander. Every detail of the conversation was transmitted to the Russian Emperor, and the war began.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter
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.