Chapter 4

BLEAK HILLS the estate of Prince Nikolay Andreitch Bolkonsky, was sixty versts from Smolensk, a little to the rear of it, and three versts from the main road to Moscow.

The same evening on which the old prince gave Alpatitch his instructions, Dessalle asked for a few words with Princess Marya, and told her that since the prince was not quite well and was taking no steps to secure his own safety, though from Prince Andrey’s letter it was plain that to stay on at Bleak Hills was not free from danger, he respectfully advised her to write herself, and send by Alpatitch a letter to the governor at Smolensk, and to ask him to let her know the position of affairs and the degree of danger they were running at Bleak Hills. Dessalle wrote the letter to the governor for Princess Marya and she signed it, and the letter was given to Alpatitch with instructions to give it to the governor, and in case there was danger, to come back as quickly as possible.

When he had received all his orders, Alpatitch put on his white beaver hat — a gift from the prince — and carrying a stick in his hand, like the prince, went out, accompanied by all his household, to get into the leather gig harnessed to three sleek, roan horses.

The bells were tied up and stuffed with paper. The prince allowed no one at Bleak Hills to drive with bells. But Alpatitch loved to have bells ringing when he went a long journey. All Alpatitch’s satellites, the counting-house clerk, the servants’ cook and the head cook, two old women, a foot-boy, a coachman, and various other servants saw him off.

His daughter put chintz-covered, down pillows under him and behind his back. His old sister-in-law slyly popped in a kerchief full of things. One of the coachmen helped him to get in.

“There, there, women’s fuss! Women folk, women folk!” said Alpatitch, puffing and talking rapidly, just as the old prince used to talk. He sat down in the gig, giving the counting-house clerk his last directions about the work to be done in the fields; and then dropping his imitation of the prince, Alpatitch took his hat off his bald head and crossed himself three times.

“If there’s anything … you turn back, Yakov Alpatitch; for Christ’s sake, think of us,” his wife called to him, alluding to the rumours of war and of the enemy near.

“Ah, these women and their fuss!” Alpatitch muttered to himself as he drove off, looking about him at the fields. He saw rye turning yellow, thick oats still green, and here and there patches still black, where they were only just beginning the second ploughing. Alpatitch drove on, admiring the crop of corn, singularly fine that season, staring at the rye fields, in some of which reaping was already beginning, meditating like a true husbandman on the sowing and the harvest, and wondering whether he had forgotten any of the prince’s instructions. He stopped twice to feed his horses on the way, and towards the evening of the 4th of August reached the town.

All the way Alpatitch had met and overtaken waggons and troops, and as he drove into Smolensk he heard firing in the distance, but he scarcely heeded the sound. What struck him more than anything was that close to Smolensk he saw a splendid field of oats being mown down by some soldiers evidently for forage; there was a camp, too, pitched in the middle of it. This did make an impression upon Alpatitch, but he soon forgot it in thinking over his own affairs.

All the interests of Alpatitch’s life had been for over thirty years bounded by the will of the prince, and he never stepped outside that limit. Anything that had nothing to do with carrying out the prince’s orders had no interest, had in fact no existence for Alpatitch.

On reaching Smolensk on the evening of the 4th of August, Alpatitch put up where he had been in the habit of putting up for the last thirty years, at a tavern kept by a former house-porter, Ferapontov, beyond the Dnieper in the Gatchensky quarter. Twelve years before, Ferapontov had profited by Alpatitch’s good offices to buy timber from the old prince, and had begun going into trade; and by now he had a house, an inn and a corn-dealer’s shop in the town. Ferapontov was a stout, dark, ruddy peasant of

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