He was very well aware that this was Napoleon, and Napoleon’s presence impressed him no more than Rostov’s or the quartermaster’s with the rod in his hand, because he had nothing of which either the quartermaster or Napoleon could not deprive him.

He had repeated all the gossip that was talked among the officers’ servants. Much of it was true. But when Napoleon asked him whether the Russians expected to conquer Bonaparte or not, Lavrushka screwed up his eyes and thought a bit.

He saw in the question a sharp piece of cunning, as cunning fellows, like Lavrushka, always do in everything. He frowned and paused a minute.

“Well, if it does come to a battle,” he said thoughtfully, “and pretty soon, then yours will win. That’s sure thing. But if now, three days and there’s a battle after that, well then, I say, that same battle will be a long job.” This was translated to Napoleon. “If a battle is fought within three days the French will win it, but if later, God knows what will come of it,” Lelorme d’Ideville put it, smiling. Napoleon did not smile, though he was evidently in high good humour, and told him to repeat the words.

Lavrushka noticed that, and to entertain him further, said, pretending not to know who he was:

“We know, you have got your Bonaparte; he has conquered every one in the world, ay, but with us it will be a different story …” himself hardly aware how and why this bit of bragging patriotism slipped out. The interpreter translated these words without the conclusion; and Bonaparte smiled. “The young Cossack brought a smile on to the lips of his august companion,” says Thiers. After a few paces in silence, Napoleon turned to Berthier, and said he should like to try the effect “sur cet enfant du Don” of learning that the man with whom he was speaking was the Emperor himself, the very Emperor who had carved his immortally victorious name on the Pyramids. The fact was communicated. Lavrushka—discerning that this was done to test him, and that Napoleon expected him to be panic-stricken—tried to gratify his new masters by promptly affecting to be astounded, struck dumb; he opened round eyes, and made the sort of face usual with him when he was being led off to be thrashed. “Hardly,” says Thiers, “had Napoleon’s interpreter spoken, than the Cossack was struck dumb with amazement; he did not utter another word, and walked with his eyes constantly fixed on the great conqueror, whose fame had reached him across the steppes of the East. All his loquacity suddenly vanished, and was replaced by a naïve and silent awe. Napoleon made the Cossack a present, and ordered him to be set at liberty like un oiseau qu’on rend aux champs qui l’ont vu naître.”

Napoleon rode on, dreaming of that Moscow that filled his imagination, while the bird returning to the fields that had seen him born, galloped back to the outposts, inventing the tale he would tell his comrades. What had really happened he did not care to relate, simply because it seemed to him not worth telling. He rode back to the Cossacks, inquired where was his regiment, now forming part of Platov’s detachment; and towards evening found his master, Nikolay Rostov, encamped at Yankovo. Rostov was just mounting his horse to ride through the villages near with Ilyin. He gave Lavrushka another horse and took him with them.

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