Chapter 17

AFTER THE TSAR had left Moscow, the life of that city flowed on in its old accustomed channel, and the current of that life ran so much as usual that it was difficult to remember the days of patriotic fervour and enthusiasm, and hard to believe that Russia actually was in danger, and that the members of the English club were also her devoted sons, ready to make any sacrifice for her sake. The one thing that recalled the general patriotic fervour of the days of the Tsar’s presence in Moscow was the call for contributions of men and money, and these demands were presented at once in a legal, official form, so that they seemed inevitable. As the enemy drew nearer to Moscow the attitude taken by its inhabitants in regard to their position did not become more serious, but, on the contrary, more frivolous, as is always the case with people who see a great danger approaching. At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal force in the heart of man: one very reasonably tells the man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of avoiding it; the other even more reasonably says that it is too painful and harassing to think of the danger, since it is not in a man’s power to provide for everything and escape from the general march of events; and that it is therefore better to turn aside from the painful subject till it has come, and to think of what is pleasant. In solitude a man generally yields to the first voice; in society to the second. So it was now with the inhabitants of Moscow. It was long since there had been so much gaiety in Moscow as that year.

Rastoptchin’s posters, with a print at the top of a gin-shop, a potman, and the Moscow artisan, Karpushka Tchigirin, “who, having gone into the militia, heard that Bonaparte meant to come to Moscow, was mightily wroth thereat, used very bad language about all the French, came out of the gin-shop and began to address the people assembled under the eagles,” were as much read and discussed as the last bouts rimés of Vassily Lvovitch Pushkin.

In the corner room of the club the members gathered together to read these posters; and some liked the way Karpushka was made to jeer at the French, saying that “they would be blown out with Russian cabbage, that Russian porridge would rip their guts open, and cabbage soup would finish them off; that they were all dwarfs, and a village lass could toss three of them on her pitchfork single-handed!”

Some people did not approve of this tone, and said it was vulgar and stupid. People said that Rastoptchin had sent all Frenchmen, and even foreigners, out of Moscow, and that there had been spies and agents of Napoleon among them. But they talked of this principally in order to repeat the witticisms uttered by Rastoptchin on the occasion. The foreigners had been put on a barque sailing to Nizhny, and Rastoptchin had said to them: “Keep yourselves to yourselves, get into the barque, and take care it does not become the barque of Charon to you.” People talked too of all the government offices having been removed from Moscow, and added Shinshin’s joke, that for that alone Moscow ought to be grateful to Napoleon. People said that Mamonov’s regiment was costing him eight hundred thousand; that Bezuhov was spending even more on his; but that the noblest proof of Bezuhov’s patriotism was that he was going to put on the uniform himself and ride at the head of his regiment, without any charge for seats to spectators.

“You have no mercy on any one,” said Julie Drubetskoy, gathering up a pinch of scraped lint in her slender fingers covered with rings.

Julie was intending to leave Moscow next day, and was giving a farewell soirée.

Bezuhov est ridicule, but he is so good-natured, so nice; how can you take pleasure in being so caustique?”

“Forfeit!” said a young man in a volunteer’s uniform, whom Julie called “mon chevalier,” and was taking with her to Nizhny.

In Julie’s circle, as in many circles in Moscow, it was a principle now to speak nothing but Russian, and those who made a mistake by speaking French had to pay a forfeit for the benefit of the committee of voluntary subscriptions.

“Another forfeit for a Gallicism,” said a Russian writer who happened to be present. “ ‘Take pleasure!’ is not Russian.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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