Chapter 18

WHEN PIERRE returned home, he was handed two new placards of Rastoptchin’s that had just appeared.

The first declared that the rumour, that it was forbidden to leave Moscow by Count Rastoptchin’s order, was false, and that, on the contrary, he was glad that ladies and merchants’ wives were leaving the town. “There will be less panic and less false news,” said the notice; “but I will stake my life on it that the miscreant will never enter Moscow.”

These words first showed Pierre clearly that the French certainly would enter Moscow. In the second placard it was announced that our headquarters were at Vyazma, that Count Wittgenstein had defeated the French, but that since many of the inhabitants of Moscow were desirous of arming themselves, weapons had been provided to meet their wishes in the arsenal; swords, pistols, and guns could all be procured there at a low rate.

The tone of this notice was not as jocose as the former supposed discourses of Tchigirin. The two placards made Pierre ponder. It was evident to him that the menacing storm cloud, for the advent of which his whole soul longed, though it roused an involuntary thrill of horror, it was evident that that cloud was coming closer.

“Shall I enter the service and join the army or wait here?” Pierre thought, a question he had put to himself a hundred times already. He took up a pack of cards that lay on the table to deal them for a game of patience.

“If I succeed in this game of patience,” he said to himself, shuffling the pack as he held it in his hand and looked upwards; “if I succeed, it means … what does it mean?” … He had not time to decide this question when he heard at the door of his study the voice of the eldest princess, asking whether she might come in. “Then it will mean that I must set off to join the army,” Pierre told himself. “Come, come in,” he said to the princess.

The eldest of his cousins, the one with the long waist and the stony face, was the only one still living in Pierre’s house; the two younger sisters had both married.

“Excuse my coming to you, cousin,” she said in a tone of reproach and excitement. “Some decision really must be come to, you know. What is going to happen? Every one has left Moscow, and the populace are becoming unruly. Why are we staying on?”

“On the contrary, everything seems going on satisfactorily, ma cousine,” said Pierre in the habitually playful tone he had adopted with his cousin, to carry off the embarrassment he always felt at being in the position of a benefactor to her.

“Oh, yes, satisfactorily … highly satisfactory, I dare say. Varvara Ivanovna told me to-day how our troops are distinguishing themselves. It is certainly a credit to them. And the populace, too, is in complete revolt, they won’t obey any one now; even my maid has begun to be insolent. If it goes on like this, they will soon begin killing us. One can’t walk about the streets. And the worst of it is, in another day or two the French will be here. Why are we waiting for them? One favour I beg of you, mon cousin,” said the princess, “give orders for me to be taken to Petersburg; whatever I may be, any way I can’t live under Bonaparte’s rule.”

“But what nonsense, ma cousine! where do you get your information from? On the contrary …”

“I’m not going to submit to your Napoleon. Other people may do as they like.… If you won’t do this for me …”

“But I will, I’ll give orders for it at once.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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