Chapter 24

ON THE EVENING of the 1st of September, Count Rastoptchin had come away from his interview with Kutuzov mortified and offended at not having been invited to the council of war, and at Kutuzov’s having taken no notice of his offer to take part in the defence of the city, and astonished at the new view of things revealed to him in the camp, in which the tranquillity of the city and its patriotic fervour were treated as matters of quite secondary importance, if not altogether irrelevant and trivial. Mortified, offended, and astonished at all this, Count Rastoptchin had returned to Moscow. After supper, he lay down on a sofa without undressing, and at one o’clock was waked by a courier bringing him a letter from Kutuzov. The letter asked the count, since the troops were retreating to the Ryazan road behind Moscow, to send police officials to escort troops through the town. The letter told Rastoptchin nothing new. He had known that Moscow would be abandoned not merely since his interview the previous day with Kutuzov on the Poklonny Hill, but ever since the battle of Borodino; since when all the generals who had come to Moscow had with one voice declared that another battle was impossible, and with Rastoptchin’s sanction government property had been removed every night, and half the inhabitants had left. But nevertheless the fact, communicated in the form of a simple note, with a command from Kutuzov, and received at night, breaking in on his first sleep, surprised and irritated the governor.

In later days, Count Rastoptchin, by way of explaining his action during this time, wrote several times in his notes that his two great aims at that time were to maintain tranquillity in Moscow, and to make the inhabitants go out of it. If this twofold aim is admitted, every act of Rastoptchin’s appears irreproachable. Why were not the holy relics, the arms, the ammunition, the powder, the stores of bread taken away? Why were thousands of the inhabitants deceived into a belief that Moscow would not be abandoned and so ruined? “To preserve the tranquillity of the city,” replies Count Rastoptchin’s explanation. Why were heaps of useless papers out of the government offices and Leppich’s balloon and other objects carried away? “To leave the town empty,” replies Count Rastoptchin’s explanation. One has but to admit some menace to public tranquillity and every sort of action is justified.

All the horrors of terrorism were based only on anxiety for public tranquillity.

What foundation was there for Count Rastoptchin’s dread of popular disturbance in Moscow in 1812? What reason was there for assuming a disposition to revolution in the city? The inhabitants were leaving it; the retreating troops were filling Moscow. Why were the mob likely to riot in consequence?

Not in Moscow only, but everywhere else in Russia nothing like riots took place at the approach of the enemy. On the 1st and 2nd of September more than ten thousand people were left in Moscow, and except for the mob that gathered in the commander-in-chief’s courtyard, attracted there by himself, nothing happened. It is obvious that there would have been even less ground for anticipating disturbances among the populace if, after the battle of Borodino, when the surrender of Moscow became a certainty, or at least a probability, Rastoptchin had taken steps for the removal of all the holy relics, of the powder, ammunition, and treasury, and had told the people straight out that the town would be abandoned, instead of exciting the populace by posting up placards and distributing arms.

Rastoptchin, an impulsive, sanguine man, who had always moved in the highest spheres of the administration, was a patriot in feeling, but had not the faintest notion of the character of the people he supposed himself to be governing. From the time when the enemy first entered Smolensk, Rastoptchin had in his own imagination been playing the part of leader of popular feeling—of the heart of Russia. He did not merely fancy—as every governing official always does fancy—that he was controlling the external acts of the inhabitants of Moscow, but fancied that he was shaping their mental attitude by means of his appeals and placards, written in that vulgar, slangy jargon which the people despise in their own class, and simply fail to understand when they hear it from persons of higher station. The picturesque figure of leader of the popular feeling was so much to Rastoptchin’s taste, and he so lived in it, that the necessity of abandoning it, the necessity of surrendering Moscow with no heroic effect of any kind, took him quite unawares; the very ground he was standing on seemed slipping from under his feet, and he was utterly at a loss what to do. Though he knew it was coming, he could not till the last minute fully believe in the abandonment of Moscow, and did nothing towards it. The inhabitants left the city against his wishes. If

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