Chapter 29

AS THE FRENCH OFFICER drew Pierre with him into the room, the latter thought it his duty to assure the captain again that he was not a Frenchman, and would have withdrawn, but the French officer would not hear of it. He was so courteous, polite, good-humoured, and genuinely grateful to him for saving his life that Pierre had not the heart to refuse, and sat down with him in the dining-room, the first room they entered. To Pierre’s asseveration that he was not a Frenchman, the captain, plainly unable to comprehend how any one could refuse so flattering a title, shrugged his shoulders, and said that if he insisted in passing for a Russian, so be it, but that in spite of that he should yet feel bound to him for ever by sentiments of gratitude for the defence of his life.

If this man had been endowed with even the slightest faculty of perceiving the feelings of others, and had had the faintest inkling of Pierre’s sentiments, the latter would probably have left him. But his lively impenetrability to everything not himself vanquished Pierre.

“Frenchman or Russian prince incognito,” said the Frenchman, looking at Pierre’s fine, though dirty linen, and the ring on his finger; “I owe my life to you, and I offer you my friendship. A Frenchman never forgets an insult or a service. I offer you my friendship. That’s all I say.”

In the tones of the voice, the expression of the face, and the gestures of the officer, there was so much naïve good nature and good breeding (in the French sense) that Pierre unconsciously responded with a smile to his smile, as he took his outstretched hand.

“Captain Ramballe of the 13th Light Brigade, decorated for the affair of the 7th September,” he introduced himself, an irrepressible smile of complacency lurking under his moustache. “Will you tell me now to whom I have the honour of speaking so agreeably, instead of remaining in the ambulance with that madman’s ball in my body?”

Pierre answered that he would not tell him his name, and was beginning with a blush, while trying to invent a name, to speak of the reasons for which he was unable to do so, but the Frenchman hurriedly interrupted him.

“Enough!” he said. “I understand your reasons; you are an officer … a staff officer, perhaps. You have borne arms against us. That’s not my business. I owe you my life. That’s enough for me. I am at your disposal. You are a nobleman?” he added, with an intonation of inquiry. Pierre bowed.

“Your baptismal name, if you please? I ask nothing more. M. Pierre, you say? Perfect! That’s all I want to know.”

When they had brought in the mutton, an omelette, a samovar, vodka, and wine from a Russian cellar brought with them by the French, Ramballe begged Pierre to share his dinner; and at once with the haste and greediness of a healthy, hungry man, set to work on the viands himself, munching vigorously with his strong teeth, and continually smacking his lips and exclaiming, “Excellent! exquis!” His face became flushed and perspiring. Pierre was hungry, and pleased to share the repast. Morel, the orderly, brought in a pot of hot water, and put a bottle of red wine to warm in it. He brought in too a bottle of kvass from the kitchen for them to taste. This beverage was already known to the French, and had received a nickname. They called it limonade de cochon, and Morel praised this “pigs’ lemonade,” which he had found in the kitchen. But as the captain had the wine they had picked up as they crossed Moscow, he left the kvass for Morel, and attacked the bottle of bordeaux. He wrapped a napkin round the bottle, and poured out wine for himself and Pierre. The wine, and the satisfaction of his hunger, made the captain even more lively, and he chatted away without a pause all dinner-time.

“Yes, my dear M. Pierre, I owe you a fine votive candle for saving me from that maniac. I have bullets enough in my body, you know. Here is one from Wagram” (he pointed to his side), “and two from Smolensk” (he showed the scar on his cheek). “And this leg which won’t walk, as you see. It was at the great battle of la Moskowa on the 7th that I got that. Sacré Dieu, it was fine! You ought to have seen that; it was

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