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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWar And Peace - Book Twelve: 1812 - Chapter 4
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War And Peace - Book Twelve: 1812 - Chapter 4 Post by :dallas02 Category :Long Stories Author :Leo Tolstoy Date :December 2010 Read :2002

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War And Peace - Book Twelve: 1812 - Chapter 4

It is natural for us who were not living in those days to imagine
that when half Russia had been conquered and the inhabitants were
ficeing to distant provinces, and one levy after another was being
raised for the defense of the fatherland, all Russians from the
greatest to the least were solely engaged in sacrificing themselves,
saving their fatherland, or weeping over its downfall. The tales and
descriptions of that time without exception speak only of the
self-sacrifice, patriotic devotion, despair, grief, and the heroism of
the Russians. But it was not really so. It appears so to us because we
see only the general historic interest of that time and do not see all
the personal human interests that people had. Yet in reality those
personal interests of the moment so much transcend the general
interests that they always prevent the public interest from being felt
or even noticed. Most of the people at that time paid no attention
to the general progress of events but were guided only by their
private interests, and they were the very people whose activities at
that period were most useful.

Those who tried to understand the general course of events and to
take part in it by self-sacrifice and heroism were the most useless
members of society, they saw everything upside down, and all they
did for the common good turned out to be useless and foolish- like
Pierre's and Mamonov's regiments which looted Russian villages, and
the lint the young ladies prepared and that never reached the wounded,
and so on. Even those, fond of intellectual talk and of expressing
their feelings, who discussed Russia's position at the time
involuntarily introduced into their conversation either a shade of
pretense and falsehood or useless condemnation and anger directed
against people accused of actions no one could possibly be guilty
of. In historic events the rule forbidding us to eat of the fruit of
the Tree of Knowledge is specially applicable. Only unconscious action
bears fruit, and he who plays a part in an historic event never
understands its significance. If he tries to realize it his efforts
are fruitless.

The more closely a man was engaged in the events then taking place
in Russia the less did he realize their significance. In Petersburg
and in the provinces at a distance from Moscow, ladies, and
gentlemen in militia uniforms, wept for Russia and its ancient capital
and talked of self-sacrifice and so on; but in the army which
retired beyond Moscow there was little talk or thought of Moscow,
and when they caught sight of its burned ruins no one swore to be
avenged on the French, but they thought about their next pay, their
next quarters, of Matreshka the vivandiere, and like matters.

As the war had caught him in the service, Nicholas Rostov took a
close and prolonged part in the defense of his country, but did so
casually, without any aim at self-sacrifice, and he therefore looked
at what was going on in Russia without despair and without dismally
racking his brains over it. Had he been asked what he thought of the
state of Russia, he would have said that it was not his business to
think about it, that Kutuzov and others were there for that purpose,
but that he had heard that the regiments were to be made up to their
full strength, that fighting would probably go on for a long time yet,
and that things being so it was quite likely he might be in command of
a regiment in a couple of years' time.

As he looked at the matter in this way, he learned that he was being
sent to Voronezh to buy remounts for his division, not only without
regret at being prevented from taking part in the coming battle, but
with the greatest pleasure- which he did not conceal and which his
comrades fully understood.

A few days before the battle of Borodino, Nicholas received the
necessary money and warrants, and having sent some hussars on in
advance, he set out with post horses for Voronezh.

Only a man who has experienced it- that is, has passed some months
continuously in an atmosphere of campaigning and war- can understand
the delight Nicholas felt when he escaped from the region covered by
the army's foraging operations, provision trains, and hospitals. When-
free from soldiers, wagons, and the filthy traces of a camp- he saw
villages with peasants and peasant women, gentlemen's country
houses, fields where cattle were grazing, posthouses with
stationmasters asleep in them, he rejoiced as though seeing all this
for the first time. What for a long while specially surprised and
delighted him were the women, young and healthy, without a dozen
officers making up to each of them; women, too, who were pleased and
flattered that a passing officer should joke with them.

In the highest spirits Nicholas arrived at night at a hotel in
Voronezh, ordered things he had long been deprived of in camp, and
next day, very clean-shaven and in a full-dress uniform he had not
worn for a long time, went to present himself to the authorities.

The commander of the militia was a civilian general, an old man
who was evidently pleased with his military designation and rank. He
received Nicholas brusquely (imagining this to be characteristically
military) and questioned him with an important air, as if
considering the general progress of affairs and approving and
disapproving with full right to do so. Nicholas was in such good
spirits that this merely amused him.

From the commander of the militia he drove to the governor. The
governor was a brisk little man, very simple and affable. He indicated
the stud farms at which Nicholas might procure horses, recommended
to him a horse dealer in the town and a landowner fourteen miles out
of town who had the best horses, and promised to assist him in every
way.

"You are Count Ilya Rostov's son? My wife was a great friend of your
mother's. We are at home on Thursdays- today is Thursday, so please
come and see us quite informally," said the governor, taking leave
of him.

Immediately on leaving the governor's, Nicholas hired post horses
and, taking his squadron quartermaster with him, drove at a gallop
to the landowner, fourteen miles away, who had the stud. Everything
seemed to him pleasant and easy during that first part of his stay
in Voronezh and, as usually happens when a man is in a pleasant
state of mind, everything went well and easily.

The landowner to whom Nicholas went was a bachelor, an old
cavalryman, a horse fancier, a sportsman, the possessor of some
century-old brandy and some old Hungarian wine, who had a snuggery
where he smoked, and who owned some splendid horses.

In very few words Nicholas bought seventeen picked stallions for six
thousand rubles- to serve, as he said, as samples of his remounts.
After dining and taking rather too much of the Hungarian wine,
Nicholas- having exchanged kisses with the landowner, with whom he was
already on the friendliest terms- galloped back over abominable roads,
in the brightest frame of mind, continually urging on the driver so as
to be in time for the governor's party.

When he had changed, poured water over his head, and scented
himself, Nicholas arrived at the governor's rather late, but with
the phrase "better late than never" on his lips.

It was not a ball, nor had dancing been announced, but everyone knew
that Catherine Petrovna would play valses and the ecossaise on the
clavichord and that there would be dancing, and so everyone had come
as to a ball.

Provincial life in 1812 went on very much as usual, but with this
difference, that it was livelier in the towns in consequence of the
arrival of many wealthy families from Moscow, and as in everything
that went on in Russia at that time a special recklessness was
noticeable, an "in for a penny, in for a pound- who cares?" spirit,
and the inevitable small talk, instead of turning on the weather and
mutual acquaintances, now turned on Moscow, the army, and Napoleon.

The society gathered together at the governor's was the best in
Voronezh.

There were a great many ladies and some of Nicholas' Moscow
acquaintances, but there were no men who could at all vie with the
cavalier of St. George, the hussar remount officer, the good-natured
and well-bred Count Rostov. Among the men was an Italian prisoner,
an officer of the French army; and Nicholas felt that the presence
of that prisoner enhanced his own importance as a Russian hero. The
Italian was, as it were, a war trophy. Nicholas felt this, it seemed
to him that everyone regarded the Italian in the same light, and he
treated him cordially though with dignity and restraint.

As soon as Nicholas entered in his hussar uniform, diffusing
around him a fragrance of perfume and wine, and had uttered the
words "better late than never" and heard them repeated several times
by others, people clustered around him; all eyes turned on him, and he
felt at once that he had entered into his proper position in the
province- that of a universal favorite: a very pleasant position,
and intoxicatingly so after his long privations. At posting
stations, at inns, and in the landowner's snuggery, maidservants had
been flattered by his notice, and here too at the governor's party
there were (as it seemed to Nicholas) an inexhaustible number of
pretty young women, married and unmarried, impatiently awaiting his
notice. The women and girls flirted with him and, from the first
day, the people concerned themselves to get this fine young
daredevil of an hussar married and settled down. Among these was the
governor's wife herself, who welcomed Rostov as a near relative and
called him "Nicholas."

Catherine Petrovna did actually play valses and the ecossaise, and
dancing began in which Nicholas still further captivated the
provincial society by his agility. His particularly free manner of
dancing even surprised them all. Nicholas was himself rather surprised
at the way he danced that evening. He had never danced like that in
Moscow and would even have considered such a very free and easy manner
improper and in bad form, but here he felt it incumbent on him to
astonish them all by something unusual, something they would have to
accept as the regular thing in the capital though new to them in the
provinces.

All the evening Nicholas paid attention to a blue-eyed, plump and
pleasing little blonde, the wife of one of the provincial officials.
With the naive conviction of young men in a merry mood that other
men's wives were created for them, Rostov did not leave the lady's
side and treated her husband in a friendly and conspiratorial style,
as if, without speaking of it, they knew how capitally Nicholas and
the lady would get on together. The husband, however, did not seem
to share that conviction and tried to behave morosely with Rostov. But
the latter's good-natured naivete was so boundless that sometimes even
he involuntarily yielded to Nicholas' good humor. Toward the end of
the evening, however, as the wife's face grew more flushed and
animated, the husband's became more and more melancholy and solemn, as
though there were but a given amount of animation between them and
as the wife's share increased the husband's diminished.

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