Book 9 Chapter 21

AFTER THE UNCOMPROMISING REFUSAL he had received, Petya went to his own room, and there locking himself in, he wept bitterly. All his family behaved as though they noticed nothing when he came in to tea, silent and depressed with tear-stained eyes.

Next day, the Tsar arrived in Moscow. Several of the Rostovs' servants asked permission to go out to see the Tsar. That morning Petya spent a long time dressing. He combed his hair and arranged his collar like a grown-up man. He screwed up his eyes before the looking-glass, gesticulated, shrugged his shoulders, and finally, without saying anything to any one, he put on his cap and went out of the house by the back way, trying to escape observation. Petya had resolved to go straight to where the Tsar was, and to explain frankly to some gentleman-in-waiting (Petya fancied that the Tsar was always surrounded by gentlemen-in-waiting) that he, Count Rostov, wished, in spite of his youth, to serve his country, that youth could be no hindrance to devotion, and that he was ready…Petya had, while he was dressing, prepared a great many fine speeches to make to the gentleman-in-waiting.

Petya reckoned on the success of his presentation to the Tsar simply because he was a child (Petya dreamed, indeed, of how they would wonder at his youth), and yet in his arrangement of his collar, and his hair, and in the sedate, deliberate walk he adopted, he tried to act the part of an elderly man. But the further he went, the more interested he became in the growing crowds about the Kremlin, and he forgot to keep up the sedateness and deliberation characteristic of grown-up people. As he got closer to the Kremlin, he began to try to avoid being crushed, and with a resolute and threatening mien, stuck elbows out on each side of him. But in spite of his determined air, in the Toistsky Gate the crowd, probably unaware of his patriotic object in going to the Kremlin, so pushed him against the wall, that he was obliged to submit and stand still, while carriages drove in with a rumbling sound under the archway. Near Petya stood a peasant woman, a footman, two merchants, and a discharged soldier. After standing for some time in the gateway, Petya, not caring to wait for all the carriages to pass, tried to push on before the rest, and began resolutely working away with his elbows, but the peasant woman standing next him, who was the first person he poked, shouted angrily to him:

“Why are you shoving away, little master? You see everybody's standing still. What do you want to push for?”

“What, if every one were to push then!” said the footman; and he too setting to work with his elbows shoved Petya into the stinking corner of the gateway.

Petya rubbed the sweat off his face with his hands, and set straight the soaking collar, that he had so carefully arranged at home like a grown-up person's.

Petya felt that he looked unpresentable, and was afraid that if he showed himself in this guise to the gentlemen-in-waiting, they would not admit him to the Tsar's presence. But the crush gave him no possibility of setting himself straight or getting into another place. One of the generals who rode by was an acquaintance of the Rostovs. Petya wanted to ask him for help, but considered this would be below his manly dignity. When all the carriages had driven by, the crowd made a rush, and swept Petya along with it into the square, which was already full of people. Not only in the square, but on the slopes, and the roofs, and everywhere there were crowds of people. As soon as Petya got into the square, he heard the ringing of bells and the joyous hum of the crowd filling the whole Kremlin.

For a while the crush was less in the square, but all at once all heads were bared, and there was another rush forward. Petya was so crushed that he could hardly breathe, and there was a continual shouting: “Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!”

Petya tip-toed, pushed, and pinched, but he could see nothing but the crowd around him.

All the faces wore the same expression of excitement and enthusiasm. A shopkeeper's wife standing near Petya sobbed, and tears flowed down her cheeks.

“Father, angel!” she kept saying, wiping her tears with her fingers.

“Hurrah!” shouted the crowd on all sides.

For a minute the crowd remained stationary; then there was another rush forward.

Petya, beside himself with excitement, clenched his teeth, and rolling his eyes savagely, rushed forward, elbowing his way and shouting “Hurrah!” as though he were prepared to kill himself and every one else at that moment, but just as savage faces pushed on each side of him with the same shouts of “hurrah!”

“So this is the Tsar!” thought Petya. “No, I could never give him the petition myself, it would be too bold!”

In spite of that, he still forced his way forward as desperately, and over the backs of those in front of him caught a glimpse of open space with a passage covered with red cloth in the midst of it. But at that moment the crowd began heaving back; the police in front were forcing back those who had pressed too close to the procession. The Tsar was passing from the palace to the Uspensky Sobor. Petya received such a sudden blow in the ribs, and was so squeezed, that all at once a mist passed before his eyes, and he lost consciousness. When he came to himself, a clerical personage, with a mane of grey hair on his shoulders, in a shabby blue cassock—probably a deacon—was holding him up with one arm, while with the other he kept off the crowd.

“A young gentleman's been crushed!” the deacon was saying, “Mind what you're about!…easy there!…you're crushing him, you're crushing him!”

The Tsar had entered the Uspensky Sobor. The crowd spread out again, and the deacon got Petya pale and breathless on to the big cannon. Several persons pitied Petya; and suddenly quite a crowd noticed his plight, and began to press round him. Those who were standing near him looked after him, unbuttoned his coat, sat him on the highest part of the cannon, and scolded those who were squeezing too close to him.

“Any one may be crushed to death like that. What next! Killing people! Why, the poor dear's as white as a sheet,” said voices.

Petya soon recovered, and the colour came back into his face; the pain was over, and by this temporary inconvenience he had gained a seat on the cannon, from which he hoped to see the Tsar, who was to walk back. Petya thought no more now of presenting his petition. If only he could see him, he would think himself lucky! During the service in the Uspensky Sobor, in celebration of the Tsar's arrival, and also in thanks-giving for the peace with the Turks, the crowd dispersed about the square, and hawkers appeared crying kvass, gingerbread, and poppy-seed sweets—of which Petya was particularly fond—and he could hear the usual talk among the people. One shopkeeper's wife was showing her torn shawl, and saying how much she had paid for it; while another observed that all silk things were very dear nowadays. The deacon who had rescued Petya was talking to a clerk of the different priests who were taking part in the service to-day with the most reverend bishop. The deacon several times repeated the word “soborne,” which Petya did not understand. Two young artisans were joking with some servant-girls, cracking nuts. All these conversations, especially the jokes with the servant-girls—which would have seemed particularly attractive at his age to Petya—did not interest him now. He sat on his high perch on the cannon, still in the same excitement at the thought of the Tsar and his love for him. The blending of the feeling of pain and fright when he was crushed with the feeling of enthusiasm intensified his sense of the gravity of the occasion.

Suddenly cannon shots were heard from the embankment—the firing was in celebration of the peace with the Turks—and the crowd made a dash for the embankment to see the firing. Petya, too, would have liked to run there, but the deacon, who had taken the young gentleman under his protection, would not let him. The firing still continued, when officers, generals, and gentlemen-in-waiting came running out of the Uspensky Sobor. Then others came out with less haste, and again caps were lifted, and those who had run to look at the cannons ran back. At last four men in uniforms and decorations came out from the doors of the Sobor. “Hurrah! hurrah!” the crowd shouted again.

“Which? which one?” Petya asked in a weeping voice of those around him, but no one answered him. Every one was too much excited, and Petya, picking out one of the four, and hardly able to see him for the tears that started into his eyes, concentrated all his enthusiasm on him, though it happened not to be the Tsar. He shouted “Hurrah!” in a voice of frenzy, and resolved that to-morrow, come what might of it, he would join the army. The crowd ran after the Tsar, accompanied him to the palace, and began to disperse. It was late, and Petya had had nothing to eat, and the sweat was dripping from his face. But he did not go home. He remained with a smaller, though still considerable, crowd before the palace during the Tsar's dinner-time. He gazed up at the palace windows, expecting something to happen, and envying equally the grand personages who drove up to the entrance to dine with the Tsar, and the footmen waiting at table, of whom he caught glimpses at the window.

At the Tsar's dinner, Valuev said, looking out of the window:

“The people are still hoping to get a sight of your majesty.”

The dinner was almost over, the Tsar got up, and still munching a biscuit, came out on the balcony. The crowd, with Petya in the midst, rushed towards the balcony.

“Angel, father! Hurrah!” …shouted the crowd, and with it Petya. And again women, and, in a less degree some men—among them Petya—shed tears of happiness.

A good sized piece of the biscuit in the Tsar's hand broke off, fell on the balcony railing, and from the railing to the ground. A coachman in a jerkin, who stood nearest, pounced on the piece of biscuit and snatched it up. Several persons rushed at the coachman. Noticing this the Tsar asked for a plate of biscuits, and began dropping them from the balcony. Petya's eyes almost started out of his head; the danger of being crushed excited him more than ever, and he rushed at the biscuits. He did not know why, but he felt he must have a biscuit from the Tsar's hands, and he must not give in. He made a dash and upset an old woman, who was just about to seize a biscuit. But the old woman refused to consider herself beaten, though she was on the ground; she snatched at the biscuits on her hands and knees. Petya pushed her hand away with his knee, snatched up a biscuit, and as though afraid of being late, hastily shouted again, “Hurrah!” in a hoarse voice.

The Tsar went in, and after that the greater part of the crowd dispersed.

“There, I said if only we waited—and so it was,” was the delighted comment on various sides in the crowd.

Happy as Petya was, he felt sad to go home, and to feel that all the enjoyment of that day was over. From the Kremlin, Petya went not home, but to his comrade Obolensky's. He was fifteen, and he, too, was going into the army. On getting home, Petya announced with decision and firmness that if they would not let him do so too, he would run away. And next day, though Count Ilya Andreitch had not quite yielded, he went to inquire if a commission could be obtained for Petya somewhere where there would be little danger.