Book 11 Chapter 20

MOSCOW meanwhile was empty. There was still people in the city; a fiftieth part of all the former inhabitants still remained in it, but it was empty.

It was deserted as a dying, queenless hive is deserted.

In a queenless hive there is no life left. Yet at a superficial glance it seems as much alive as other hives.

In the hot rays of the midday sun the bees soar as gaily around the queenless hive as around other living hives; from a distance it smells of honey like the rest, and bees fly into and out of it just the same. Yet one has but to watch it a little to see that there is no life in the hive. The flight of the bees is not as in living hives, the smell and the sound that meet the beekeeper are changed. When the beekeeper strikes the wall of the sick hive, instead of the instant, unanimous response, the buzzing of tens of thousands of bees menacingly arching their backs, and by the rapid stroke of their wings making that whirring, living sound, he is greeted by a disconnected, droning hum from different parts of the deserted hive. From the alighting board comes not as of old the spirituous, fragrant smell of honey and bitterness, and the whiff of heat from the multitudes within. A smell of chill emptiness and decay mingles with the scent of honey. Around the entrance there is now no throng of guards, arching their backs and trumpeting the menace, ready to die in its defence. There is heard no more the low, even hum, the buzz of toil, like the singing of boiling water, but the broken, discordant uproar of disorder comes forth. The black, long-shaped, honey-smeared workers fly timidly and furtively in and out of the hive: they do not sting, but crawl away at the sight of danger. Of old they flew in only with their bags of honey, and flew out empty: now they fly out with their burdens. The beekeeper opens the lower partition and peeps into the lower half of the hive. Instead of the clusters of black, sleek bees, clinging on each other's legs, hanging to the lower side of the partition, and with an unbroken hum of toil building at the wax, drowsy, withered bees wander listlessly about over the roof and walls of the hive. Instead of the cleanly glued-up floor, swept by the bees' wings, there are now bits of wax, excrement, dying bees feebly kicking, and dead bees lying not cleared away on the floor.

The beekeeper opens the upper door and examines the super of the hive. In place of close rows of bees, sealing up every gap left in the combs and fostering the brood, he sees only the skilful, complex, edifice of combs, and even in this the virginal purity of old days is gone. All is forsaken; and soiled, black, stranger bees scurry swiftly and stealthily about the combs in search of plunder; while the dried-up, shrunken, listless, old-looking bees of the hive wander slowly about, doing nothing to hinder them, having lost every desire and sense of life. Drones, gadflies, wasps and butterflies flutter about aimlessly, brushing their wings against the walls of the hive. Here and there, between the cells full of dead brood and honey, is heard an angry buzz; here and there a couple of bees from old habit and custom, though they know not why they do it, are cleaning the hive, painfully dragging away a dead bee or a wasp, a task beyond their strength. In another corner two other old bees are languidly fighting or cleaning themselves or feeding one another, themselves unaware whether with friendly or hostile intent. Elsewhere a crowd of bees, squeezing one another, is falling upon some victim, beating and crushing it; and the killed or enfeebled bee drops slowly, light as a feather, on to the heap of corpses. The beekeeper parts the two centre partitions to look at the nursery. Instead of the dense, black rings of thousands of bees, sitting back to back, watching the high mysteries of the work of generation, he sees hundreds of dejected, lifeless, and slumbering wrecks of bees. Almost all have died, unconscious of their coming end, sitting in the holy place, which they had watched—now no more. They reek of death and corruption. But a few of them still stir, rise up, fly languidly and settle on the hand of the foe, without the spirit to die stinging him; the rest are dead and as easily brushed aside as fishes' scales. The beekeeper closes the partition, chalks a mark on the hive, and choosing his own time, breaks it up and burns it.

So was Moscow deserted, as Napoleon, weary, uneasy and frowning, paced up and down at the Kamerkolezhsky wall awaiting that merely external, but still to his mind essential observance of the proprieties—a deputation.

Some few men were still astir in odd corners of Moscow, aimlessly following their old habits, with no understanding of what they were doing.

When, with due circumspectness, Napoleon was informed that Moscow was deserted, he looked wrathfully at his informant, and turning his back on him, went on pacing up and down in silence.

“My carriage,” he said. He sat down in his carriage beside the adjutant on duty, and drove into the suburbs.

“Moscow deserted! What an incredible event!” he said to himself.

He did not drive right into the town, but put up for the night at an inn in the Dorogomilov suburb. The dramatic scene had not come off.









“Moscon déserte.Quel événement invraisemBblable!”①他自言自语。


Le coup de thèǎtre avait raté②.