This chapter puts the war into War and Peace. It’s a deeply visceral triumph of transportive storytelling. We are truly with Alpatych as he negotiates war-torn Smolensk. We’re with him as he first enters town, marveling at soldiers mowing down a perfectly good oatfield for fodder as enemy cannon fire cracks in the distance. We’re with him in the darkness of night as marching soldiers beat a foreboding clangor just outside his window. We’re with him later as the whistling roar and booming thuds of cannon shelling rains down upon the town filling the fleeing streets with ghostly smoke, demon fire, and the terrified wailing of women and children. And then the panic of fearful uncertainty as Prince Andrei’s wraithlike apparition emerges on horseback, illuminated by the greedy flames of wrack and ruin.
And, yet, despite the danger Alpatych fulfills his duty. He executes the old Prince’s orders and he delivers Dessalles’ message to the Provincial Governor. It’s a tough order to fill but he does so with grace and grit. He even takes tea with an old friend as the war closes in on Smolensk.
There’s something profoundly honorable in his service to the old Prince here. His unflinching courage and dedication to the task at hand, even while under attack from an invading foreign army, provides a forceful example of endurance of spirit in the face of adversity.
So remember Alpatych and his taking of tea amid the battle of Smolensk the next time you encounter hardship.
Fire tests gold, misfortune brave men.
Seneca, De Providentia