For the past two days, Pierre has been living in Bazdeev’s empty apartment. Since the day after his arrival in Moscow, he has been overwhelmed with his old paralysis of helplessness and indecision. His butler informs Pierre that there’s a letter from Hélène, and also that the widow of I. A. Bazdeev has sent a message asking Pierre to claim her late husband’s books. Somehow, this latter issue seems the most pressing. That’s when Pierre walks out of his house, ignoring everyone else, and takes a cab to Iosif Alexeevich’s house.
The focus returns to Pierre’s story, as he was last seen struggling indecisively over the state of affairs in Moscow and under suspicion for being a Mason. Seeking direction, Pierre instinctively retreats to his old mentor’s home, even though Bazdeev is no longer there to guide him.
On the way to his old mentor’s house, the cabby tells Pierre about the battle that’s expected at the Three Hills gate tomorrow. When he reaches the Bazdeevs’, the little old servant, Gerasim, welcomes him. Gerasim explains that Iosif Alexeevich’s half-mad and alcoholic brother, Makar Alexeevich, is staying here. Pierre goes into his old master’s gloomy study and finds the original Scottish Masonic charters among the other important papers. For a long time, he’s lost in thought. Eventually he asks Gerasim for peasants’ clothes. He spends the night there, pacing and talking to himself. The next day, while walking with Gerasim to buy a pistol, Pierre encounters the Rostovs.
At Bazdeev’s, Pierre makes a surprising decision. Instead of hiding or dithering aimlessly, he appears to have decided to join the crowd anticipating battle at the Three Hills, laying aside the traditional Masonic commitment to pacifism Bazdeev had handed down to him.
On the night of September 1st, Kutuzov orders the army to retreat through Moscow. By mid-morning the next day, most have passed through the city. Napoleon stands on Poklonnaya Hill, overlooking the spectacle of Moscow in the brilliant autumn weather. He is struck by the “maternal” feel of the foreign city. He feels excited by the prospect of imminently taking possession of it. He thinks of his conquest in terms of conflict with the Emperor Alexander and fondly imagines “civilizing” this barbarous place and its people coming to revere him. He sends a general to bring the “boyars” to him and practices the magnanimous speech he’ll give when they arrive.
The “boyars” were an order of the medieval Russian aristocracy that had actually been abolished a century earlier by Peter the Great. With this detail, Tolstoy hints that Napoleon doesn’t know much about Russian history. This—along with his fantasy that he’ll “civilize” Russia, presumably to be more French— fits with his characterization of Napoleon as incredibly arrogant.
Meanwhile, generals and marshals hold a whispered debate. The general sent into Moscow had discovered that the city is practically vacant. How will they tell Napoleon? Should they gather a deputation of the few drunken men who remain? They fear putting Napoleon in the dreaded position of le ridicule. Before they can decide what to do, Napoleon gets impatient and orders troops to fire on the city.
Napoleon seems to expect that he’ll be welcomed with open arms, making things awkward for his inferiors. The historical reality was that the vast majority of Moscow’s residents fled their homes rather than accept the French occupation of September-October, 1812.
Moscow is virtually empty; it looks like “a dying-out, queenless beehive.” Such a hive smells of both sweet honey and empty rot. There’s no longer a steady hum of bees at work, but a disorderly, scattered buzzing. Only robber bees and a few half-dead, sluggish and aimless survivors remain. Such a hive is only fit to be burned down when the beekeeper finds the time. This is what Moscow is like as Napoleon paces restlessly on the outskirts. When he learns that the city is empty, he glares and retreats to a suburban inn.
Napoleon had dreamed of occupying a thriving Moscow, but only “robber bees” (looters), the wounded, and other poor people remain behind in the abandoned city, which is an empty husk unworthy of his aspirations.
As troops and the wounded travel out of Moscow, the biggest jams occur at the bridges. When this happens, many soldiers slip back into the city and begin looting. Officers make a halfhearted attempt to stop the looting, but then a commotion breaks out at the Moskvoretsky bridge. They see dismounted cannons, an overturned cart, and a shrieking woman. The officers learn that General Ermolov dealt with the congestion by pretending he was going to fire on the bridge—leading to general chaos.
As Napoleon sulks, the evacuation disintegrates into chaos as people fight to get out of the city before the French arrive, and others take advantage of the confusion—all examples of how war senselessly erodes society.
Back at the Rostovs’ house, the yard porter Ignat, the servant boy Mishka, and Mavra Kuzminishna have nothing much to do. A young Russian officer knocks at the gate, seeking the Count, and Mavra Kuzminishna explains that the family have just left. The young man, a relative of the Rostovs, is shabbily dressed and indicates he’d hoped that the Count might spare some money. Mavra Kuzminishna runs off and brings the officer 25 roubles, then watches, teary-eyed, as the young man hurries off in search of his regiment.
At this point in the evacuation, the Rostov home contains only servants. Ordinary life has vacated the city, and one wonders what will become of those who remain behind, probably through little choice of their own. The bedraggled young Rostov relative represents the devastated condition of the Russian rank and file by this time.