It was a warm rainy autumn day. The sky and the horizon were both the color of muddy water. At times a sort of mist descended, and then suddenly heavy slanting rain came down.
Denísov in a felt cloak and a sheepskin cap from which the rain ran down was riding a thin thoroughbred horse with sunken sides. Like his horse, which turned its head and laid its ears back, he shrank from the driving rain and gazed anxiously before him. His thin face with its short, thick black beard looked angry.
Beside Denísov rode an esaul, * Denísov’s fellow worker, also in felt cloak and sheepskin cap, and riding a large sleek Don horse.
Esaul Lováyski the Third was a tall man as straight as an arrow, pale-faced, fair-haired, with narrow light eyes and with calm self-satisfaction in his face and bearing. Though it was impossible to say in what the peculiarity of the horse and rider lay, yet at first glance at the esaul and Denísov one saw that the latter was wet and uncomfortable and was a man mounted on a horse, while looking at the esaul one saw that he was as comfortable and as much at ease as always and that he was not a man who had mounted a horse, but a man who was one with his horse, a being consequently possessed of twofold strength.
A little ahead of them walked a peasant guide, wet to the skin and wearing a gray peasant coat and a white knitted cap.
A little behind, on a poor, small, lean Kirghíz mount with an enormous tail and mane and a bleeding mouth, rode a young officer in a blue French overcoat.
Beside him rode an hussar, with a boy in a tattered French uniform and blue cap behind him on the crupper of his horse. The boy held on to the hussar with cold, red hands, and raising his eyebrows gazed about him with surprise. This was the French drummer boy captured that morning.
Behind them along the narrow, sodden, cutup forest road came hussars in threes and fours, and then Cossacks: some in felt cloaks, some in French greatcoats, and some with horsecloths over their heads. The horses, being drenched by the rain, all looked black whether chestnut or bay. Their necks, with their wet, close-clinging manes, looked strangely thin. Steam rose from them. Clothes, saddles, reins, were all wet, slippery, and sodden, like the ground and the fallen leaves that strewed the road. The men sat huddled up trying not to stir, so as to warm the water that had trickled to their bodies and not admit the fresh cold water that was leaking in under their seats, their knees, and at the back of their necks. In the midst of the outspread line of Cossacks two wagons, drawn by French horses and by saddled Cossack horses that had been hitched on in front, rumbled over the tree stumps and branches and splashed through the water that lay in the ruts.
Denísov’s horse swerved aside to avoid a pool in the track and bumped his rider’s knee against a tree.
“Oh, the devil!” exclaimed Denísov angrily, and showing his teeth he struck his horse three times with his whip, splashing himself and his comrades with mud.
Denísov was out of sorts both because of the rain and also from hunger (none of them had eaten anything since morning), and yet more because he still had no news from Dólokhov and the man sent to capture a “tongue” had not returned.
“There’ll hardly be another such chance to fall on a transport as today. It’s too risky to attack them by oneself, and if we put it off till another day one of the big guerrilla detachments will snatch the prey from under our noses,” thought Denísov, continually peering forward, hoping to see a messenger from Dólokhov.
On coming to a path in the forest along which he could see far to the right, Denísov stopped.
“There’s someone coming,” said he.
The esaul looked in the direction Denísov indicated.
“There are two, an officer and a Cossack. But it is not presupposable that it is the lieutenant colonel himself,” said the esaul, who was fond of using words the Cossacks did not know.
The approaching riders having descended a decline were no longer visible, but they reappeared a few minutes later. In front, at a weary gallop and using his leather whip, rode an officer, disheveled and drenched, whose trousers had worked up to above his knees. Behind him, standing in the stirrups, trotted a Cossack. The officer, a very young lad with a broad rosy face and keen merry eyes, galloped up to Denísov and handed him a sodden envelope.
“From the general,” said the officer. “Please excuse its not being quite dry.”
Denísov, frowning, took the envelope and opened it.
“There, they kept telling us: ‘It’s dangerous, it’s dangerous,’” said the officer, addressing the esaul while Denísov was reading the dispatch. “But Komaróv and I”—he pointed to the Cossack—“were prepared. We have each of us two pistols.... But what’s this?” he asked, noticing the French drummer boy. “A prisoner? You’ve already been in action? May I speak to him?”
“Wostóv! Pétya!” exclaimed Denísov, having run through the dispatch. “Why didn’t you say who you were?” and turning with a smile he held out his hand to the lad.
The officer was Pétya Rostóv.
All the way Pétya had been preparing himself to behave with Denísov as befitted a grown-up man and an officer—without hinting at their previous acquaintance. But as soon as Denísov smiled at him Pétya brightened up, blushed with pleasure, forgot the official manner he had been rehearsing, and began telling him how he had already been in a battle near Vyázma and how a certain hussar had distinguished himself there.
“Well, I am glad to see you,” Denísov interrupted him, and his face again assumed its anxious expression.
“Michael Feoklítych,” said he to the esaul, “this is again fwom that German, you know. He”—he indicated Pétya—“is serving under him.”
And Denísov told the esaul that the dispatch just delivered was a repetition of the German general’s demand that he should join forces with him for an attack on the transport.
“If we don’t take it tomowwow, he’ll snatch it fwom under our noses,” he added.
While Denísov was talking to the esaul, Pétya—abashed by Denísov’s cold tone and supposing that it was due to the condition of his trousers—furtively tried to pull them down under his greatcoat so that no one should notice it, while maintaining as martial an air as possible.
“Will there be any orders, your honor?” he asked Denísov, holding his hand at the salute and resuming the game of adjutant and general for which he had prepared himself, “or shall I remain with your honor?”
“Orders?” Denísov repeated thoughtfully. “But can you stay till tomowwow?”
“Oh, please... May I stay with you?” cried Pétya.
“But, just what did the genewal tell you? To weturn at once?” asked Denísov.
“He gave me no instructions. I think I could?” he returned, inquiringly.
“Well, all wight,” said Denísov.
And turning to his men he directed a party to go on to the halting place arranged near the watchman’s hut in the forest, and told the officer on the Kirghíz horse (who performed the duties of an adjutant) to go and find out where Dólokhov was and whether he would come that evening. Denísov himself intended going with the esaul and Pétya to the edge of the forest where it reached out to Shámshevo, to have a look at the part of the French bivouac they were to attack next day.
“Well, old fellow,” said he to the peasant guide, “lead us to Shámshevo.”
Denísov, Pétya, and the esaul, accompanied by some Cossacks and the hussar who had the prisoner, rode to the left across a ravine to the edge of the forest.
The rain had stopped, and only the mist was falling and drops from the trees. Denísov, the esaul, and Pétya rode silently, following the peasant in the knitted cap who, stepping lightly with outturned toes and moving noiselessly in his bast shoes over the roots and wet leaves, silently led them to the edge of the forest.
He ascended an incline, stopped, looked about him, and advanced to where the screen of trees was less dense. On reaching a large oak tree that had not yet shed its leaves, he stopped and beckoned mysteriously to them with his hand.
Denísov and Pétya rode up to him. From the spot where the peasant was standing they could see the French. Immediately beyond the forest, on a downward slope, lay a field of spring rye. To the right, beyond a steep ravine, was a small village and a landowner’s house with a broken roof. In the village, in the house, in the garden, by the well, by the pond, over all the rising ground, and all along the road uphill from the bridge leading to the village, not more than five hundred yards away, crowds of men could be seen through the shimmering mist. Their un-Russian shouting at their horses which were straining uphill with the carts, and their calls to one another, could be clearly heard.
“Bwing the prisoner here,” said Denísov in a low voice, not taking his eyes off the French.
A Cossack dismounted, lifted the boy down, and took him to Denísov. Pointing to the French troops, Denísov asked him what these and those of them were. The boy, thrusting his cold hands into his pockets and lifting his eyebrows, looked at Denísov in affright, but in spite of an evident desire to say all he knew gave confused answers, merely assenting to everything Denísov asked him. Denísov turned away from him frowning and addressed the esaul, conveying his own conjectures to him.
Pétya, rapidly turning his head, looked now at the drummer boy, now at Denísov, now at the esaul, and now at the French in the village and along the road, trying not to miss anything of importance.
“Whether Dólokhov comes or not, we must seize it, eh?” said Denísov with a merry sparkle in his eyes.
“It is a very suitable spot,” said the esaul.
“We’ll send the infantwy down by the swamps,” Denísov continued. “They’ll cweep up to the garden; you’ll wide up fwom there with the Cossacks”—he pointed to a spot in the forest beyond the village—“and I with my hussars fwom here. And at the signal shot...”
“The hollow is impassable—there’s a swamp there,” said the esaul. “The horses would sink. We must ride round more to the left....”
While they were talking in undertones the crack of a shot sounded from the low ground by the pond, a puff of white smoke appeared, then another, and the sound of hundreds of seemingly merry French voices shouting together came up from the slope. For a moment Denísov and the esaul drew back. They were so near that they thought they were the cause of the firing and shouting. But the firing and shouting did not relate to them. Down below, a man wearing something red was running through the marsh. The French were evidently firing and shouting at him.
“Why, that’s our Tíkhon,” said the esaul.
“So it is! It is!”
“The wascal!” said Denísov.
“He’ll get away!” said the esaul, screwing up his eyes.
The man whom they called Tíkhon, having run to the stream, plunged in so that the water splashed in the air, and, having disappeared for an instant, scrambled out on all fours, all black with the wet, and ran on. The French who had been pursuing him stopped.
“Smart, that!” said the esaul.
“What a beast!” said Denísov with his former look of vexation. “What has he been doing all this time?”
“Who is he?” asked Pétya.
“He’s our plastún. I sent him to capture a ‘tongue.’”
“Oh, yes,” said Pétya, nodding at the first words Denísov uttered as if he understood it all, though he really did not understand anything of it.
Tíkhon Shcherbáty was one of the most indispensable men in their band. He was a peasant from Pokróvsk, near the river Gzhat. When Denísov had come to Pokróvsk at the beginning of his operations and had as usual summoned the village elder and asked him what he knew about the French, the elder, as though shielding himself, had replied, as all village elders did, that he had neither seen nor heard anything of them. But when Denísov explained that his purpose was to kill the French, and asked if no French had strayed that way, the elder replied that some “more-orderers” had really been at their village, but that Tíkhon Shcherbáty was the only man who dealt with such matters. Denísov had Tíkhon called and, having praised him for his activity, said a few words in the elder’s presence about loyalty to the Tsar and the country and the hatred of the French that all sons of the fatherland should cherish.
“We don’t do the French any harm,” said Tíkhon, evidently frightened by Denísov’s words. “We only fooled about with the lads for fun, you know! We killed a score or so of ‘more-orderers,’ but we did no harm else....”
Next day when Denísov had left Pokróvsk, having quite forgotten about this peasant, it was reported to him that Tíkhon had attached himself to their party and asked to be allowed to remain with it. Denísov gave orders to let him do so.
Tíkhon, who at first did rough work, laying campfires, fetching water, flaying dead horses, and so on, soon showed a great liking and aptitude for partisan warfare. At night he would go out for booty and always brought back French clothing and weapons, and when told to would bring in French captives also. Denísov then relieved him from drudgery and began taking him with him when he went out on expeditions and had him enrolled among the Cossacks.
Tíkhon did not like riding, and always went on foot, never lagging behind the cavalry. He was armed with a musketoon (which he carried rather as a joke), a pike and an ax, which latter he used as a wolf uses its teeth, with equal ease picking fleas out of its fur or crunching thick bones. Tíkhon with equal accuracy would split logs with blows at arm’s length, or holding the head of the ax would cut thin little pegs or carve spoons. In Denísov’s party he held a peculiar and exceptional position. When anything particularly difficult or nasty had to be done—to push a cart out of the mud with one’s shoulders, pull a horse out of a swamp by its tail, skin it, slink in among the French, or walk more than thirty miles in a day—everybody pointed laughingly at Tíkhon.
“It won’t hurt that devil—he’s as strong as a horse!” they said of him.
Once a Frenchman Tíkhon was trying to capture fired a pistol at him and shot him in the fleshy part of the back. That wound (which Tíkhon treated only with internal and external applications of vodka) was the subject of the liveliest jokes by the whole detachment—jokes in which Tíkhon readily joined.
“Hallo, mate! Never again? Gave you a twist?” the Cossacks would banter him. And Tíkhon, purposely writhing and making faces, pretended to be angry and swore at the French with the funniest curses. The only effect of this incident on Tíkhon was that after being wounded he seldom brought in prisoners.
He was the bravest and most useful man in the party. No one found more opportunities for attacking, no one captured or killed more Frenchmen, and consequently he was made the buffoon of all the Cossacks and hussars and willingly accepted that role. Now he had been sent by Denísov overnight to Shámshevo to capture a “tongue.” But whether because he had not been content to take only one Frenchman or because he had slept through the night, he had crept by day into some bushes right among the French and, as Denísov had witnessed from above, had been detected by them.
After talking for some time with the esaul about next day’s attack, which now, seeing how near they were to the French, he seemed to have definitely decided on, Denísov turned his horse and rode back.
“Now, my lad, we’ll go and get dwy,” he said to Pétya.
As they approached the watchhouse Denísov stopped, peering into the forest. Among the trees a man with long legs and long, swinging arms, wearing a short jacket, bast shoes, and a Kazán hat, was approaching with long, light steps. He had a musketoon over his shoulder and an ax stuck in his girdle. When he espied Denísov he hastily threw something into the bushes, removed his sodden hat by its floppy brim, and approached his commander. It was Tíkhon. His wrinkled and pockmarked face and narrow little eyes beamed with self-satisfied merriment. He lifted his head high and gazed at Denísov as if repressing a laugh.
“Well, where did you disappear to?” inquired Denísov.
“Where did I disappear to? I went to get Frenchmen,” answered Tíkhon boldly and hurriedly, in a husky but melodious bass voice.
“Why did you push yourself in there by daylight? You ass! Well, why haven’t you taken one?”
“Oh, I took one all right,” said Tíkhon.
“Where is he?”
“You see, I took him first thing at dawn,” Tíkhon continued, spreading out his flat feet with outturned toes in their bast shoes. “I took him into the forest. Then I see he’s no good and think I’ll go and fetch a likelier one.”
“You see?... What a wogue—it’s just as I thought,” said Denísov to the esaul. “Why didn’t you bwing that one?”
“What was the good of bringing him?” Tíkhon interrupted hastily and angrily—“that one wouldn’t have done for you. As if I don’t know what sort you want!”
“What a bwute you are!... Well?”
“I went for another one,” Tíkhon continued, “and I crept like this through the wood and lay down.” (He suddenly lay down on his stomach with a supple movement to show how he had done it.) “One turned up and I grabbed him, like this.” (He jumped up quickly and lightly.) “‘Come along to the colonel,’ I said. He starts yelling, and suddenly there were four of them. They rushed at me with their little swords. So I went for them with my ax, this way: ‘What are you up to?’ says I. ‘Christ be with you!’” shouted Tíkhon, waving his arms with an angry scowl and throwing out his chest.
“Yes, we saw from the hill how you took to your heels through the puddles!” said the esaul, screwing up his glittering eyes.
Pétya badly wanted to laugh, but noticed that they all refrained from laughing. He turned his eyes rapidly from Tíkhon’s face to the esaul’s and Denísov’s, unable to make out what it all meant.
“Don’t play the fool!” said Denísov, coughing angrily. “Why didn’t you bwing the first one?”
Tíkhon scratched his back with one hand and his head with the other, then suddenly his whole face expanded into a beaming, foolish grin, disclosing a gap where he had lost a tooth (that was why he was called Shcherbáty—the gap-toothed). Denísov smiled, and Pétya burst into a peal of merry laughter in which Tíkhon himself joined.
“Oh, but he was a regular good-for-nothing,” said Tíkhon. “The clothes on him—poor stuff! How could I bring him? And so rude, your honor! Why, he says: ‘I’m a general’s son myself, I won’t go!’ he says.”
“You are a bwute!” said Denísov. “I wanted to question...”
“But I questioned him,” said Tíkhon. “He said he didn’t know much. ‘There are a lot of us,’ he says, ‘but all poor stuff—only soldiers in name,’ he says. ‘Shout loud at them,’ he says, ‘and you’ll take them all,’” Tíkhon concluded, looking cheerfully and resolutely into Denísov’s eyes.
“I’ll give you a hundwed sharp lashes—that’ll teach you to play the fool!” said Denísov severely.
“But why are you angry?” remonstrated Tíkhon, “just as if I’d never seen your Frenchmen! Only wait till it gets dark and I’ll fetch you any of them you want—three if you like.”
“Well, let’s go,” said Denísov, and rode all the way to the watchhouse in silence and frowning angrily.
Tíkhon followed behind and Pétya heard the Cossacks laughing with him and at him, about some pair of boots he had thrown into the bushes.
When the fit of laughter that had seized him at Tíkhon’s words and smile had passed and Pétya realized for a moment that this Tíkhon had killed a man, he felt uneasy. He looked round at the captive drummer boy and felt a pang in his heart. But this uneasiness lasted only a moment. He felt it necessary to hold his head higher, to brace himself, and to question the esaul with an air of importance about tomorrow’s undertaking, that he might not be unworthy of the company in which he found himself.
The officer who had been sent to inquire met Denísov on the way with the news that Dólokhov was soon coming and that all was well with him.
Denísov at once cheered up and, calling Pétya to him, said: “Well, tell me about yourself.”
Pétya, having left his people after their departure from Moscow, joined his regiment and was soon taken as orderly by a general commanding a large guerrilla detachment. From the time he received his commission, and especially since he had joined the active army and taken part in the battle of Vyázma, Pétya had been in a constant state of blissful excitement at being grown-up and in a perpetual ecstatic hurry not to miss any chance to do something really heroic. He was highly delighted with what he saw and experienced in the army, but at the same time it always seemed to him that the really heroic exploits were being performed just where he did not happen to be. And he was always in a hurry to get where he was not.
When on the twenty-first of October his general expressed a wish to send somebody to Denísov’s detachment, Pétya begged so piteously to be sent that the general could not refuse. But when dispatching him he recalled Pétya’s mad action at the battle of Vyázma, where instead of riding by the road to the place to which he had been sent, he had galloped to the advanced line under the fire of the French and had there twice fired his pistol. So now the general explicitly forbade his taking part in any action whatever of Denísov’s. That was why Pétya had blushed and grown confused when Denísov asked him whether he could stay. Before they had ridden to the outskirts of the forest Pétya had considered he must carry out his instructions strictly and return at once. But when he saw the French and saw Tíkhon and learned that there would certainly be an attack that night, he decided, with the rapidity with which young people change their views, that the general, whom he had greatly respected till then, was a rubbishy German, that Denísov was a hero, the esaul a hero, and Tíkhon a hero too, and that it would be shameful for him to leave them at a moment of difficulty.
It was already growing dusk when Denísov, Pétya, and the esaul rode up to the watchhouse. In the twilight saddled horses could be seen, and Cossacks and hussars who had rigged up rough shelters in the glade and were kindling glowing fires in a hollow of the forest where the French could not see the smoke. In the passage of the small watchhouse a Cossack with sleeves rolled up was chopping some mutton. In the room three officers of Denísov’s band were converting a door into a tabletop. Pétya took off his wet clothes, gave them to be dried, and at once began helping the officers to fix up the dinner table.
In ten minutes the table was ready and a napkin spread on it. On the table were vodka, a flask of rum, white bread, roast mutton, and salt.
Sitting at table with the officers and tearing the fat savory mutton with his hands, down which the grease trickled, Pétya was in an ecstatic childish state of love for all men, and consequently of confidence that others loved him in the same way.
“So then what do you think, Vasíli Dmítrich?” said he to Denísov. “It’s all right my staying a day with you?” And not waiting for a reply he answered his own question: “You see I was told to find out—well, I am finding out.... Only do let me into the very... into the chief... I don’t want a reward.... But I want...”
Pétya clenched his teeth and looked around, throwing back his head and flourishing his arms.
“Into the vewy chief...” Denísov repeated with a smile.
“Only, please let me command something, so that I may really command...” Pétya went on. “What would it be to you?... Oh, you want a knife?” he said, turning to an officer who wished to cut himself a piece of mutton.
And he handed him his clasp knife. The officer admired it.
“Please keep it. I have several like it,” said Pétya, blushing. “Heavens! I was quite forgetting!” he suddenly cried. “I have some raisins, fine ones; you know, seedless ones. We have a new sutler and he has such capital things. I bought ten pounds. I am used to something sweet. Would you like some?...” and Pétya ran out into the passage to his Cossack and brought back some bags which contained about five pounds of raisins. “Have some, gentlemen, have some!”
“You want a coffeepot, don’t you?” he asked the esaul. “I bought a capital one from our sutler! He has splendid things. And he’s very honest, that’s the chief thing. I’ll be sure to send it to you. Or perhaps your flints are giving out, or are worn out—that happens sometimes, you know. I have brought some with me, here they are”—and he showed a bag—“a hundred flints. I bought them very cheap. Please take as many as you want, or all if you like....”
Then suddenly, dismayed lest he had said too much, Pétya stopped and blushed.
He tried to remember whether he had not done anything else that was foolish. And running over the events of the day he remembered the French drummer boy. “It’s capital for us here, but what of him? Where have they put him? Have they fed him? Haven’t they hurt his feelings?” he thought. But having caught himself saying too much about the flints, he was now afraid to speak out.
“I might ask,” he thought, “but they’ll say: ‘He’s a boy himself and so he pities the boy.’ I’ll show them tomorrow whether I’m a boy. Will it seem odd if I ask?” Pétya thought. “Well, never mind!” and immediately, blushing and looking anxiously at the officers to see if they appeared ironical, he said:
“May I call in that boy who was taken prisoner and give him something to eat?... Perhaps...”
“Yes, he’s a poor little fellow,” said Denísov, who evidently saw nothing shameful in this reminder. “Call him in. His name is Vincent Bosse. Have him fetched.”
“I’ll call him,” said Pétya.
“Yes, yes, call him. A poor little fellow,” Denísov repeated.
Pétya was standing at the door when Denísov said this. He slipped in between the officers, came close to Denísov, and said:
“Let me kiss you, dear old fellow! Oh, how fine, how splendid!”
And having kissed Denísov he ran out of the hut.
“Bosse! Vincent!” Pétya cried, stopping outside the door.
“Who do you want, sir?” asked a voice in the darkness.
Pétya replied that he wanted the French lad who had been captured that day.
“Ah, Vesénny?” said a Cossack.
Vincent, the boy’s name, had already been changed by the Cossacks into Vesénny (vernal) and into Vesénya by the peasants and soldiers. In both these adaptations the reference to spring (vesná) matched the impression made by the young lad.
“He is warming himself there by the bonfire. Ho, Vesénya! Vesénya!—Vesénny!” laughing voices were heard calling to one another in the darkness.
“He’s a smart lad,” said an hussar standing near Pétya. “We gave him something to eat a while ago. He was awfully hungry!”
The sound of bare feet splashing through the mud was heard in the darkness, and the drummer boy came to the door.
“Ah, c’est vous!” said Pétya. “Voulez-vous manger? N’ayez pas peur, on ne vous fera pas de mal,” * he added shyly and affectionately, touching the boy’s hand. “Entrez, entrez.” *(2)
afraid, they won’t hurt you.”
* (2) “Come in, come in.”
“Merci, monsieur,” * said the drummer boy in a trembling almost childish voice, and he began scraping his dirty feet on the threshold.
There were many things Pétya wanted to say to the drummer boy, but did not dare to. He stood irresolutely beside him in the passage. Then in the darkness he took the boy’s hand and pressed it.
“Come in, come in!” he repeated in a gentle whisper. “Oh, what can I do for him?” he thought, and opening the door he let the boy pass in first.
When the boy had entered the hut, Pétya sat down at a distance from him, considering it beneath his dignity to pay attention to him. But he fingered the money in his pocket and wondered whether it would seem ridiculous to give some to the drummer boy.
The arrival of Dólokhov diverted Pétya’s attention from the drummer boy, to whom Denísov had had some mutton and vodka given, and whom he had had dressed in a Russian coat so that he might be kept with their band and not sent away with the other prisoners. Pétya had heard in the army many stories of Dólokhov’s extraordinary bravery and of his cruelty to the French, so from the moment he entered the hut Pétya did not take his eyes from him, but braced himself up more and more and held his head high, that he might not be unworthy even of such company.
Dólokhov’s appearance amazed Pétya by its simplicity.
Denísov wore a Cossack coat, had a beard, had an icon of Nicholas the Wonder-Worker on his breast, and his way of speaking and everything he did indicated his unusual position. But Dólokhov, who in Moscow had worn a Persian costume, had now the appearance of a most correct officer of the Guards. He was clean-shaven and wore a Guardsman’s padded coat with an Order of St. George at his buttonhole and a plain forage cap set straight on his head. He took off his wet felt cloak in a corner of the room, and without greeting anyone went up to Denísov and began questioning him about the matter in hand. Denísov told him of the designs the large detachments had on the transport, of the message Pétya had brought, and his own replies to both generals. Then he told him all he knew of the French detachment.
“That’s so. But we must know what troops they are and their numbers,” said Dólokhov. “It will be necessary to go there. We can’t start the affair without knowing for certain how many there are. I like to work accurately. Here now—wouldn’t one of these gentlemen like to ride over to the French camp with me? I have brought a spare uniform.”
“I, I... I’ll go with you!” cried Pétya.
“There’s no need for you to go at all,” said Denísov, addressing Dólokhov, “and as for him, I won’t let him go on any account.”
“I like that!” exclaimed Pétya. “Why shouldn’t I go?”
“Because it’s useless.”
“Well, you must excuse me, because... because... I shall go, and that’s all. You’ll take me, won’t you?” he said, turning to Dólokhov.
“Why not?” Dólokhov answered absently, scrutinizing the face of the French drummer boy. “Have you had that youngster with you long?” he asked Denísov.
“He was taken today but he knows nothing. I’m keeping him with me.”
“Yes, and where do you put the others?” inquired Dólokhov.
“Where? I send them away and take a weceipt for them,” shouted Denísov, suddenly flushing. “And I say boldly that I have not a single man’s life on my conscience. Would it be difficult for you to send thirty or thwee hundwed men to town under escort, instead of staining—I speak bluntly—staining the honor of a soldier?”
“That kind of amiable talk would be suitable from this young count of sixteen,” said Dólokhov with cold irony, “but it’s time for you to drop it.”
“Why, I’ve not said anything! I only say that I’ll certainly go with you,” said Pétya shyly.
“But for you and me, old fellow, it’s time to drop these amenities,” continued Dólokhov, as if he found particular pleasure in speaking of this subject which irritated Denísov. “Now, why have you kept this lad?” he went on, swaying his head. “Because you are sorry for him! Don’t we know those ‘receipts’ of yours? You send a hundred men away, and thirty get there. The rest either starve or get killed. So isn’t it all the same not to send them?”
The esaul, screwing up his light-colored eyes, nodded approvingly.
“That’s not the point. I’m not going to discuss the matter. I do not wish to take it on my conscience. You say they’ll die. All wight. Only not by my fault!”
Dólokhov began laughing.
“Who has told them not to capture me these twenty times over? But if they did catch me they’d string me up to an aspen tree, and with all your chivalry just the same.” He paused. “However, we must get to work. Tell the Cossack to fetch my kit. I have two French uniforms in it. Well, are you coming with me?” he asked Pétya.
“I? Yes, yes, certainly!” cried Pétya, blushing almost to tears and glancing at Denísov.
While Dólokhov had been disputing with Denísov what should be done with prisoners, Pétya had once more felt awkward and restless; but again he had no time to grasp fully what they were talking about. “If grown-up, distinguished men think so, it must be necessary and right,” thought he. “But above all Denísov must not dare to imagine that I’ll obey him and that he can order me about. I will certainly go to the French camp with Dólokhov. If he can, so can I!”
And to all Denísov’s persuasions, Pétya replied that he too was accustomed to do everything accurately and not just anyhow, and that he never considered personal danger.
“For you’ll admit that if we don’t know for sure how many of them there are... hundreds of lives may depend on it, while there are only two of us. Besides, I want to go very much and certainly will go, so don’t hinder me,” said he. “It will only make things worse....”
Having put on French greatcoats and shakos, Pétya and Dólokhov rode to the clearing from which Denísov had reconnoitered the French camp, and emerging from the forest in pitch darkness they descended into the hollow. On reaching the bottom, Dólokhov told the Cossacks accompanying him to await him there and rode on at a quick trot along the road to the bridge. Pétya, his heart in his mouth with excitement, rode by his side.
“If we’re caught, I won’t be taken alive! I have a pistol,” whispered he.
“Don’t talk Russian,” said Dólokhov in a hurried whisper, and at that very moment they heard through the darkness the challenge: “Qui vive?” * and the click of a musket.
The blood rushed to Pétya’s face and he grasped his pistol.
“Lanciers du 6-me,” * replied Dólokhov, neither hastening nor slackening his horse’s pace.
The black figure of a sentinel stood on the bridge.
“Mot d’ordre.” *
Dólokhov reined in his horse and advanced at a walk.
“Dites donc, le colonel Gérard est ici?” * he asked.
“Mot d’ordre,” repeated the sentinel, barring the way and not replying.
“Quand un officier fait sa ronde, les sentinelles ne demandent pas le mot d’ordre...” cried Dólokhov suddenly flaring up and riding straight at the sentinel. “Je vous demande si le colonel est ici.” *
him for the password.... I am asking you if the colonel is
And without waiting for an answer from the sentinel, who had stepped aside, Dólokhov rode up the incline at a walk.
Noticing the black outline of a man crossing the road, Dólokhov stopped him and inquired where the commander and officers were. The man, a soldier with a sack over his shoulder, stopped, came close up to Dólokhov’s horse, touched it with his hand, and explained simply and in a friendly way that the commander and the officers were higher up the hill to the right in the courtyard of the farm, as he called the landowner’s house.
Having ridden up the road, on both sides of which French talk could be heard around the campfires, Dólokhov turned into the courtyard of the landowner’s house. Having ridden in, he dismounted and approached a big blazing campfire, around which sat several men talking noisily. Something was boiling in a small cauldron at the edge of the fire and a soldier in a peaked cap and blue overcoat, lit up by the fire, was kneeling beside it stirring its contents with a ramrod.
“Oh, he’s a hard nut to crack,” said one of the officers who was sitting in the shadow at the other side of the fire.
“He’ll make them get a move on, those fellows!” said another, laughing.
Both fell silent, peering out through the darkness at the sound of Dólokhov’s and Pétya’s steps as they advanced to the fire leading their horses.
“Bonjour, messieurs!” * said Dólokhov loudly and clearly.
There was a stir among the officers in the shadow beyond the fire, and one tall, long-necked officer, walking round the fire, came up to Dólokhov.
“Is that you, Clément?” he asked. “Where the devil...?” But, noticing his mistake, he broke off short and, with a frown, greeted Dólokhov as a stranger, asking what he could do for him.
Dólokhov said that he and his companion were trying to overtake their regiment, and addressing the company in general asked whether they knew anything of the 6th Regiment. None of them knew anything, and Pétya thought the officers were beginning to look at him and Dólokhov with hostility and suspicion. For some seconds all were silent.
“If you were counting on the evening soup, you have come too late,” said a voice from behind the fire with a repressed laugh.
Dólokhov replied that they were not hungry and must push on farther that night.
He handed the horses over to the soldier who was stirring the pot and squatted down on his heels by the fire beside the officer with the long neck. That officer did not take his eyes from Dólokhov and again asked to what regiment he belonged. Dólokhov, as if he had not heard the question, did not reply, but lighting a short French pipe which he took from his pocket began asking the officer in how far the road before them was safe from Cossacks.
“Those brigands are everywhere,” replied an officer from behind the fire.
Dólokhov remarked that the Cossacks were a danger only to stragglers such as his companion and himself, “but probably they would not dare to attack large detachments?” he added inquiringly. No one replied.
“Well, now he’ll come away,” Pétya thought every moment as he stood by the campfire listening to the talk.
But Dólokhov restarted the conversation which had dropped and began putting direct questions as to how many men there were in the battalion, how many battalions, and how many prisoners. Asking about the Russian prisoners with that detachment, Dólokhov said:
“A horrid business dragging these corpses about with one! It would be better to shoot such rabble,” and burst into loud laughter, so strange that Pétya thought the French would immediately detect their disguise, and involuntarily took a step back from the campfire.
No one replied a word to Dólokhov’s laughter, and a French officer whom they could not see (he lay wrapped in a greatcoat) rose and whispered something to a companion. Dólokhov got up and called to the soldier who was holding their horses.
“Will they bring our horses or not?” thought Pétya, instinctively drawing nearer to Dólokhov.
The horses were brought.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” said Dólokhov.
Pétya wished to say “Good night” but could not utter a word. The officers were whispering together. Dólokhov was a long time mounting his horse which would not stand still, then he rode out of the yard at a footpace. Pétya rode beside him, longing to look round to see whether or not the French were running after them, but not daring to.
Coming out onto the road Dólokhov did not ride back across the open country, but through the village. At one spot he stopped and listened. “Do you hear?” he asked. Pétya recognized the sound of Russian voices and saw the dark figures of Russian prisoners round their campfires. When they had descended to the bridge Pétya and Dólokhov rode past the sentinel, who without saying a word paced morosely up and down it, then they descended into the hollow where the Cossacks awaited them.
“Well now, good-by. Tell Denísov, ‘at the first shot at daybreak,’” said Dólokhov and was about to ride away, but Pétya seized hold of him.
“Really!” he cried, “you are such a hero! Oh, how fine, how splendid! How I love you!”
“All right, all right!” said Dólokhov. But Pétya did not let go of him and Dólokhov saw through the gloom that Pétya was bending toward him and wanted to kiss him. Dólokhov kissed him, laughed, turned his horse, and vanished into the darkness.