“I give you that column, lads,” he said, riding up to the troops and pointing out the French to the cavalry.
And the cavalry, with spurs and sabers urging on horses that could scarcely move, trotted with much effort to the column presented to them—that is to say, to a crowd of Frenchmen stark with cold, frost-bitten, and starving—and the column that had been presented to them threw down its arms and surrendered as it had long been anxious to do.
At Krásnoe they took twenty-six thousand prisoners, several hundred cannon, and a stick called a “marshal’s staff,” and disputed as to who had distinguished himself and were pleased with their achievement—though they much regretted not having taken Napoleon, or at least a marshal or a hero of some sort, and reproached one another and especially Kutúzov for having failed to do so.
These men, carried away by their passions, were but blind tools of the most melancholy law of necessity, but considered themselves heroes and imagined that they were accomplishing a most noble and honorable deed. They blamed Kutúzov and said that from the very beginning of the campaign he had prevented their vanquishing Napoleon, that he thought of nothing but satisfying his passions and would not advance from the Linen Factories because he was comfortable there, that at Krásnoe he checked the advance because on learning that Napoleon was there he had quite lost his head, and that it was probable that he had an understanding with Napoleon and had been bribed by him, and so on, and so on.
Not only did his contemporaries, carried away by their passions, talk in this way, but posterity and history have acclaimed Napoleon as grand, while Kutúzov is described by foreigners as a crafty, dissolute, weak old courtier, and by Russians as something indefinite—a sort of puppet useful only because he had a Russian name.
In 1812 and 1813 Kutúzov was openly accused of blundering. The Emperor was dissatisfied with him. And in a history recently written by order of the Highest Authorities it is said that Kutúzov was a cunning court liar, frightened of the name of Napoleon, and that by his blunders at Krásnoe and the Berëzina he deprived the Russian army of the glory of complete victory over the French. *
reflections on the unsatisfactory results of the battles at
Krásnoe, by Bogdánovich.
Such is the fate not of great men (grands hommes) whom the Russian mind does not acknowledge, but of those rare and always solitary individuals who, discerning the will of Providence, submit their personal will to it. The hatred and contempt of the crowd punish such men for discerning the higher laws.
For Russian historians, strange and terrible to say, Napoleon—that most insignificant tool of history who never anywhere, even in exile, showed human dignity—Napoleon is the object of adulation and enthusiasm; he is grand. But Kutúzov—the man who from the beginning to the end of his activity in 1812, never once swerving by word or deed from Borodinó to Vílna, presented an example exceptional in history of self-sacrifice and a present consciousness of the future importance of what was happening—Kutúzov seems to them something indefinite and pitiful, and when speaking of him and of the year 1812 they always seem a little ashamed.
And yet it is difficult to imagine an historical character whose activity was so unswervingly directed to a single aim; and it would be difficult to imagine any aim more worthy or more consonant with the will of the whole people. Still more difficult would it be to find an instance in history of the aim of an historical personage being so completely accomplished as that to which all Kutúzov’s efforts were directed in 1812.
Kutúzov never talked of “forty centuries looking down from the Pyramids,” of the sacrifices he offered for the fatherland, or of what he intended to accomplish or had accomplished; in general he said nothing about himself, adopted no pose, always appeared to be the simplest and most ordinary of men, and said the simplest and most ordinary things. He wrote letters to his daughters and to Madame de Staël, read novels, liked the society of pretty women, jested with generals, officers, and soldiers, and never contradicted those who tried to prove anything to him. When Count Rostopchín at the Yaúza bridge galloped up to Kutúzov with personal reproaches for having caused the destruction of Moscow, and said: “How was it you promised not to abandon Moscow without a battle?” Kutúzov replied: “And I shall not abandon Moscow without a battle,” though Moscow was then already abandoned. When Arakchéev, coming to him from the Emperor, said that Ermólov ought to be appointed chief of the artillery, Kutúzov replied: “Yes, I was just saying so myself,” though a moment before he had said quite the contrary. What did it matter to him—who then alone amid a senseless crowd understood the whole tremendous significance of what was happening—what did it matter to him whether Rostopchín attributed the calamities of Moscow to him or to himself? Still less could it matter to him who was appointed chief of the artillery.
Not merely in these cases but continually did that old man—who by experience of life had reached the conviction that thoughts and the words serving as their expression are not what move people—use quite meaningless words that happened to enter his head.
But that man, so heedless of his words, did not once during the whole time of his activity utter one word inconsistent with the single aim toward which he moved throughout the whole war. Obviously in spite of himself, in very diverse circumstances, he repeatedly expressed his real thoughts with the bitter conviction that he would not be understood. Beginning with the battle of Borodinó, from which time his disagreement with those about him began, he alone said that the battle of Borodinó was a victory, and repeated this both verbally and in his dispatches and reports up to the time of his death. He alone said that the loss of Moscow is not the loss of Russia. In reply to Lauriston’s proposal of peace, he said: There can be no peace, for such is the people’s will. He alone during the retreat of the French said that all our maneuvers are useless, everything is being accomplished of itself better than we could desire; that the enemy must be offered “a golden bridge”; that neither the Tarútino, the Vyázma, nor the Krásnoe battles were necessary; that we must keep some force to reach the frontier with, and that he would not sacrifice a single Russian for ten Frenchmen.
And this courtier, as he is described to us, who lies to Arakchéev to please the Emperor, he alone—incurring thereby the Emperor’s displeasure—said in Vílna that to carry the war beyond the frontier is useless and harmful.
Nor do words alone prove that only he understood the meaning of the events. His actions—without the smallest deviation—were all directed to one and the same threefold end: (1) to brace all his strength for conflict with the French, (2) to defeat them, and (3) to drive them out of Russia, minimizing as far as possible the sufferings of our people and of our army.
This procrastinator Kutúzov, whose motto was “Patience and Time,” this enemy of decisive action, gave battle at Borodinó, investing the preparations for it with unparalleled solemnity. This Kutúzov who before the battle of Austerlitz began said that it would be lost, he alone, in contradiction to everyone else, declared till his death that Borodinó was a victory, despite the assurance of generals that the battle was lost and despite the fact that for an army to have to retire after winning a battle was unprecedented. He alone during the whole retreat insisted that battles, which were useless then, should not be fought, and that a new war should not be begun nor the frontiers of Russia crossed.
It is easy now to understand the significance of these events—if only we abstain from attributing to the activity of the mass aims that existed only in the heads of a dozen individuals—for the events and results now lie before us.
But how did that old man, alone, in opposition to the general opinion, so truly discern the importance of the people’s view of the events that in all his activity he was never once untrue to it?
The source of that extraordinary power of penetrating the meaning of the events then occuring lay in the national feeling which he possessed in full purity and strength.
Only the recognition of the fact that he possessed this feeling caused the people in so strange a manner, contrary to the Tsar’s wish, to select him—an old man in disfavor—to be their representative in the national war. And only that feeling placed him on that highest human pedestal from which he, the commander in chief, devoted all his powers not to slaying and destroying men but to saving and showing pity on them.
That simple, modest, and therefore truly great, figure could not be cast in the false mold of a European hero—the supposed ruler of men—that history has invented.
To a lackey no man can be great, for a lackey has his own conception of greatness.
The fifth of November was the first day of what is called the battle of Krásnoe. Toward evening—after much disputing and many mistakes made by generals who did not go to their proper places, and after adjutants had been sent about with counterorders—when it had become plain that the enemy was everywhere in flight and that there could and would be no battle, Kutúzov left Krásnoe and went to Dóbroe whither his headquarters had that day been transferred.
The day was clear and frosty. Kutúzov rode to Dóbroe on his plump little white horse, followed by an enormous suite of discontented generals who whispered among themselves behind his back. All along the road groups of French prisoners captured that day (there were seven thousand of them) were crowding to warm themselves at campfires. Near Dóbroe an immense crowd of tattered prisoners, buzzing with talk and wrapped and bandaged in anything they had been able to get hold of, were standing in the road beside a long row of unharnessed French guns. At the approach of the commander in chief the buzz of talk ceased and all eyes were fixed on Kutúzov who, wearing a white cap with a red band and a padded overcoat that bulged on his round shoulders, moved slowly along the road on his white horse. One of the generals was reporting to him where the guns and prisoners had been captured.
Kutúzov seemed preoccupied and did not listen to what the general was saying. He screwed up his eyes with a dissatisfied look as he gazed attentively and fixedly at these prisoners, who presented a specially wretched appearance. Most of them were disfigured by frost-bitten noses and cheeks, and nearly all had red, swollen and festering eyes.
One group of the French stood close to the road, and two of them, one of whom had his face covered with sores, were tearing a piece of raw flesh with their hands. There was something horrible and bestial in the fleeting glance they threw at the riders and in the malevolent expression with which, after a glance at Kutúzov, the soldier with the sores immediately turned away and went on with what he was doing.
Kutúzov looked long and intently at these two soldiers. He puckered his face, screwed up his eyes, and pensively swayed his head. At another spot he noticed a Russian soldier laughingly patting a Frenchman on the shoulder, saying something to him in a friendly manner, and Kutúzov with the same expression on his face again swayed his head.
“What were you saying?” he asked the general, who continuing his report directed the commander in chief’s attention to some standards captured from the French and standing in front of the Preobrazhénsk regiment.
“Ah, the standards!” said Kutúzov, evidently detaching himself with difficulty from the thoughts that preoccupied him.
He looked about him absently. Thousands of eyes were looking at him from all sides awaiting a word from him.
He stopped in front of the Preobrazhénsk regiment, sighed deeply, and closed his eyes. One of his suite beckoned to the soldiers carrying the standards to advance and surround the commander in chief with them. Kutúzov was silent for a few seconds and then, submitting with evident reluctance to the duty imposed by his position, raised his head and began to speak. A throng of officers surrounded him. He looked attentively around at the circle of officers, recognizing several of them.
“I thank you all!” he said, addressing the soldiers and then again the officers. In the stillness around him his slowly uttered words were distinctly heard. “I thank you all for your hard and faithful service. The victory is complete and Russia will not forget you! Honor to you forever.”
He paused and looked around.
“Lower its head, lower it!” he said to a soldier who had accidentally lowered the French eagle he was holding before the Preobrazhénsk standards. “Lower, lower, that’s it. Hurrah lads!” he added, addressing the men with a rapid movement of his chin.
“Hur-r-rah!” roared thousands of voices.
While the soldiers were shouting Kutúzov leaned forward in his saddle and bowed his head, and his eye lit up with a mild and apparently ironic gleam.
“You see, brothers...” said he when the shouts had ceased... and all at once his voice and the expression of his face changed. It was no longer the commander in chief speaking but an ordinary old man who wanted to tell his comrades something very important.
There was a stir among the throng of officers and in the ranks of the soldiers, who moved that they might hear better what he was going to say.
“You see, brothers, I know it’s hard for you, but it can’t be helped! Bear up; it won’t be for long now! We’ll see our visitors off and then we’ll rest. The Tsar won’t forget your service. It is hard for you, but still you are at home while they—you see what they have come to,” said he, pointing to the prisoners. “Worse off than our poorest beggars. While they were strong we didn’t spare ourselves, but now we may even pity them. They are human beings too. Isn’t it so, lads?”
He looked around, and in the direct, respectful, wondering gaze fixed upon him he read sympathy with what he had said. His face grew brighter and brighter with an old man’s mild smile, which drew the corners of his lips and eyes into a cluster of wrinkles. He ceased speaking and bowed his head as if in perplexity.
“But after all who asked them here? Serves them right, the bloody bastards!” he cried, suddenly lifting his head.
And flourishing his whip he rode off at a gallop for the first time during the whole campaign, and left the broken ranks of the soldiers laughing joyfully and shouting “Hurrah!”
Kutúzov’s words were hardly understood by the troops. No one could have repeated the field marshal’s address, begun solemnly and then changing into an old man’s simplehearted talk; but the hearty sincerity of that speech, the feeling of majestic triumph combined with pity for the foe and consciousness of the justice of our cause, exactly expressed by that old man’s good-natured expletives, was not merely understood but lay in the soul of every soldier and found expression in their joyous and long-sustained shouts. Afterwards when one of the generals addressed Kutúzov asking whether he wished his calèche to be sent for, Kutúzov in answering unexpectedly gave a sob, being evidently greatly moved.
When the troops reached their night’s halting place on the eighth of November, the last day of the Krásnoe battles, it was already growing dusk. All day it had been calm and frosty with occasional lightly falling snow and toward evening it began to clear. Through the falling snow a purple-black and starry sky showed itself and the frost grew keener.
An infantry regiment which had left Tarútino three thousand strong but now numbered only nine hundred was one of the first to arrive that night at its halting place—a village on the highroad. The quartermasters who met the regiment announced that all the huts were full of sick and dead Frenchmen, cavalrymen, and members of the staff. There was only one hut available for the regimental commander.
The commander rode up to his hut. The regiment passed through the village and stacked its arms in front of the last huts.
Like some huge many-limbed animal, the regiment began to prepare its lair and its food. One part of it dispersed and waded knee-deep through the snow into a birch forest to the right of the village, and immediately the sound of axes and swords, the crashing of branches, and merry voices could be heard from there. Another section amid the regimental wagons and horses which were standing in a group was busy getting out caldrons and rye biscuit, and feeding the horses. A third section scattered through the village arranging quarters for the staff officers, carrying out the French corpses that were in the huts, and dragging away boards, dry wood, and thatch from the roofs, for the campfires, or wattle fences to serve for shelter.
Some fifteen men with merry shouts were shaking down the high wattle wall of a shed, the roof of which had already been removed.
“Now then, all together—shove!” cried the voices, and the huge surface of the wall, sprinkled with snow and creaking with frost, was seen swaying in the gloom of the night. The lower stakes cracked more and more and at last the wall fell, and with it the men who had been pushing it. Loud, coarse laughter and joyous shouts ensued.
“Now then, catch hold in twos! Hand up the lever! That’s it.... Where are you shoving to?”
“Now, all together! But wait a moment, boys... With a song!”
All stood silent, and a soft, pleasant velvety voice began to sing. At the end of the third verse as the last note died away, twenty voices roared out at once: “Oo-oo-oo-oo! That’s it. All together! Heave away, boys!...” but despite their united efforts the wattle hardly moved, and in the silence that followed the heavy breathing of the men was audible.
“Here, you of the Sixth Company! Devils that you are! Lend a hand... will you? You may want us one of these days.”
Some twenty men of the Sixth Company who were on their way into the village joined the haulers, and the wattle wall, which was about thirty-five feet long and seven feet high, moved forward along the village street, swaying, pressing upon and cutting the shoulders of the gasping men.
“Get along... Falling? What are you stopping for? There now....”
Merry senseless words of abuse flowed freely.
“What are you up to?” suddenly came the authoritative voice of a sergeant major who came upon the men who were hauling their burden. “There are gentry here; the general himself is in that hut, and you foul-mouthed devils, you brutes, I’ll give it to you!” shouted he, hitting the first man who came in his way a swinging blow on the back. “Can’t you make less noise?”
The men became silent. The soldier who had been struck groaned and wiped his face, which had been scratched till it bled by his falling against the wattle.
“There, how that devil hits out! He’s made my face all bloody,” said he in a frightened whisper when the sergeant major had passed on.
“Don’t you like it?” said a laughing voice, and moderating their tones the men moved forward.
When they were out of the village they began talking again as loud as before, interlarding their talk with the same aimless expletives.
In the hut which the men had passed, the chief officers had gathered and were in animated talk over their tea about the events of the day and the maneuvers suggested for tomorrow. It was proposed to make a flank march to the left, cut off the Vice-King (Murat) and capture him.
By the time the soldiers had dragged the wattle fence to its place the campfires were blazing on all sides ready for cooking, the wood crackled, the snow was melting, and black shadows of soldiers flitted to and fro all over the occupied space where the snow had been trodden down.
Axes and choppers were plied all around. Everything was done without any orders being given. Stores of wood were brought for the night, shelters were rigged up for the officers, caldrons were being boiled, and muskets and accouterments put in order.
The wattle wall the men had brought was set up in a semicircle by the Eighth Company as a shelter from the north, propped up by musket rests, and a campfire was built before it. They beat the tattoo, called the roll, had supper, and settled down round the fires for the night—some repairing their footgear, some smoking pipes, and some stripping themselves naked to steam the lice out of their shirts.
One would have thought that under the almost incredibly wretched conditions the Russian soldiers were in at that time—lacking warm boots and sheepskin coats, without a roof over their heads, in the snow with eighteen degrees of frost, and without even full rations (the commissariat did not always keep up with the troops)—they would have presented a very sad and depressing spectacle.
On the contrary, the army had never under the best material conditions presented a more cheerful and animated aspect. This was because all who began to grow depressed or who lost strength were sifted out of the army day by day. All the physically or morally weak had long since been left behind and only the flower of the army—physically and mentally—remained.
More men collected behind the wattle fence of the Eighth Company than anywhere else. Two sergeants major were sitting with them and their campfire blazed brighter than others. For leave to sit by their wattle they demanded contributions of fuel.
“Eh, Makéev! What has become of you, you son of a bitch? Are you lost or have the wolves eaten you? Fetch some more wood!” shouted a red-haired and red-faced man, screwing up his eyes and blinking because of the smoke but not moving back from the fire. “And you, Jackdaw, go and fetch some wood!” said he to another soldier.
This red-haired man was neither a sergeant nor a corporal, but being robust he ordered about those weaker than himself. The soldier they called “Jackdaw,” a thin little fellow with a sharp nose, rose obediently and was about to go but at that instant there came into the light of the fire the slender, handsome figure of a young soldier carrying a load of wood.
“Bring it here—that’s fine!”
They split up the wood, pressed it down on the fire, blew at it with their mouths, and fanned it with the skirts of their greatcoats, making the flames hiss and crackle. The men drew nearer and lit their pipes. The handsome young soldier who had brought the wood, setting his arms akimbo, began stamping his cold feet rapidly and deftly on the spot where he stood.
“Mother! The dew is cold but clear.... It’s well that I’m a musketeer...” he sang, pretending to hiccough after each syllable.
“Look out, your soles will fly off!” shouted the red-haired man, noticing that the sole of the dancer’s boot was hanging loose. “What a fellow you are for dancing!”
The dancer stopped, pulled off the loose piece of leather, and threw it on the fire.
“Right enough, friend,” said he, and, having sat down, took out of his knapsack a scrap of blue French cloth, and wrapped it round his foot. “It’s the steam that spoils them,” he added, stretching out his feet toward the fire.
“They’ll soon be issuing us new ones. They say that when we’ve finished hammering them, we’re to receive double kits!”
“And that son of a bitch Petróv has lagged behind after all, it seems,” said one sergeant major.
“I’ve had an eye on him this long while,” said the other.
“Well, he’s a poor sort of soldier....”
“But in the Third Company they say nine men were missing yesterday.”
“Yes, it’s all very well, but when a man’s feet are frozen how can he walk?”
“Eh? Don’t talk nonsense!” said a sergeant major.
“Do you want to be doing the same?” said an old soldier, turning reproachfully to the man who had spoken of frozen feet.
“Well, you know,” said the sharp-nosed man they called Jackdaw in a squeaky and unsteady voice, raising himself at the other side of the fire, “a plump man gets thin, but for a thin one it’s death. Take me, now! I’ve got no strength left,” he added, with sudden resolution turning to the sergeant major. “Tell them to send me to hospital; I’m aching all over; anyway I shan’t be able to keep up.”
“That’ll do, that’ll do!” replied the sergeant major quietly.
The soldier said no more and the talk went on.
“What a lot of those Frenchies were taken today, and the fact is that not one of them had what you might call real boots on,” said a soldier, starting a new theme. “They were no more than make-believes.”
“The Cossacks have taken their boots. They were clearing the hut for the colonel and carried them out. It was pitiful to see them, boys,” put in the dancer. “As they turned them over one seemed still alive and, would you believe it, he jabbered something in their lingo.”
“But they’re a clean folk, lads,” the first man went on; “he was white—as white as birchbark—and some of them are such fine fellows, you might think they were nobles.”
“Well, what do you think? They make soldiers of all classes there.”
“But they don’t understand our talk at all,” said the dancer with a puzzled smile. “I asked him whose subject he was, and he jabbered in his own way. A queer lot!”
“But it’s strange, friends,” continued the man who had wondered at their whiteness, “the peasants at Mozháysk were saying that when they began burying the dead—where the battle was you know—well, those dead had been lying there for nearly a month, and says the peasant, ‘they lie as white as paper, clean, and not as much smell as a puff of powder smoke.’”
“Was it from the cold?” asked someone.
“You’re a clever fellow! From the cold indeed! Why, it was hot. If it had been from the cold, ours would not have rotted either. ‘But,’ he says, ‘go up to ours and they are all rotten and maggoty. So,’ he says, ‘we tie our faces up with kerchiefs and turn our heads away as we drag them off: we can hardly do it. But theirs,’ he says, ‘are white as paper and not so much smell as a whiff of gunpowder.’”
All were silent.
“It must be from their food,” said the sergeant major. “They used to gobble the same food as the gentry.”
No one contradicted him.
“That peasant near Mozháysk where the battle was said the men were all called up from ten villages around and they carted for twenty days and still didn’t finish carting the dead away. And as for the wolves, he says...”
“That was a real battle,” said an old soldier. “It’s the only one worth remembering; but since that... it’s only been tormenting folk.”
“And do you know, Daddy, the day before yesterday we ran at them and, my word, they didn’t let us get near before they just threw down their muskets and went on their knees. ‘Pardon!’ they say. That’s only one case. They say Plátov took ‘Poleon himself twice. But he didn’t know the right charm. He catches him and catches him—no good! He turns into a bird in his hands and flies away. And there’s no way of killing him either.”
“You’re a first-class liar, Kiselëv, when I come to look at you!”
“Liar, indeed! It’s the real truth.”
“If he fell into my hands, when I’d caught him I’d bury him in the ground with an aspen stake to fix him down. What a lot of men he’s ruined!”
“Well, anyhow we’re going to end it. He won’t come here again,” remarked the old soldier, yawning.
The conversation flagged, and the soldiers began settling down to sleep.
“Look at the stars. It’s wonderful how they shine! You would think the women had spread out their linen,” said one of the men, gazing with admiration at the Milky Way.
“That’s a sign of a good harvest next year.”
“We shall want some more wood.”
“You warm your back and your belly gets frozen. That’s queer.”
“What are you pushing for? Is the fire only for you? Look how he’s sprawling!”
In the silence that ensued, the snoring of those who had fallen asleep could be heard. Others turned over and warmed themselves, now and again exchanging a few words. From a campfire a hundred paces off came a sound of general, merry laughter.
“Hark at them roaring there in the Fifth Company!” said one of the soldiers, “and what a lot of them there are!”
One of the men got up and went over to the Fifth Company.
“They’re having such fun,” said he, coming back. “Two Frenchies have turned up. One’s quite frozen and the other’s an awful swaggerer. He’s singing songs....”
“Oh, I’ll go across and have a look....”
And several of the men went over to the Fifth Company.
The fifth company was bivouacking at the very edge of the forest. A huge campfire was blazing brightly in the midst of the snow, lighting up the branches of trees heavy with hoarfrost.
About midnight they heard the sound of steps in the snow of the forest, and the crackling of dry branches.
“A bear, lads,” said one of the men.
They all raised their heads to listen, and out of the forest into the bright firelight stepped two strangely clad human figures clinging to one another.
These were two Frenchmen who had been hiding in the forest. They came up to the fire, hoarsely uttering something in a language our soldiers did not understand. One was taller than the other; he wore an officer’s hat and seemed quite exhausted. On approaching the fire he had been going to sit down, but fell. The other, a short sturdy soldier with a shawl tied round his head, was stronger. He raised his companion and said something, pointing to his mouth. The soldiers surrounded the Frenchmen, spread a greatcoat on the ground for the sick man, and brought some buckwheat porridge and vodka for both of them.
The exhausted French officer was Ramballe and the man with his head wrapped in the shawl was Morel, his orderly.
When Morel had drunk some vodka and finished his bowl of porridge he suddenly became unnaturally merry and chattered incessantly to the soldiers, who could not understand him. Ramballe refused food and resting his head on his elbow lay silent beside the campfire, looking at the Russian soldiers with red and vacant eyes. Occasionally he emitted a long-drawn groan and then again became silent. Morel, pointing to his shoulders, tried to impress on the soldiers the fact that Ramballe was an officer and ought to be warmed. A Russian officer who had come up to the fire sent to ask his colonel whether he would not take a French officer into his hut to warm him, and when the messenger returned and said that the colonel wished the officer to be brought to him, Ramballe was told to go. He rose and tried to walk, but staggered and would have fallen had not a soldier standing by held him up.
“You won’t do it again, eh?” said one of the soldiers, winking and turning mockingly to Ramballe.
“Oh, you fool! Why talk rubbish, lout that you are—a real peasant!” came rebukes from all sides addressed to the jesting soldier.
They surrounded Ramballe, lifted him on the crossed arms of two soldiers, and carried him to the hut. Ramballe put his arms around their necks while they carried him and began wailing plaintively:
“Oh, you fine fellows, my kind, kind friends! These are men! Oh, my brave, kind friends,” and he leaned his head against the shoulder of one of the men like a child.
Meanwhile Morel was sitting in the best place by the fire, surrounded by the soldiers.
Morel, a short sturdy Frenchman with inflamed and streaming eyes, was wearing a woman’s cloak and had a shawl tied woman fashion round his head over his cap. He was evidently tipsy, and was singing a French song in a hoarse broken voice, with an arm thrown round the nearest soldier. The soldiers simply held their sides as they watched him.
“Now then, now then, teach us how it goes! I’ll soon pick it up. How is it?” said the man—a singer and a wag—whom Morel was embracing.
“Vive Henri Quatre! Vive ce roi valiant!” sang Morel, winking. “Ce diable à quatre...” *
“Vivarika! Vif-seruvaru! Sedyablyaka!” repeated the soldier, flourishing his arm and really catching the tune.
“Bravo! Ha, ha, ha!” rose their rough, joyous laughter from all sides.
Morel, wrinkling up his face, laughed too.
“Well, go on, go on!”
De boire, de battre,
Et d’être un vert galant.” *
For drinking, for fighting,
And for being a gallant old boy...
“It goes smoothly, too. Well, now, Zaletáev!”
“Ke...” Zaletáev, brought out with effort: “ke-e-e-e,” he drawled, laboriously pursing his lips, “le-trip-ta-la-de-bu-de-ba, e de-tra-va-ga-la” he sang.
“Fine! Just like the Frenchie! Oh, ho ho! Do you want some more to eat?”
“Give him some porridge: it takes a long time to get filled up after starving.”
They gave him some more porridge and Morel with a laugh set to work on his third bowl. All the young soldiers smiled gaily as they watched him. The older men, who thought it undignified to amuse themselves with such nonsense, continued to lie at the opposite side of the fire, but one would occasionally raise himself on an elbow and glance at Morel with a smile.
“They are men too,” said one of them as he wrapped himself up in his coat. “Even wormwood grows on its own root.”
“O Lord, O Lord! How starry it is! Tremendous! That means a hard frost....”
They all grew silent. The stars, as if knowing that no one was looking at them, began to disport themselves in the dark sky: now flaring up, now vanishing, now trembling, they were busy whispering something gladsome and mysterious to one another.
The French army melted away at the uniform rate of a mathematical progression; and that crossing of the Berëzina about which so much has been written was only one intermediate stage in its destruction, and not at all the decisive episode of the campaign. If so much has been and still is written about the Berëzina, on the French side this is only because at the broken bridge across that river the calamities their army had been previously enduring were suddenly concentrated at one moment into a tragic spectacle that remained in every memory, and on the Russian side merely because in Petersburg—far from the seat of war—a plan (again one of Pfuel’s) had been devised to catch Napoleon in a strategic trap at the Berëzina River. Everyone assured himself that all would happen according to plan, and therefore insisted that it was just the crossing of the Berëzina that destroyed the French army. In reality the results of the crossing were much less disastrous to the French—in guns and men lost—than Krásnoe had been, as the figures show.
The sole importance of the crossing of the Berëzina lies in the fact that it plainly and indubitably proved the fallacy of all the plans for cutting off the enemy’s retreat and the soundness of the only possible line of action—the one Kutúzov and the general mass of the army demanded—namely, simply to follow the enemy up. The French crowd fled at a continually increasing speed and all its energy was directed to reaching its goal. It fled like a wounded animal and it was impossible to block its path. This was shown not so much by the arrangements it made for crossing as by what took place at the bridges. When the bridges broke down, unarmed soldiers, people from Moscow and women with children who were with the French transport, all—carried on by vis inertiæ—pressed forward into boats and into the ice-covered water and did not surrender.
That impulse was reasonable. The condition of fugitives and of pursuers was equally bad. As long as they remained with their own people each might hope for help from his fellows and the definite place he held among them. But those who surrendered, while remaining in the same pitiful plight, would be on a lower level to claim a share in the necessities of life. The French did not need to be informed of the fact that half the prisoners—with whom the Russians did not know what to do—perished of cold and hunger despite their captors’ desire to save them; they felt that it could not be otherwise. The most compassionate Russian commanders, those favorable to the French—and even the Frenchmen in the Russian service—could do nothing for the prisoners. The French perished from the conditions to which the Russian army was itself exposed. It was impossible to take bread and clothes from our hungry and indispensable soldiers to give to the French who, though not harmful, or hated, or guilty, were simply unnecessary. Some Russians even did that, but they were exceptions.
Certain destruction lay behind the French but in front there was hope. Their ships had been burned, there was no salvation save in collective flight, and on that the whole strength of the French was concentrated.
The farther they fled the more wretched became the plight of the remnant, especially after the Berëzina, on which (in consequence of the Petersburg plan) special hopes had been placed by the Russians, and the keener grew the passions of the Russian commanders, who blamed one another and Kutúzov most of all. Anticipation that the failure of the Petersburg Berëzina plan would be attributed to Kutúzov led to dissatisfaction, contempt, and ridicule, more and more strongly expressed. The ridicule and contempt were of course expressed in a respectful form, making it impossible for him to ask wherein he was to blame. They did not talk seriously to him; when reporting to him or asking for his sanction they appeared to be fulfilling a regrettable formality, but they winked behind his back and tried to mislead him at every turn.
Because they could not understand him all these people assumed that it was useless to talk to the old man; that he would never grasp the profundity of their plans, that he would answer with his phrases (which they thought were mere phrases) about a “golden bridge,” about the impossibility of crossing the frontier with a crowd of tatterdemalions, and so forth. They had heard all that before. And all he said—that it was necessary to await provisions, or that the men had no boots—was so simple, while what they proposed was so complicated and clever, that it was evident that he was old and stupid and that they, though not in power, were commanders of genius.
After the junction with the army of the brilliant admiral and Petersburg hero Wittgenstein, this mood and the gossip of the staff reached their maximum. Kutúzov saw this and merely sighed and shrugged his shoulders. Only once, after the affair of the Berëzina, did he get angry and write to Bennigsen (who reported separately to the Emperor) the following letter:
“On account of your spells of ill health, will your excellency please be so good as to set off for Kalúga on receipt of this, and there await further commands and appointments from His Imperial Majesty.”
But after Bennigsen’s departure, the Grand Duke Tsarévich Constantine Pávlovich joined the army. He had taken part in the beginning of the campaign but had subsequently been removed from the army by Kutúzov. Now having come to the army, he informed Kutúzov of the Emperor’s displeasure at the poor success of our forces and the slowness of their advance. The Emperor intended to join the army personally in a few days’ time.
The old man, experienced in court as well as in military affairs—this same Kutúzov who in August had been chosen commander in chief against the sovereign’s wishes and who had removed the Grand Duke and heir-apparent from the army—who on his own authority and contrary to the Emperor’s will had decided on the abandonment of Moscow, now realized at once that his day was over, that his part was played, and that the power he was supposed to hold was no longer his. And he understood this not merely from the attitude of the court. He saw on the one hand that the military business in which he had played his part was ended and felt that his mission was accomplished; and at the same time he began to be conscious of the physical weariness of his aged body and of the necessity of physical rest.
On the twenty-ninth of November Kutúzov entered Vílna—his “dear Vílna” as he called it. Twice during his career Kutúzov had been governor of Vílna. In that wealthy town, which had not been injured, he found old friends and associations, besides the comforts of life of which he had so long been deprived. And he suddenly turned from the cares of army and state and, as far as the passions that seethed around him allowed, immersed himself in the quiet life to which he had formerly been accustomed, as if all that was taking place and all that had still to be done in the realm of history did not concern him at all.
Chichagóv, one of the most zealous “cutters-off” and “breakers-up,” who had first wanted to effect a diversion in Greece and then in Warsaw but never wished to go where he was sent: Chichagóv, noted for the boldness with which he spoke to the Emperor, and who considered Kutúzov to be under an obligation to him because when he was sent to make peace with Turkey in 1811 independently of Kutúzov, and found that peace had already been concluded, he admitted to the Emperor that the merit of securing that peace was really Kutúzov’s; this Chichagóv was the first to meet Kutúzov at the castle where the latter was to stay. In undress naval uniform, with a dirk, and holding his cap under his arm, he handed Kutúzov a garrison report and the keys of the town. The contemptuously respectful attitude of the younger men to the old man in his dotage was expressed in the highest degree by the behavior of Chichagóv, who knew of the accusations that were being directed against Kutúzov.
When speaking to Chichagóv, Kutúzov incidentally mentioned that the vehicles packed with china that had been captured from him at Borísov had been recovered and would be restored to him.
“You mean to imply that I have nothing to eat out of.... On the contrary, I can supply you with everything even if you want to give dinner parties,” warmly replied Chichagóv, who tried by every word he spoke to prove his own rectitude and therefore imagined Kutúzov to be animated by the same desire.
Kutúzov, shrugging his shoulders, replied with his subtle penetrating smile: “I meant merely to say what I said.”
Contrary to the Emperor’s wish Kutúzov detained the greater part of the army at Vílna. Those about him said that he became extraordinarily slack and physically feeble during his stay in that town. He attended to army affairs reluctantly, left everything to his generals, and while awaiting the Emperor’s arrival led a dissipated life.
Having left Petersburg on the seventh of December with his suite—Count Tolstóy, Prince Volkónski, Arakchéev, and others—the Emperor reached Vílna on the eleventh, and in his traveling sleigh drove straight to the castle. In spite of the severe frost some hundred generals and staff officers in full parade uniform stood in front of the castle, as well as a guard of honor of the Semënov regiment.
A courier who galloped to the castle in advance, in a troyka with three foam-flecked horses, shouted “Coming!” and Konovnítsyn rushed into the vestibule to inform Kutúzov, who was waiting in the hall porter’s little lodge.
A minute later the old man’s large stout figure in full-dress uniform, his chest covered with orders and a scarf drawn round his stomach, waddled out into the porch. He put on his hat with its peaks to the sides and, holding his gloves in his hand and walking with an effort sideways down the steps to the level of the street, took in his hand the report he had prepared for the Emperor.
There was running to and fro and whispering; another troyka flew furiously up, and then all eyes were turned on an approaching sleigh in which the figures of the Emperor and Volkónski could already be descried.
From the habit of fifty years all this had a physically agitating effect on the old general. He carefully and hastily felt himself all over, readjusted his hat, and pulling himself together drew himself up and, at the very moment when the Emperor, having alighted from the sleigh, lifted his eyes to him, handed him the report and began speaking in his smooth, ingratiating voice.
The Emperor with a rapid glance scanned Kutúzov from head to foot, frowned for an instant, but immediately mastering himself went up to the old man, extended his arms and embraced him. And this embrace too, owing to a long-standing impression related to his innermost feelings, had its usual effect on Kutúzov and he gave a sob.
The Emperor greeted the officers and the Semënov guard, and again pressing the old man’s hand went with him into the castle.
When alone with the field marshal the Emperor expressed his dissatisfaction at the slowness of the pursuit and at the mistakes made at Krásnoe and the Berëzina, and informed him of his intentions for a future campaign abroad. Kutúzov made no rejoinder or remark. The same submissive, expressionless look with which he had listened to the Emperor’s commands on the field of Austerlitz seven years before settled on his face now.
When Kutúzov came out of the study and with lowered head was crossing the ballroom with his heavy waddling gait, he was arrested by someone’s voice saying:
“Your Serene Highness!”
Kutúzov raised his head and looked for a long while into the eyes of Count Tolstóy, who stood before him holding a silver salver on which lay a small object. Kutúzov seemed not to understand what was expected of him.
Suddenly he seemed to remember; a scarcely perceptible smile flashed across his puffy face, and bowing low and respectfully he took the object that lay on the salver. It was the Order of St. George of the First Class.