Beside himself with terror Pierre jumped up and ran back to the battery, as to the only refuge from the horrors that surrounded him.
On entering the earthwork he noticed that there were men doing something there but that no shots were being fired from the battery. He had no time to realize who these men were. He saw the senior officer lying on the earth wall with his back turned as if he were examining something down below and that one of the soldiers he had noticed before was struggling forward shouting “Brothers!” and trying to free himself from some men who were holding him by the arm. He also saw something else that was strange.
But he had not time to realize that the colonel had been killed, that the soldier shouting “Brothers!” was a prisoner, and that another man had been bayoneted in the back before his eyes, for hardly had he run into the redoubt before a thin, sallow-faced, perspiring man in a blue uniform rushed on him sword in hand, shouting something. Instinctively guarding against the shock—for they had been running together at full speed before they saw one another—Pierre put out his hands and seized the man (a French officer) by the shoulder with one hand and by the throat with the other. The officer, dropping his sword, seized Pierre by his collar.
For some seconds they gazed with frightened eyes at one another’s unfamiliar faces and both were perplexed at what they had done and what they were to do next. “Am I taken prisoner or have I taken him prisoner?” each was thinking. But the French officer was evidently more inclined to think he had been taken prisoner because Pierre’s strong hand, impelled by instinctive fear, squeezed his throat ever tighter and tighter. The Frenchman was about to say something, when just above their heads, terrible and low, a cannon ball whistled, and it seemed to Pierre that the French officer’s head had been torn off, so swiftly had he ducked it.
Pierre too bent his head and let his hands fall. Without further thought as to who had taken whom prisoner, the Frenchman ran back to the battery and Pierre ran down the slope stumbling over the dead and wounded who, it seemed to him, caught at his feet. But before he reached the foot of the knoll he was met by a dense crowd of Russian soldiers who, stumbling, tripping up, and shouting, ran merrily and wildly toward the battery. (This was the attack for which Ermólov claimed the credit, declaring that only his courage and good luck made such a feat possible: it was the attack in which he was said to have thrown some St. George’s Crosses he had in his pocket into the battery for the first soldiers to take who got there.)
The French who had occupied the battery fled, and our troops shouting “Hurrah!” pursued them so far beyond the battery that it was difficult to call them back.
The prisoners were brought down from the battery and among them was a wounded French general, whom the officers surrounded. Crowds of wounded—some known to Pierre and some unknown—Russians and French, with faces distorted by suffering, walked, crawled, and were carried on stretchers from the battery. Pierre again went up onto the knoll where he had spent over an hour, and of that family circle which had received him as a member he did not find a single one. There were many dead whom he did not know, but some he recognized. The young officer still sat in the same way, bent double, in a pool of blood at the edge of the earth wall. The red-faced man was still twitching, but they did not carry him away.
Pierre ran down the slope once more.
“Now they will stop it, now they will be horrified at what they have done!” he thought, aimlessly going toward a crowd of stretcher bearers moving from the battlefield.
But behind the veil of smoke the sun was still high, and in front and especially to the left, near Semënovsk, something seemed to be seething in the smoke, and the roar of cannon and musketry did not diminish, but even increased to desperation like a man who, straining himself, shrieks with all his remaining strength.
The chief action of the battle of Borodinó was fought within the seven thousand feet between Borodinó and Bagratión’s flèches. Beyond that space there was, on the one side, a demonstration made by the Russians with Uvárov’s cavalry at midday, and on the other side, beyond Utítsa, Poniatowski’s collision with Túchkov; but these two were detached and feeble actions in comparison with what took place in the center of the battlefield. On the field between Borodinó and the flèches, beside the wood, the chief action of the day took place on an open space visible from both sides and was fought in the simplest and most artless way.
The battle began on both sides with a cannonade from several hundred guns.
Then when the whole field was covered with smoke, two divisions, Campan’s and Dessaix’s, advanced from the French right, while Murat’s troops advanced on Borodinó from their left.
From the Shevárdino Redoubt where Napoleon was standing the flèches were two thirds of a mile away, and it was more than a mile as the crow flies to Borodinó, so that Napoleon could not see what was happening there, especially as the smoke mingling with the mist hid the whole locality. The soldiers of Dessaix’s division advancing against the flèches could only be seen till they had entered the hollow that lay between them and the flèches. As soon as they had descended into that hollow, the smoke of the guns and musketry on the flèches grew so dense that it covered the whole approach on that side of it. Through the smoke glimpses could be caught of something black—probably men—and at times the glint of bayonets. But whether they were moving or stationary, whether they were French or Russian, could not be discovered from the Shevárdino Redoubt.
The sun had risen brightly and its slanting rays struck straight into Napoleon’s face as, shading his eyes with his hand, he looked at the flèches. The smoke spread out before them, and at times it looked as if the smoke were moving, at times as if the troops moved. Sometimes shouts were heard through the firing, but it was impossible to tell what was being done there.
Napoleon, standing on the knoll, looked through a field glass, and in its small circlet saw smoke and men, sometimes his own and sometimes Russians, but when he looked again with the naked eye, he could not tell where what he had seen was.
He descended the knoll and began walking up and down before it.
Occasionally he stopped, listened to the firing, and gazed intently at the battlefield.
But not only was it impossible to make out what was happening from where he was standing down below, or from the knoll above on which some of his generals had taken their stand, but even from the flèches themselves—in which by this time there were now Russian and now French soldiers, alternately or together, dead, wounded, alive, frightened, or maddened—even at those flèches themselves it was impossible to make out what was taking place. There for several hours amid incessant cannon and musketry fire, now Russians were seen alone, now Frenchmen alone, now infantry, and now cavalry: they appeared, fired, fell, collided, not knowing what to do with one another, screamed, and ran back again.
From the battlefield adjutants he had sent out, and orderlies from his marshals, kept galloping up to Napoleon with reports of the progress of the action, but all these reports were false, both because it was impossible in the heat of battle to say what was happening at any given moment and because many of the adjutants did not go to the actual place of conflict but reported what they had heard from others; and also because while an adjutant was riding more than a mile to Napoleon circumstances changed and the news he brought was already becoming false. Thus an adjutant galloped up from Murat with tidings that Borodinó had been occupied and the bridge over the Kolochá was in the hands of the French. The adjutant asked whether Napoleon wished the troops to cross it? Napoleon gave orders that the troops should form up on the farther side and wait. But before that order was given—almost as soon in fact as the adjutant had left Borodinó—the bridge had been retaken by the Russians and burned, in the very skirmish at which Pierre had been present at the beginning of the battle.
An adjutant galloped up from the flèches with a pale and frightened face and reported to Napoleon that their attack had been repulsed, Campan wounded, and Davout killed; yet at the very time the adjutant had been told that the French had been repulsed, the flèches had in fact been recaptured by other French troops, and Davout was alive and only slightly bruised. On the basis of these necessarily untrustworthy reports Napoleon gave his orders, which had either been executed before he gave them or could not be and were not executed.
The marshals and generals, who were nearer to the field of battle but, like Napoleon, did not take part in the actual fighting and only occasionally went within musket range, made their own arrangements without asking Napoleon and issued orders where and in what direction to fire and where cavalry should gallop and infantry should run. But even their orders, like Napoleon’s, were seldom carried out, and then but partially. For the most part things happened contrary to their orders. Soldiers ordered to advance ran back on meeting grapeshot; soldiers ordered to remain where they were, suddenly, seeing Russians unexpectedly before them, sometimes rushed back and sometimes forward, and the cavalry dashed without orders in pursuit of the flying Russians. In this way two cavalry regiments galloped through the Semënovsk hollow and as soon as they reached the top of the incline turned round and galloped full speed back again. The infantry moved in the same way, sometimes running to quite other places than those they were ordered to go to. All orders as to where and when to move the guns, when to send infantry to shoot or horsemen to ride down the Russian infantry—all such orders were given by the officers on the spot nearest to the units concerned, without asking either Ney, Davout, or Murat, much less Napoleon. They did not fear getting into trouble for not fulfilling orders or for acting on their own initiative, for in battle what is at stake is what is dearest to man—his own life—and it sometimes seems that safety lies in running back, sometimes in running forward; and these men who were right in the heat of the battle acted according to the mood of the moment. In reality, however, all these movements forward and backward did not improve or alter the position of the troops. All their rushing and galloping at one another did little harm, the harm of disablement and death was caused by the balls and bullets that flew over the fields on which these men were floundering about. As soon as they left the place where the balls and bullets were flying about, their superiors, located in the background, re-formed them and brought them under discipline and under the influence of that discipline led them back to the zone of fire, where under the influence of fear of death they lost their discipline and rushed about according to the chance promptings of the throng.
Napoleon’s generals—Davout, Ney, and Murat, who were near that region of fire and sometimes even entered it—repeatedly led into it huge masses of well-ordered troops. But contrary to what had always happened in their former battles, instead of the news they expected of the enemy’s flight, these orderly masses returned thence as disorganized and terrified mobs. The generals re-formed them, but their numbers constantly decreased. In the middle of the day Murat sent his adjutant to Napoleon to demand reinforcements.
Napoleon sat at the foot of the knoll, drinking punch, when Murat’s adjutant galloped up with an assurance that the Russians would be routed if His Majesty would let him have another division.
“Reinforcements?” said Napoleon in a tone of stern surprise, looking at the adjutant—a handsome lad with long black curls arranged like Murat’s own—as though he did not understand his words.
“Reinforcements!” thought Napoleon to himself. “How can they need reinforcements when they already have half the army directed against a weak, unentrenched Russian wing?”
“Tell the King of Naples,” said he sternly, “that it is not noon yet, and I don’t yet see my chessboard clearly. Go!...”
The handsome boy adjutant with the long hair sighed deeply without removing his hand from his hat and galloped back to where men were being slaughtered.
Napoleon rose and having summoned Caulaincourt and Berthier began talking to them about matters unconnected with the battle.
In the midst of this conversation, which was beginning to interest Napoleon, Berthier’s eyes turned to look at a general with a suite, who was galloping toward the knoll on a lathering horse. It was Belliard. Having dismounted he went up to the Emperor with rapid strides and in a loud voice began boldly demonstrating the necessity of sending reinforcements. He swore on his honor that the Russians were lost if the Emperor would give another division.
Napoleon shrugged his shoulders and continued to pace up and down without replying. Belliard began talking loudly and eagerly to the generals of the suite around him.
“You are very fiery, Belliard,” said Napoleon, when he again came up to the general. “In the heat of a battle it is easy to make a mistake. Go and have another look and then come back to me.”
Before Belliard was out of sight, a messenger from another part of the battlefield galloped up.
“Now then, what do you want?” asked Napoleon in the tone of a man irritated at being continually disturbed.
“Sire, the prince...” began the adjutant.
“Asks for reinforcements?” said Napoleon with an angry gesture.
The adjutant bent his head affirmatively and began to report, but the Emperor turned from him, took a couple of steps, stopped, came back, and called Berthier.
“We must give reserves,” he said, moving his arms slightly apart. “Who do you think should be sent there?” he asked of Berthier (whom he subsequently termed “that gosling I have made an eagle”).
“Send Claparède’s division, sire,” replied Berthier, who knew all the division’s regiments, and battalions by heart.
Napoleon nodded assent.
The adjutant galloped to Claparède’s division and a few minutes later the Young Guards stationed behind the knoll moved forward. Napoleon gazed silently in that direction.
“No!” he suddenly said to Berthier. “I can’t send Claparède. Send Friant’s division.”
Though there was no advantage in sending Friant’s division instead of Claparède’s, and even an obvious inconvenience and delay in stopping Claparède and sending Friant now, the order was carried out exactly. Napoleon did not notice that in regard to his army he was playing the part of a doctor who hinders by his medicines—a role he so justly understood and condemned.
Friant’s division disappeared as the others had done into the smoke of the battlefield. From all sides adjutants continued to arrive at a gallop and as if by agreement all said the same thing. They all asked for reinforcements and all said that the Russians were holding their positions and maintaining a hellish fire under which the French army was melting away.
Napoleon sat on a campstool, wrapped in thought.
M. de Beausset, the man so fond of travel, having fasted since morning, came up to the Emperor and ventured respectfully to suggest lunch to His Majesty.
“I hope I may now congratulate Your Majesty on a victory?” said he.
Napoleon silently shook his head in negation. Assuming the negation to refer only to the victory and not to the lunch, M. de Beausset ventured with respectful jocularity to remark that there is no reason for not having lunch when one can get it.
“Go away...” exclaimed Napoleon suddenly and morosely, and turned aside.
A beatific smile of regret, repentance, and ecstasy beamed on M. de Beausset’s face and he glided away to the other generals.
Napoleon was experiencing a feeling of depression like that of an ever-lucky gambler who, after recklessly flinging money about and always winning, suddenly just when he has calculated all the chances of the game, finds that the more he considers his play the more surely he loses.
His troops were the same, his generals the same, the same preparations had been made, the same dispositions, and the same proclamation courte et énergique, he himself was still the same: he knew that and knew that he was now even more experienced and skillful than before. Even the enemy was the same as at Austerlitz and Friedland—yet the terrible stroke of his arm had supernaturally become impotent.
All the old methods that had been unfailingly crowned with success: the concentration of batteries on one point, an attack by reserves to break the enemy’s line, and a cavalry attack by “the men of iron,” all these methods had already been employed, yet not only was there no victory, but from all sides came the same news of generals killed and wounded, of reinforcements needed, of the impossibility of driving back the Russians, and of disorganization among his own troops.
Formerly, after he had given two or three orders and uttered a few phrases, marshals and adjutants had come galloping up with congratulations and happy faces, announcing the trophies taken, the corps of prisoners, bundles of enemy eagles and standards, cannon and stores, and Murat had only begged leave to loose the cavalry to gather in the baggage wagons. So it had been at Lodi, Marengo, Arcola, Jena, Austerlitz, Wagram, and so on. But now something strange was happening to his troops.
Despite news of the capture of the flèches, Napoleon saw that this was not the same, not at all the same, as what had happened in his former battles. He saw that what he was feeling was felt by all the men about him experienced in the art of war. All their faces looked dejected, and they all shunned one another’s eyes—only a de Beausset could fail to grasp the meaning of what was happening.
But Napoleon with his long experience of war well knew the meaning of a battle not gained by the attacking side in eight hours, after all efforts had been expended. He knew that it was a lost battle and that the least accident might now—with the fight balanced on such a strained center—destroy him and his army.
When he ran his mind over the whole of this strange Russian campaign in which not one battle had been won, and in which not a flag, or cannon, or army corps had been captured in two months, when he looked at the concealed depression on the faces around him and heard reports of the Russians still holding their ground—a terrible feeling like a nightmare took possession of him, and all the unlucky accidents that might destroy him occurred to his mind. The Russians might fall on his left wing, might break through his center, he himself might be killed by a stray cannon ball. All this was possible. In former battles he had only considered the possibilities of success, but now innumerable unlucky chances presented themselves, and he expected them all. Yes, it was like a dream in which a man fancies that a ruffian is coming to attack him, and raises his arm to strike that ruffian a terrible blow which he knows should annihilate him, but then feels that his arm drops powerless and limp like a rag, and the horror of unavoidable destruction seizes him in his helplessness.
The news that the Russians were attacking the left flank of the French army aroused that horror in Napoleon. He sat silently on a campstool below the knoll, with head bowed and elbows on his knees. Berthier approached and suggested that they should ride along the line to ascertain the position of affairs.
“What? What do you say?” asked Napoleon. “Yes, tell them to bring me my horse.”
He mounted and rode toward Semënovsk.
Amid the powder smoke, slowly dispersing over the whole space through which Napoleon rode, horses and men were lying in pools of blood, singly or in heaps. Neither Napoleon nor any of his generals had ever before seen such horrors or so many slain in such a small area. The roar of guns, that had not ceased for ten hours, wearied the ear and gave a peculiar significance to the spectacle, as music does to tableaux vivants. Napoleon rode up the high ground at Semënovsk, and through the smoke saw ranks of men in uniforms of a color unfamiliar to him. They were Russians.
The Russians stood in serried ranks behind Semënovsk village and its knoll, and their guns boomed incessantly along their line and sent forth clouds of smoke. It was no longer a battle: it was a continuous slaughter which could be of no avail either to the French or the Russians. Napoleon stopped his horse and again fell into the reverie from which Berthier had aroused him. He could not stop what was going on before him and around him and was supposed to be directed by him and to depend on him, and from its lack of success this affair, for the first time, seemed to him unnecessary and horrible.
One of the generals rode up to Napoleon and ventured to offer to lead the Old Guard into action. Ney and Berthier, standing near Napoleon, exchanged looks and smiled contemptuously at this general’s senseless offer.
Napoleon bowed his head and remained silent a long time.
“At eight hundred leagues from France, I will not have my Guard destroyed!” he said, and turning his horse rode back to Shevárdino.
On the rug-covered bench where Pierre had seen him in the morning sat Kutúzov, his gray head hanging, his heavy body relaxed. He gave no orders, but only assented to or dissented from what others suggested.
“Yes, yes, do that,” he replied to various proposals. “Yes, yes: go, dear boy, and have a look,” he would say to one or another of those about him; or, “No, don’t, we’d better wait!” He listened to the reports that were brought him and gave directions when his subordinates demanded that of him; but when listening to the reports it seemed as if he were not interested in the import of the words spoken, but rather in something else—in the expression of face and tone of voice of those who were reporting. By long years of military experience he knew, and with the wisdom of age understood, that it is impossible for one man to direct hundreds of thousands of others struggling with death, and he knew that the result of a battle is decided not by the orders of a commander in chief, nor the place where the troops are stationed, nor by the number of cannon or of slaughtered men, but by that intangible force called the spirit of the army, and he watched this force and guided it in as far as that was in his power.
Kutúzov’s general expression was one of concentrated quiet attention, and his face wore a strained look as if he found it difficult to master the fatigue of his old and feeble body.
At eleven o’clock they brought him news that the flèches captured by the French had been retaken, but that Prince Bagratión was wounded. Kutúzov groaned and swayed his head.
“Ride over to Prince Peter Ivánovich and find out about it exactly,” he said to one of his adjutants, and then turned to the Duke of Württemberg who was standing behind him.
“Will Your Highness please take command of the first army?”
Soon after the duke’s departure—before he could possibly have reached Semënovsk—his adjutant came back from him and told Kutúzov that the duke asked for more troops.
Kutúzov made a grimace and sent an order to Dokhtúrov to take over the command of the first army, and a request to the duke—whom he said he could not spare at such an important moment—to return to him. When they brought him news that Murat had been taken prisoner, and the staff officers congratulated him, Kutúzov smiled.
“Wait a little, gentlemen,” said he. “The battle is won, and there is nothing extraordinary in the capture of Murat. Still, it is better to wait before we rejoice.”
But he sent an adjutant to take the news round the army.
When Scherbínin came galloping from the left flank with news that the French had captured the flèches and the village of Semënovsk, Kutúzov, guessing by the sounds of the battle and by Scherbínin’s looks that the news was bad, rose as if to stretch his legs and, taking Scherbínin’s arm, led him aside.
“Go, my dear fellow,” he said to Ermólov, “and see whether something can’t be done.”
Kutúzov was in Górki, near the center of the Russian position. The attack directed by Napoleon against our left flank had been several times repulsed. In the center the French had not got beyond Borodinó, and on their left flank Uvárov’s cavalry had put the French to flight.
Toward three o’clock the French attacks ceased. On the faces of all who came from the field of battle, and of those who stood around him, Kutúzov noticed an expression of extreme tension. He was satisfied with the day’s success—a success exceeding his expectations, but the old man’s strength was failing him. Several times his head dropped low as if it were falling and he dozed off. Dinner was brought him.
Adjutant General Wolzogen, the man who when riding past Prince Andrew had said, “the war should be extended widely,” and whom Bagratión so detested, rode up while Kutúzov was at dinner. Wolzogen had come from Barclay de Tolly to report on the progress of affairs on the left flank. The sagacious Barclay de Tolly, seeing crowds of wounded men running back and the disordered rear of the army, weighed all the circumstances, concluded that the battle was lost, and sent his favorite officer to the commander in chief with that news.
Kutúzov was chewing a piece of roast chicken with difficulty and glanced at Wolzogen with eyes that brightened under their puckering lids.
Wolzogen, nonchalantly stretching his legs, approached Kutúzov with a half-contemptuous smile on his lips, scarcely touching the peak of his cap.
He treated his Serene Highness with a somewhat affected nonchalance intended to show that, as a highly trained military man, he left it to Russians to make an idol of this useless old man, but that he knew whom he was dealing with. “Der alte Herr” (as in their own set the Germans called Kutúzov) “is making himself very comfortable,” thought Wolzogen, and looking severely at the dishes in front of Kutúzov he began to report to “the old gentleman” the position of affairs on the left flank as Barclay had ordered him to and as he himself had seen and understood it.
“All the points of our position are in the enemy’s hands and we cannot dislodge them for lack of troops, the men are running away and it is impossible to stop them,” he reported.
Kutúzov ceased chewing and fixed an astonished gaze on Wolzogen, as if not understanding what was said to him. Wolzogen, noticing “the old gentleman’s” agitation, said with a smile:
“I have not considered it right to conceal from your Serene Highness what I have seen. The troops are in complete disorder....”
“You have seen? You have seen?...” Kutúzov shouted. Frowning and rising quickly, he went up to Wolzogen.
“How... how dare you!...” he shouted, choking and making a threatening gesture with his trembling arms: “How dare you, sir, say that to me? You know nothing about it. Tell General Barclay from me that his information is incorrect and that the real course of the battle is better known to me, the commander in chief, than to him.”
Wolzogen was about to make a rejoinder, but Kutúzov interrupted him.
“The enemy has been repulsed on the left and defeated on the right flank. If you have seen amiss, sir, do not allow yourself to say what you don’t know! Be so good as to ride to General Barclay and inform him of my firm intention to attack the enemy tomorrow,” said Kutúzov sternly.
All were silent, and the only sound audible was the heavy breathing of the panting old general.
“They are repulsed everywhere, for which I thank God and our brave army! The enemy is beaten, and tomorrow we shall drive him from the sacred soil of Russia,” said Kutúzov crossing himself, and he suddenly sobbed as his eyes filled with tears.
Wolzogen, shrugging his shoulders and curling his lips, stepped silently aside, marveling at “the old gentleman’s” conceited stupidity.
“Ah, here he is, my hero!” said Kutúzov to a portly, handsome, dark-haired general who was just ascending the knoll.
This was Raévski, who had spent the whole day at the most important part of the field of Borodinó.
Raévski reported that the troops were firmly holding their ground and that the French no longer ventured to attack.
After hearing him, Kutúzov said in French:
“Then you do not think, like some others, that we must retreat?”
“On the contrary, your Highness, in indecisive actions it is always the most stubborn who remain victors,” replied Raévski, “and in my opinion...”
“Kaysárov!” Kutúzov called to his adjutant. “Sit down and write out the order of the day for tomorrow. And you,” he continued, addressing another, “ride along the line and announce that tomorrow we attack.”
While Kutúzov was talking to Raévski and dictating the order of the day, Wolzogen returned from Barclay and said that General Barclay wished to have written confirmation of the order the field marshal had given.
Kutúzov, without looking at Wolzogen, gave directions for the order to be written out which the former commander in chief, to avoid personal responsibility, very judiciously wished to receive.
And by means of that mysterious indefinable bond which maintains throughout an army one and the same temper, known as “the spirit of the army,” and which constitutes the sinew of war, Kutúzov’s words, his order for a battle next day, immediately became known from one end of the army to the other.
It was far from being the same words or the same order that reached the farthest links of that chain. The tales passing from mouth to mouth at different ends of the army did not even resemble what Kutúzov had said, but the sense of his words spread everywhere because what he said was not the outcome of cunning calculations, but of a feeling that lay in the commander in chief’s soul as in that of every Russian.
And on learning that tomorrow they were to attack the enemy, and hearing from the highest quarters a confirmation of what they wanted to believe, the exhausted, wavering men felt comforted and inspirited.
Prince Andrew’s regiment was among the reserves which till after one o’clock were stationed inactive behind Semënovsk, under heavy artillery fire. Toward two o’clock the regiment, having already lost more than two hundred men, was moved forward into a trampled oatfield in the gap between Semënovsk and the Knoll Battery, where thousands of men perished that day and on which an intense, concentrated fire from several hundred enemy guns was directed between one and two o’clock.
Without moving from that spot or firing a single shot the regiment here lost another third of its men. From in front and especially from the right, in the unlifting smoke the guns boomed, and out of the mysterious domain of smoke that overlay the whole space in front, quick hissing cannon balls and slow whistling shells flew unceasingly. At times, as if to allow them a respite, a quarter of an hour passed during which the cannon balls and shells all flew overhead, but sometimes several men were torn from the regiment in a minute and the slain were continually being dragged away and the wounded carried off.
With each fresh blow less and less chance of life remained for those not yet killed. The regiment stood in columns of battalion, three hundred paces apart, but nevertheless the men were always in one and the same mood. All alike were taciturn and morose. Talk was rarely heard in the ranks, and it ceased altogether every time the thud of a successful shot and the cry of “stretchers!” was heard. Most of the time, by their officers’ order, the men sat on the ground. One, having taken off his shako, carefully loosened the gathers of its lining and drew them tight again; another, rubbing some dry clay between his palms, polished his bayonet; another fingered the strap and pulled the buckle of his bandolier, while another smoothed and refolded his leg bands and put his boots on again. Some built little houses of the tufts in the plowed ground, or plaited baskets from the straw in the cornfield. All seemed fully absorbed in these pursuits. When men were killed or wounded, when rows of stretchers went past, when some troops retreated, and when great masses of the enemy came into view through the smoke, no one paid any attention to these things. But when our artillery or cavalry advanced or some of our infantry were seen to move forward, words of approval were heard on all sides. But the liveliest attention was attracted by occurrences quite apart from, and unconnected with, the battle. It was as if the minds of these morally exhausted men found relief in everyday, commonplace occurrences. A battery of artillery was passing in front of the regiment. The horse of an ammunition cart put its leg over a trace. “Hey, look at the trace horse!... Get her leg out! She’ll fall.... Ah, they don’t see it!” came identical shouts from the ranks all along the regiment. Another time, general attention was attracted by a small brown dog, coming heaven knows whence, which trotted in a preoccupied manner in front of the ranks with tail stiffly erect till suddenly a shell fell close by, when it yelped, tucked its tail between its legs, and darted aside. Yells and shrieks of laughter rose from the whole regiment. But such distractions lasted only a moment, and for eight hours the men had been inactive, without food, in constant fear of death, and their pale and gloomy faces grew ever paler and gloomier.
Prince Andrew, pale and gloomy like everyone in the regiment, paced up and down from the border of one patch to another, at the edge of the meadow beside an oatfield, with head bowed and arms behind his back. There was nothing for him to do and no orders to be given. Everything went on of itself. The killed were dragged from the front, the wounded carried away, and the ranks closed up. If any soldiers ran to the rear they returned immediately and hastily. At first Prince Andrew, considering it his duty to rouse the courage of the men and to set them an example, walked about among the ranks, but he soon became convinced that this was unnecessary and that there was nothing he could teach them. All the powers of his soul, as of every soldier there, were unconsciously bent on avoiding the contemplation of the horrors of their situation. He walked along the meadow, dragging his feet, rustling the grass, and gazing at the dust that covered his boots; now he took big strides trying to keep to the footprints left on the meadow by the mowers, then he counted his steps, calculating how often he must walk from one strip to another to walk a mile, then he stripped the flowers from the wormwood that grew along a boundary rut, rubbed them in his palms, and smelled their pungent, sweetly bitter scent. Nothing remained of the previous day’s thoughts. He thought of nothing. He listened with weary ears to the ever-recurring sounds, distinguishing the whistle of flying projectiles from the booming of the reports, glanced at the tiresomely familiar faces of the men of the first battalion, and waited. “Here it comes... this one is coming our way again!” he thought, listening to an approaching whistle in the hidden region of smoke. “One, another! Again! It has hit....” He stopped and looked at the ranks. “No, it has gone over. But this one has hit!” And again he started trying to reach the boundary strip in sixteen paces. A whizz and a thud! Five paces from him, a cannon ball tore up the dry earth and disappeared. A chill ran down his back. Again he glanced at the ranks. Probably many had been hit—a large crowd had gathered near the second battalion.
“Adjutant!” he shouted. “Order them not to crowd together.”
The adjutant, having obeyed this instruction, approached Prince Andrew. From the other side a battalion commander rode up.
“Look out!” came a frightened cry from a soldier and, like a bird whirring in rapid flight and alighting on the ground, a shell dropped with little noise within two steps of Prince Andrew and close to the battalion commander’s horse. The horse first, regardless of whether it was right or wrong to show fear, snorted, reared almost throwing the major, and galloped aside. The horse’s terror infected the men.
“Lie down!” cried the adjutant, throwing himself flat on the ground.
Prince Andrew hesitated. The smoking shell spun like a top between him and the prostrate adjutant, near a wormwood plant between the field and the meadow.
“Can this be death?” thought Prince Andrew, looking with a quite new, envious glance at the grass, the wormwood, and the streamlet of smoke that curled up from the rotating black ball. “I cannot, I do not wish to die. I love life—I love this grass, this earth, this air....” He thought this, and at the same time remembered that people were looking at him.
“It’s shameful, sir!” he said to the adjutant. “What...”
He did not finish speaking. At one and the same moment came the sound of an explosion, a whistle of splinters as from a breaking window frame, a suffocating smell of powder, and Prince Andrew started to one side, raising his arm, and fell on his chest. Several officers ran up to him. From the right side of his abdomen, blood was welling out making a large stain on the grass.
The militiamen with stretchers who were called up stood behind the officers. Prince Andrew lay on his chest with his face in the grass, breathing heavily and noisily.
“What are you waiting for? Come along!”
The peasants went up and took him by his shoulders and legs, but he moaned piteously and, exchanging looks, they set him down again.
“Pick him up, lift him, it’s all the same!” cried someone.
They again took him by the shoulders and laid him on the stretcher.
“Ah, God! My God! What is it? The stomach? That means death! My God!”—voices among the officers were heard saying.
“It flew a hair’s breadth past my ear,” said the adjutant.
The peasants, adjusting the stretcher to their shoulders, started hurriedly along the path they had trodden down, to the dressing station.
“Keep in step! Ah... those peasants!” shouted an officer, seizing by their shoulders and checking the peasants, who were walking unevenly and jolting the stretcher.
“Get into step, Fëdor... I say, Fëdor!” said the foremost peasant.
“Now that’s right!” said the one behind joyfully, when he had got into step.
“Your excellency! Eh, Prince!” said the trembling voice of Timókhin, who had run up and was looking down on the stretcher.
Prince Andrew opened his eyes and looked up at the speaker from the stretcher into which his head had sunk deep and again his eyelids drooped.
The militiamen carried Prince Andrew to the dressing station by the wood, where wagons were stationed. The dressing station consisted of three tents with flaps turned back, pitched at the edge of a birch wood. In the wood, wagons and horses were standing. The horses were eating oats from their movable troughs and sparrows flew down and pecked the grains that fell. Some crows, scenting blood, flew among the birch trees cawing impatiently. Around the tents, over more than five acres, bloodstained men in various garbs stood, sat, or lay. Around the wounded stood crowds of soldier stretcher-bearers with dismal and attentive faces, whom the officers keeping order tried in vain to drive from the spot. Disregarding the officers’ orders, the soldiers stood leaning against their stretchers and gazing intently, as if trying to comprehend the difficult problem of what was taking place before them. From the tents came now loud angry cries and now plaintive groans. Occasionally dressers ran out to fetch water, or to point out those who were to be brought in next. The wounded men awaiting their turn outside the tents groaned, sighed, wept, screamed, swore, or asked for vodka. Some were delirious. Prince Andrew’s bearers, stepping over the wounded who had not yet been bandaged, took him, as a regimental commander, close up to one of the tents and there stopped, awaiting instructions. Prince Andrew opened his eyes and for a long time could not make out what was going on around him. He remembered the meadow, the wormwood, the field, the whirling black ball, and his sudden rush of passionate love of life. Two steps from him, leaning against a branch and talking loudly and attracting general attention, stood a tall, handsome, black-haired noncommissioned officer with a bandaged head. He had been wounded in the head and leg by bullets. Around him, eagerly listening to his talk, a crowd of wounded and stretcher-bearers was gathered.
“We kicked him out from there so that he chucked everything, we grabbed the King himself!” cried he, looking around him with eyes that glittered with fever. “If only reserves had come up just then, lads, there wouldn’t have been nothing left of him! I tell you surely....”
Like all the others near the speaker, Prince Andrew looked at him with shining eyes and experienced a sense of comfort. “But isn’t it all the same now?” thought he. “And what will be there, and what has there been here? Why was I so reluctant to part with life? There was something in this life I did not and do not understand.”