That same evening there was an animated discussion among the squadron’s officers in Denísov’s quarters.
“And I tell you, Rostóv, that you must apologize to the colonel!” said a tall, grizzly-haired staff captain, with enormous mustaches and many wrinkles on his large features, to Rostóv who was crimson with excitement.
The staff captain, Kírsten, had twice been reduced to the ranks for affairs of honor and had twice regained his commission.
“I will allow no one to call me a liar!” cried Rostóv. “He told me I lied, and I told him he lied. And there it rests. He may keep me on duty every day, or may place me under arrest, but no one can make me apologize, because if he, as commander of this regiment, thinks it beneath his dignity to give me satisfaction, then...”
“You just wait a moment, my dear fellow, and listen,” interrupted the staff captain in his deep bass, calmly stroking his long mustache. “You tell the colonel in the presence of other officers that an officer has stolen...”
“I’m not to blame that the conversation began in the presence of other officers. Perhaps I ought not to have spoken before them, but I am not a diplomatist. That’s why I joined the hussars, thinking that here one would not need finesse; and he tells me that I am lying—so let him give me satisfaction...”
“That’s all right. No one thinks you a coward, but that’s not the point. Ask Denísov whether it is not out of the question for a cadet to demand satisfaction of his regimental commander?”
Denísov sat gloomily biting his mustache and listening to the conversation, evidently with no wish to take part in it. He answered the staff captain’s question by a disapproving shake of his head.
“You speak to the colonel about this nasty business before other officers,” continued the staff captain, “and Bogdánich” (the colonel was called Bogdánich) “shuts you up.”
“He did not shut me up, he said I was telling an untruth.”
“Well, have it so, and you talked a lot of nonsense to him and must apologize.”
“Not on any account!” exclaimed Rostóv.
“I did not expect this of you,” said the staff captain seriously and severely. “You don’t wish to apologize, but, man, it’s not only to him but to the whole regiment—all of us—you’re to blame all round. The case is this: you ought to have thought the matter over and taken advice; but no, you go and blurt it all straight out before the officers. Now what was the colonel to do? Have the officer tried and disgrace the whole regiment? Disgrace the whole regiment because of one scoundrel? Is that how you look at it? We don’t see it like that. And Bogdánich was a brick: he told you you were saying what was not true. It’s not pleasant, but what’s to be done, my dear fellow? You landed yourself in it. And now, when one wants to smooth the thing over, some conceit prevents your apologizing, and you wish to make the whole affair public. You are offended at being put on duty a bit, but why not apologize to an old and honorable officer? Whatever Bogdánich may be, anyway he is an honorable and brave old colonel! You’re quick at taking offense, but you don’t mind disgracing the whole regiment!” The staff captain’s voice began to tremble. “You have been in the regiment next to no time, my lad, you’re here today and tomorrow you’ll be appointed adjutant somewhere and can snap your fingers when it is said ‘There are thieves among the Pávlograd officers!’ But it’s not all the same to us! Am I not right, Denísov? It’s not the same!”
Denísov remained silent and did not move, but occasionally looked with his glittering black eyes at Rostóv.
“You value your own pride and don’t wish to apologize,” continued the staff captain, “but we old fellows, who have grown up in and, God willing, are going to die in the regiment, we prize the honor of the regiment, and Bogdánich knows it. Oh, we do prize it, old fellow! And all this is not right, it’s not right! You may take offense or not but I always stick to mother truth. It’s not right!”
And the staff captain rose and turned away from Rostóv.
“That’s twue, devil take it!” shouted Denísov, jumping up. “Now then, Wostóv, now then!”
Rostóv, growing red and pale alternately, looked first at one officer and then at the other.
“No, gentlemen, no... you mustn’t think... I quite understand. You’re wrong to think that of me... I... for me... for the honor of the regiment I’d... Ah well, I’ll show that in action, and for me the honor of the flag... Well, never mind, it’s true I’m to blame, to blame all round. Well, what else do you want?...”
“Come, that’s right, Count!” cried the staff captain, turning round and clapping Rostóv on the shoulder with his big hand.
“I tell you,” shouted Denísov, “he’s a fine fellow.”
“That’s better, Count,” said the staff captain, beginning to address Rostóv by his title, as if in recognition of his confession. “Go and apologize, your excellency. Yes, go!”
“Gentlemen, I’ll do anything. No one shall hear a word from me,” said Rostóv in an imploring voice, “but I can’t apologize, by God I can’t, do what you will! How can I go and apologize like a little boy asking forgiveness?”
Denísov began to laugh.
“It’ll be worse for you. Bogdánich is vindictive and you’ll pay for your obstinacy,” said Kírsten.
“No, on my word it’s not obstinacy! I can’t describe the feeling. I can’t...”
“Well, it’s as you like,” said the staff captain. “And what has become of that scoundrel?” he asked Denísov.
“He has weported himself sick, he’s to be stwuck off the list tomowwow,” muttered Denísov.
“It is an illness, there’s no other way of explaining it,” said the staff captain.
“Illness or not, he’d better not cwoss my path. I’d kill him!” shouted Denísov in a bloodthirsty tone.
Just then Zherkóv entered the room.
“What brings you here?” cried the officers turning to the newcomer.
“We’re to go into action, gentlemen! Mack has surrendered with his whole army.”
“It’s not true!”
“I’ve seen him myself!”
“What? Saw the real Mack? With hands and feet?”
“Into action! Into action! Bring him a bottle for such news! But how did you come here?”
“I’ve been sent back to the regiment all on account of that devil, Mack. An Austrian general complained of me. I congratulated him on Mack’s arrival... What’s the matter, Rostóv? You look as if you’d just come out of a hot bath.”
“Oh, my dear fellow, we’re in such a stew here these last two days.”
The regimental adjutant came in and confirmed the news brought by Zherkóv. They were under orders to advance next day.
“We’re going into action, gentlemen!”
“Well, thank God! We’ve been sitting here too long!”
Kutúzov fell back toward Vienna, destroying behind him the bridges over the rivers Inn (at Braunau) and Traun (near Linz). On October 23 the Russian troops were crossing the river Enns. At midday the Russian baggage train, the artillery, and columns of troops were defiling through the town of Enns on both sides of the bridge.
It was a warm, rainy, autumnal day. The wide expanse that opened out before the heights on which the Russian batteries stood guarding the bridge was at times veiled by a diaphanous curtain of slanting rain, and then, suddenly spread out in the sunlight, far-distant objects could be clearly seen glittering as though freshly varnished. Down below, the little town could be seen with its white, red-roofed houses, its cathedral, and its bridge, on both sides of which streamed jostling masses of Russian troops. At the bend of the Danube, vessels, an island, and a castle with a park surrounded by the waters of the confluence of the Enns and the Danube became visible, and the rocky left bank of the Danube covered with pine forests, with a mystic background of green treetops and bluish gorges. The turrets of a convent stood out beyond a wild virgin pine forest, and far away on the other side of the Enns the enemy’s horse patrols could be discerned.
Among the field guns on the brow of the hill the general in command of the rearguard stood with a staff officer, scanning the country through his fieldglass. A little behind them Nesvítski, who had been sent to the rearguard by the commander in chief, was sitting on the trail of a gun carriage. A Cossack who accompanied him had handed him a knapsack and a flask, and Nesvítski was treating some officers to pies and real doppelkümmel. The officers gladly gathered round him, some on their knees, some squatting Turkish fashion on the wet grass.
“Yes, the Austrian prince who built that castle was no fool. It’s a fine place! Why are you not eating anything, gentlemen?” Nesvítski was saying.
“Thank you very much, Prince,” answered one of the officers, pleased to be talking to a staff officer of such importance. “It’s a lovely place! We passed close to the park and saw two deer... and what a splendid house!”
“Look, Prince,” said another, who would have dearly liked to take another pie but felt shy, and therefore pretended to be examining the countryside—“See, our infantrymen have already got there. Look there in the meadow behind the village, three of them are dragging something. They’ll ransack that castle,” he remarked with evident approval.
“So they will,” said Nesvítski. “No, but what I should like,” added he, munching a pie in his moist-lipped handsome mouth, “would be to slip in over there.”
He pointed with a smile to a turreted nunnery, and his eyes narrowed and gleamed.
“That would be fine, gentlemen!”
The officers laughed.
“Just to flutter the nuns a bit. They say there are Italian girls among them. On my word I’d give five years of my life for it!”
“They must be feeling dull, too,” said one of the bolder officers, laughing.
Meanwhile the staff officer standing in front pointed out something to the general, who looked through his field glass.
“Yes, so it is, so it is,” said the general angrily, lowering the field glass and shrugging his shoulders, “so it is! They’ll be fired on at the crossing. And why are they dawdling there?”
On the opposite side the enemy could be seen by the naked eye, and from their battery a milk-white cloud arose. Then came the distant report of a shot, and our troops could be seen hurrying to the crossing.
Nesvítski rose, puffing, and went up to the general, smiling.
“Would not your excellency like a little refreshment?” he said.
“It’s a bad business,” said the general without answering him, “our men have been wasting time.”
“Hadn’t I better ride over, your excellency?” asked Nesvítski.
“Yes, please do,” answered the general, and he repeated the order that had already once been given in detail: “and tell the hussars that they are to cross last and to fire the bridge as I ordered; and the inflammable material on the bridge must be reinspected.”
“Very good,” answered Nesvítski.
He called the Cossack with his horse, told him to put away the knapsack and flask, and swung his heavy person easily into the saddle.
“I’ll really call in on the nuns,” he said to the officers who watched him smilingly, and he rode off by the winding path down the hill.
“Now then, let’s see how far it will carry, Captain. Just try!” said the general, turning to an artillery officer. “Have a little fun to pass the time.”
“Crew, to your guns!” commanded the officer.
In a moment the men came running gaily from their campfires and began loading.
“One!” came the command.
Number one jumped briskly aside. The gun rang out with a deafening metallic roar, and a whistling grenade flew above the heads of our troops below the hill and fell far short of the enemy, a little smoke showing the spot where it burst.
The faces of officers and men brightened up at the sound. Everyone got up and began watching the movements of our troops below, as plainly visible as if but a stone’s throw away, and the movements of the approaching enemy farther off. At the same instant the sun came fully out from behind the clouds, and the clear sound of the solitary shot and the brilliance of the bright sunshine merged in a single joyous and spirited impression.
Two of the enemy’s shots had already flown across the bridge, where there was a crush. Halfway across stood Prince Nesvítski, who had alighted from his horse and whose big body was jammed against the railings. He looked back laughing to the Cossack who stood a few steps behind him holding two horses by their bridles. Each time Prince Nesvítski tried to move on, soldiers and carts pushed him back again and pressed him against the railings, and all he could do was to smile.
“What a fine fellow you are, friend!” said the Cossack to a convoy soldier with a wagon, who was pressing onto the infantrymen who were crowded together close to his wheels and his horses. “What a fellow! You can’t wait a moment! Don’t you see the general wants to pass?”
But the convoyman took no notice of the word “general” and shouted at the soldiers who were blocking his way. “Hi there, boys! Keep to the left! Wait a bit.” But the soldiers, crowded together shoulder to shoulder, their bayonets interlocking, moved over the bridge in a dense mass. Looking down over the rails Prince Nesvítski saw the rapid, noisy little waves of the Enns, which rippling and eddying round the piles of the bridge chased each other along. Looking on the bridge he saw equally uniform living waves of soldiers, shoulder straps, covered shakos, knapsacks, bayonets, long muskets, and, under the shakos, faces with broad cheekbones, sunken cheeks, and listless tired expressions, and feet that moved through the sticky mud that covered the planks of the bridge. Sometimes through the monotonous waves of men, like a fleck of white foam on the waves of the Enns, an officer, in a cloak and with a type of face different from that of the men, squeezed his way along; sometimes like a chip of wood whirling in the river, an hussar on foot, an orderly, or a townsman was carried through the waves of infantry; and sometimes like a log floating down the river, an officers’ or company’s baggage wagon, piled high, leather covered, and hemmed in on all sides, moved across the bridge.
“It’s as if a dam had burst,” said the Cossack hopelessly. “Are there many more of you to come?”
“A million all but one!” replied a waggish soldier in a torn coat, with a wink, and passed on followed by another, an old man.
“If he” (he meant the enemy) “begins popping at the bridge now,” said the old soldier dismally to a comrade, “you’ll forget to scratch yourself.”
That soldier passed on, and after him came another sitting on a cart.
“Where the devil have the leg bands been shoved to?” said an orderly, running behind the cart and fumbling in the back of it.
And he also passed on with the wagon. Then came some merry soldiers who had evidently been drinking.
“And then, old fellow, he gives him one in the teeth with the butt end of his gun...” a soldier whose greatcoat was well tucked up said gaily, with a wide swing of his arm.
“Yes, the ham was just delicious...” answered another with a loud laugh. And they, too, passed on, so that Nesvítski did not learn who had been struck on the teeth, or what the ham had to do with it.
“Bah! How they scurry. He just sends a ball and they think they’ll all be killed,” a sergeant was saying angrily and reproachfully.
“As it flies past me, Daddy, the ball I mean,” said a young soldier with an enormous mouth, hardly refraining from laughing, “I felt like dying of fright. I did, ‘pon my word, I got that frightened!” said he, as if bragging of having been frightened.
That one also passed. Then followed a cart unlike any that had gone before. It was a German cart with a pair of horses led by a German, and seemed loaded with a whole houseful of effects. A fine brindled cow with a large udder was attached to the cart behind. A woman with an unweaned baby, an old woman, and a healthy German girl with bright red cheeks were sitting on some feather beds. Evidently these fugitives were allowed to pass by special permission. The eyes of all the soldiers turned toward the women, and while the vehicle was passing at foot pace all the soldiers’ remarks related to the two young ones. Every face bore almost the same smile, expressing unseemly thoughts about the women.
“Just see, the German sausage is making tracks, too!”
“Sell me the missis,” said another soldier, addressing the German, who, angry and frightened, strode energetically along with downcast eyes.
“See how smart she’s made herself! Oh, the devils!”
“There, Fedótov, you should be quartered on them!”
“I have seen as much before now, mate!”
“Where are you going?” asked an infantry officer who was eating an apple, also half smiling as he looked at the handsome girl.
The German closed his eyes, signifying that he did not understand.
“Take it if you like,” said the officer, giving the girl an apple.
The girl smiled and took it. Nesvítski like the rest of the men on the bridge did not take his eyes off the women till they had passed. When they had gone by, the same stream of soldiers followed, with the same kind of talk, and at last all stopped. As often happens, the horses of a convoy wagon became restive at the end of the bridge, and the whole crowd had to wait.
“And why are they stopping? There’s no proper order!” said the soldiers. “Where are you shoving to? Devil take you! Can’t you wait? It’ll be worse if he fires the bridge. See, here’s an officer jammed in too”—different voices were saying in the crowd, as the men looked at one another, and all pressed toward the exit from the bridge.
Looking down at the waters of the Enns under the bridge, Nesvítski suddenly heard a sound new to him, of something swiftly approaching... something big, that splashed into the water.
“Just see where it carries to!” a soldier near by said sternly, looking round at the sound.
“Encouraging us to get along quicker,” said another uneasily.
The crowd moved on again. Nesvítski realized that it was a cannon ball.
“Hey, Cossack, my horse!” he said. “Now, then, you there! get out of the way! Make way!”
With great difficulty he managed to get to his horse, and shouting continually he moved on. The soldiers squeezed themselves to make way for him, but again pressed on him so that they jammed his leg, and those nearest him were not to blame for they were themselves pressed still harder from behind.
“Nesvítski, Nesvítski! you numskull!” came a hoarse voice from behind him.
Nesvítski looked round and saw, some fifteen paces away but separated by the living mass of moving infantry, Váska Denísov, red and shaggy, with his cap on the back of his black head and a cloak hanging jauntily over his shoulder.
“Tell these devils, these fiends, to let me pass!” shouted Denísov evidently in a fit of rage, his coal-black eyes with their bloodshot whites glittering and rolling as he waved his sheathed saber in a small bare hand as red as his face.
“Ah, Váska!” joyfully replied Nesvítski. “What’s up with you?”
“The squadwon can’t pass,” shouted Váska Denísov, showing his white teeth fiercely and spurring his black thoroughbred Arab, which twitched its ears as the bayonets touched it, and snorted, spurting white foam from his bit, tramping the planks of the bridge with his hoofs, and apparently ready to jump over the railings had his rider let him. “What is this? They’re like sheep! Just like sheep! Out of the way!... Let us pass!... Stop there, you devil with the cart! I’ll hack you with my saber!” he shouted, actually drawing his saber from its scabbard and flourishing it.
The soldiers crowded against one another with terrified faces, and Denísov joined Nesvítski.
“How’s it you’re not drunk today?” said Nesvítski when the other had ridden up to him.
“They don’t even give one time to dwink!” answered Váska Denísov. “They keep dwagging the wegiment to and fwo all day. If they mean to fight, let’s fight. But the devil knows what this is.”
“What a dandy you are today!” said Nesvítski, looking at Denísov’s new cloak and saddlecloth.
Denísov smiled, took out of his sabretache a handkerchief that diffused a smell of perfume, and put it to Nesvítski’s nose.
“Of course. I’m going into action! I’ve shaved, bwushed my teeth, and scented myself.”
The imposing figure of Nesvítski followed by his Cossack, and the determination of Denísov who flourished his sword and shouted frantically, had such an effect that they managed to squeeze through to the farther side of the bridge and stopped the infantry. Beside the bridge Nesvítski found the colonel to whom he had to deliver the order, and having done this he rode back.
Having cleared the way Denísov stopped at the end of the bridge. Carelessly holding in his stallion that was neighing and pawing the ground, eager to rejoin its fellows, he watched his squadron draw nearer. Then the clang of hoofs, as of several horses galloping, resounded on the planks of the bridge, and the squadron, officers in front and men four abreast, spread across the bridge and began to emerge on his side of it.
The infantry who had been stopped crowded near the bridge in the trampled mud and gazed with that particular feeling of ill-will, estrangement, and ridicule with which troops of different arms usually encounter one another at the clean, smart hussars who moved past them in regular order.
“Smart lads! Only fit for a fair!” said one.
“What good are they? They’re led about just for show!” remarked another.
“Don’t kick up the dust, you infantry!” jested an hussar whose prancing horse had splashed mud over some foot soldiers.
“I’d like to put you on a two days’ march with a knapsack! Your fine cords would soon get a bit rubbed,” said an infantryman, wiping the mud off his face with his sleeve. “Perched up there, you’re more like a bird than a man.”
“There now, Zíkin, they ought to put you on a horse. You’d look fine,” said a corporal, chaffing a thin little soldier who bent under the weight of his knapsack.
“Take a stick between your legs, that’ll suit you for a horse!” the hussar shouted back.
The last of the infantry hurriedly crossed the bridge, squeezing together as they approached it as if passing through a funnel. At last the baggage wagons had all crossed, the crush was less, and the last battalion came onto the bridge. Only Denísov’s squadron of hussars remained on the farther side of the bridge facing the enemy, who could be seen from the hill on the opposite bank but was not yet visible from the bridge, for the horizon as seen from the valley through which the river flowed was formed by the rising ground only half a mile away. At the foot of the hill lay wasteland over which a few groups of our Cossack scouts were moving. Suddenly on the road at the top of the high ground, artillery and troops in blue uniform were seen. These were the French. A group of Cossack scouts retired down the hill at a trot. All the officers and men of Denísov’s squadron, though they tried to talk of other things and to look in other directions, thought only of what was there on the hilltop, and kept constantly looking at the patches appearing on the skyline, which they knew to be the enemy’s troops. The weather had cleared again since noon and the sun was descending brightly upon the Danube and the dark hills around it. It was calm, and at intervals the bugle calls and the shouts of the enemy could be heard from the hill. There was no one now between the squadron and the enemy except a few scattered skirmishers. An empty space of some seven hundred yards was all that separated them. The enemy ceased firing, and that stern, threatening, inaccessible, and intangible line which separates two hostile armies was all the more clearly felt.
“One step beyond that boundary line which resembles the line dividing the living from the dead lies uncertainty, suffering, and death. And what is there? Who is there?—there beyond that field, that tree, that roof lit up by the sun? No one knows, but one wants to know. You fear and yet long to cross that line, and know that sooner or later it must be crossed and you will have to find out what is there, just as you will inevitably have to learn what lies the other side of death. But you are strong, healthy, cheerful, and excited, and are surrounded by other such excitedly animated and healthy men.” So thinks, or at any rate feels, anyone who comes in sight of the enemy, and that feeling gives a particular glamour and glad keenness of impression to everything that takes place at such moments.
On the high ground where the enemy was, the smoke of a cannon rose, and a ball flew whistling over the heads of the hussar squadron. The officers who had been standing together rode off to their places. The hussars began carefully aligning their horses. Silence fell on the whole squadron. All were looking at the enemy in front and at the squadron commander, awaiting the word of command. A second and a third cannon ball flew past. Evidently they were firing at the hussars, but the balls with rapid rhythmic whistle flew over the heads of the horsemen and fell somewhere beyond them. The hussars did not look round, but at the sound of each shot, as at the word of command, the whole squadron with its rows of faces so alike yet so different, holding its breath while the ball flew past, rose in the stirrups and sank back again. The soldiers without turning their heads glanced at one another, curious to see their comrades’ impression. Every face, from Denísov’s to that of the bugler, showed one common expression of conflict, irritation, and excitement, around chin and mouth. The quartermaster frowned, looking at the soldiers as if threatening to punish them. Cadet Mirónov ducked every time a ball flew past. Rostóv on the left flank, mounted on his Rook—a handsome horse despite its game leg—had the happy air of a schoolboy called up before a large audience for an examination in which he feels sure he will distinguish himself. He was glancing at everyone with a clear, bright expression, as if asking them to notice how calmly he sat under fire. But despite himself, on his face too that same indication of something new and stern showed round the mouth.
“Who’s that curtseying there? Cadet Miwónov! That’s not wight! Look at me,” cried Denísov who, unable to keep still on one spot, kept turning his horse in front of the squadron.
The black, hairy, snub-nosed face of Váska Denísov, and his whole short sturdy figure with the sinewy hairy hand and stumpy fingers in which he held the hilt of his naked saber, looked just as it usually did, especially toward evening when he had emptied his second bottle; he was only redder than usual. With his shaggy head thrown back like birds when they drink, pressing his spurs mercilessly into the sides of his good horse, Bedouin, and sitting as though falling backwards in the saddle, he galloped to the other flank of the squadron and shouted in a hoarse voice to the men to look to their pistols. He rode up to Kírsten. The staff captain on his broad-backed, steady mare came at a walk to meet him. His face with its long mustache was serious as always, only his eyes were brighter than usual.
“Well, what about it?” said he to Denísov. “It won’t come to a fight. You’ll see—we shall retire.”
“The devil only knows what they’re about!” muttered Denísov. “Ah, Wostóv,” he cried noticing the cadet’s bright face, “you’ve got it at last.”
And he smiled approvingly, evidently pleased with the cadet. Rostóv felt perfectly happy. Just then the commander appeared on the bridge. Denísov galloped up to him.
“Your excellency! Let us attack them! I’ll dwive them off.”
“Attack indeed!” said the colonel in a bored voice, puckering up his face as if driving off a troublesome fly. “And why are you stopping here? Don’t you see the skirmishers are retreating? Lead the squadron back.”
The squadron crossed the bridge and drew out of range of fire without having lost a single man. The second squadron that had been in the front line followed them across and the last Cossacks quitted the farther side of the river.
The two Pávlograd squadrons, having crossed the bridge, retired up the hill one after the other. Their colonel, Karl Bogdánich Schubert, came up to Denísov’s squadron and rode at a footpace not far from Rostóv, without taking any notice of him although they were now meeting for the first time since their encounter concerning Telyánin. Rostóv, feeling that he was at the front and in the power of a man toward whom he now admitted that he had been to blame, did not lift his eyes from the colonel’s athletic back, his nape covered with light hair, and his red neck. It seemed to Rostóv that Bogdánich was only pretending not to notice him, and that his whole aim now was to test the cadet’s courage, so he drew himself up and looked around him merrily; then it seemed to him that Bogdánich rode so near in order to show him his courage. Next he thought that his enemy would send the squadron on a desperate attack just to punish him—Rostóv. Then he imagined how, after the attack, Bogdánich would come up to him as he lay wounded and would magnanimously extend the hand of reconciliation.
The high-shouldered figure of Zherkóv, familiar to the Pávlograds as he had but recently left their regiment, rode up to the colonel. After his dismissal from headquarters Zherkóv had not remained in the regiment, saying he was not such a fool as to slave at the front when he could get more rewards by doing nothing on the staff, and had succeeded in attaching himself as an orderly officer to Prince Bagratión. He now came to his former chief with an order from the commander of the rear guard.
“Colonel,” he said, addressing Rostóv’s enemy with an air of gloomy gravity and glancing round at his comrades, “there is an order to stop and fire the bridge.”
“An order to who?” asked the colonel morosely.
“I don’t myself know ‘to who,’” replied the cornet in a serious tone, “but the prince told me to ‘go and tell the colonel that the hussars must return quickly and fire the bridge.’”
Zherkóv was followed by an officer of the suite who rode up to the colonel of hussars with the same order. After him the stout Nesvítski came galloping up on a Cossack horse that could scarcely carry his weight.
“How’s this, Colonel?” he shouted as he approached. “I told you to fire the bridge, and now someone has gone and blundered; they are all beside themselves over there and one can’t make anything out.”
The colonel deliberately stopped the regiment and turned to Nesvítski.
“You spoke to me of inflammable material,” said he, “but you said nothing about firing it.”
“But, my dear sir,” said Nesvítski as he drew up, taking off his cap and smoothing his hair wet with perspiration with his plump hand, “wasn’t I telling you to fire the bridge, when inflammable material had been put in position?”
“I am not your ‘dear sir,’ Mr. Staff Officer, and you did not tell me to burn the bridge! I know the service, and it is my habit orders strictly to obey. You said the bridge would be burned, but who would it burn, I could not know by the holy spirit!”
“Ah, that’s always the way!” said Nesvítski with a wave of the hand. “How did you get here?” said he, turning to Zherkóv.
“On the same business. But you are damp! Let me wring you out!”
“You were saying, Mr. Staff Officer...” continued the colonel in an offended tone.
“Colonel,” interrupted the officer of the suite, “You must be quick or the enemy will bring up his guns to use grapeshot.”
The colonel looked silently at the officer of the suite, at the stout staff officer, and at Zherkóv, and he frowned.
“I will the bridge fire,” he said in a solemn tone as if to announce that in spite of all the unpleasantness he had to endure he would still do the right thing.
Striking his horse with his long muscular legs as if it were to blame for everything, the colonel moved forward and ordered the second squadron, that in which Rostóv was serving under Denísov, to return to the bridge.
“There, it’s just as I thought,” said Rostóv to himself. “He wishes to test me!” His heart contracted and the blood rushed to his face. “Let him see whether I am a coward!” he thought.
Again on all the bright faces of the squadron the serious expression appeared that they had worn when under fire. Rostóv watched his enemy, the colonel, closely—to find in his face confirmation of his own conjecture, but the colonel did not once glance at Rostóv, and looked as he always did when at the front, solemn and stern. Then came the word of command.
“Look sharp! Look sharp!” several voices repeated around him.
Their sabers catching in the bridles and their spurs jingling, the hussars hastily dismounted, not knowing what they were to do. The men were crossing themselves. Rostóv no longer looked at the colonel, he had no time. He was afraid of falling behind the hussars, so much afraid that his heart stood still. His hand trembled as he gave his horse into an orderly’s charge, and he felt the blood rush to his heart with a thud. Denísov rode past him, leaning back and shouting something. Rostóv saw nothing but the hussars running all around him, their spurs catching and their sabers clattering.
“Stretchers!” shouted someone behind him.
Rostóv did not think what this call for stretchers meant; he ran on, trying only to be ahead of the others; but just at the bridge, not looking at the ground, he came on some sticky, trodden mud, stumbled, and fell on his hands. The others outstripped him.
“At boss zides, Captain,” he heard the voice of the colonel, who, having ridden ahead, had pulled up his horse near the bridge, with a triumphant, cheerful face.
Rostóv wiping his muddy hands on his breeches looked at his enemy and was about to run on, thinking that the farther he went to the front the better. But Bogdánich, without looking at or recognizing Rostóv, shouted to him:
“Who’s that running on the middle of the bridge? To the right! Come back, Cadet!” he cried angrily; and turning to Denísov, who, showing off his courage, had ridden on to the planks of the bridge:
“Why run risks, Captain? You should dismount,” he said.
“Oh, every bullet has its billet,” answered Váska Denísov, turning in his saddle.
Meanwhile Nesvítski, Zherkóv, and the officer of the suite were standing together out of range of the shots, watching, now the small group of men with yellow shakos, dark-green jackets braided with cord, and blue riding breeches, who were swarming near the bridge, and then at what was approaching in the distance from the opposite side—the blue uniforms and groups with horses, easily recognizable as artillery.
“Will they burn the bridge or not? Who’ll get there first? Will they get there and fire the bridge or will the French get within grapeshot range and wipe them out?” These were the questions each man of the troops on the high ground above the bridge involuntarily asked himself with a sinking heart—watching the bridge and the hussars in the bright evening light and the blue tunics advancing from the other side with their bayonets and guns.
“Ugh. The hussars will get it hot!” said Nesvítski; “they are within grapeshot range now.”
“He shouldn’t have taken so many men,” said the officer of the suite.
“True enough,” answered Nesvítski; “two smart fellows could have done the job just as well.”
“Ah, your excellency,” put in Zherkóv, his eyes fixed on the hussars, but still with that naïve air that made it impossible to know whether he was speaking in jest or in earnest. “Ah, your excellency! How you look at things! Send two men? And who then would give us the Vladímir medal and ribbon? But now, even if they do get peppered, the squadron may be recommended for honors and he may get a ribbon. Our Bogdánich knows how things are done.”
“There now!” said the officer of the suite, “that’s grapeshot.”
He pointed to the French guns, the limbers of which were being detached and hurriedly removed.
On the French side, amid the groups with cannon, a cloud of smoke appeared, then a second and a third almost simultaneously, and at the moment when the first report was heard a fourth was seen. Then two reports one after another, and a third.
“Oh! Oh!” groaned Nesvítski as if in fierce pain, seizing the officer of the suite by the arm. “Look! A man has fallen! Fallen, fallen!”
“Two, I think.”
“If I were Tsar I would never go to war,” said Nesvítski, turning away.
The French guns were hastily reloaded. The infantry in their blue uniforms advanced toward the bridge at a run. Smoke appeared again but at irregular intervals, and grapeshot cracked and rattled onto the bridge. But this time Nesvítski could not see what was happening there, as a dense cloud of smoke arose from it. The hussars had succeeded in setting it on fire and the French batteries were now firing at them, no longer to hinder them but because the guns were trained and there was someone to fire at.
The French had time to fire three rounds of grapeshot before the hussars got back to their horses. Two were misdirected and the shot went too high, but the last round fell in the midst of a group of hussars and knocked three of them over.
Rostóv, absorbed by his relations with Bogdánich, had paused on the bridge not knowing what to do. There was no one to hew down (as he had always imagined battles to himself), nor could he help to fire the bridge because he had not brought any burning straw with him like the other soldiers. He stood looking about him, when suddenly he heard a rattle on the bridge as if nuts were being spilt, and the hussar nearest to him fell against the rails with a groan. Rostóv ran up to him with the others. Again someone shouted, “Stretchers!” Four men seized the hussar and began lifting him.
“Oooh! For Christ’s sake let me alone!” cried the wounded man, but still he was lifted and laid on the stretcher.
Nicholas Rostóv turned away and, as if searching for something, gazed into the distance, at the waters of the Danube, at the sky, and at the sun. How beautiful the sky looked; how blue, how calm, and how deep! How bright and glorious was the setting sun! With what soft glitter the waters of the distant Danube shone. And fairer still were the faraway blue mountains beyond the river, the nunnery, the mysterious gorges, and the pine forests veiled in the mist of their summits... There was peace and happiness... “I should wish for nothing else, nothing, if only I were there,” thought Rostóv. “In myself alone and in that sunshine there is so much happiness; but here... groans, suffering, fear, and this uncertainty and hurry... There—they are shouting again, and again are all running back somewhere, and I shall run with them, and it, death, is here above me and around... Another instant and I shall never again see the sun, this water, that gorge!...”
At that instant the sun began to hide behind the clouds, and other stretchers came into view before Rostóv. And the fear of death and of the stretchers, and love of the sun and of life, all merged into one feeling of sickening agitation.
“O Lord God! Thou who art in that heaven, save, forgive, and protect me!” Rostóv whispered.
The hussars ran back to the men who held their horses; their voices sounded louder and calmer, the stretchers disappeared from sight.
“Well, fwiend? So you’ve smelt powdah!” shouted Váska Denísov just above his ear.
“It’s all over; but I am a coward—yes, a coward!” thought Rostóv, and sighing deeply he took Rook, his horse, which stood resting one foot, from the orderly and began to mount.
“Was that grapeshot?” he asked Denísov.
“Yes and no mistake!” cried Denísov. “You worked like wegular bwicks and it’s nasty work! An attack’s pleasant work! Hacking away at the dogs! But this sort of thing is the very devil, with them shooting at you like a target.”
And Denísov rode up to a group that had stopped near Rostóv, composed of the colonel, Nesvítski, Zherkóv, and the officer from the suite.
“Well, it seems that no one has noticed,” thought Rostóv. And this was true. No one had taken any notice, for everyone knew the sensation which the cadet under fire for the first time had experienced.
“Here’s something for you to report,” said Zherkóv. “See if I don’t get promoted to a sublieutenancy.”
“Inform the prince that I the bridge fired!” said the colonel triumphantly and gaily.
“And if he asks about the losses?”
“A trifle,” said the colonel in his bass voice: “two hussars wounded, and one knocked out,” he added, unable to restrain a happy smile, and pronouncing the phrase “knocked out” with ringing distinctness.