Author : Leo Tolstoy
White flags had been hung out from our bastion, and from the trenches of the French, and in the blooming valley between them lay disfigured corpses, shoeless, in garments of gray or blue, which laborers were engaged in carrying off and heaping upon carts. The odor of the dead bodies filled the air. Throngs of people had poured out of Sevastopol, and from the French camp, to gaze upon this spectacle, and they pressed one after the other with eager and benevolent curiosity.
Listen to what these people are saying.
Here, in a group of Russians and French who have come together, is a young officer, who speaks French badly, but well enough to make himself understood, examining a cartridge-box of the guards.
“And what is this bird here for?” says he.
“Because it is a cartridge-box belonging to a regiment of the guards, Monsieur, and bears the Imperial eagle.”
“And do you belong to the guard?”
“Pardon, Monsieur, I belong to the sixth regiment of the line.”
“And this—bought where?” asks the officer, pointing to a cigar-holder of yellow wood, in which the Frenchman was smoking his cigarette.
“At Balaklava, Monsieur. It is very plain, of palm-wood.”
“Pretty!” says the officer, guided in his conversation not so much by his own wishes as by the words which he knows.
“If you will have the kindness to keep it as a souvenir of this meeting, you will confer an obligation on me.”
And the polite Frenchman blows out the cigarette, and hands the holder over to the officer with a little bow. The officer gives him his, and all the members of the group, Frenchmen as well as Russians, appear very much pleased and smile.
Then a bold infantryman, in a pink shirt, with his cloak thrown over his shoulders, accompanied by two other soldiers, who, with their[Pg 117] hands behind their backs, were standing behind him, with merry, curious countenances, stepped up to a Frenchman, and requested a light for his pipe. The Frenchman brightened his fire, stirred up his short pipe, and shook out a light for the Russian.
“Tobacco good!” said the soldier in the pink shirt; and the spectators smile.
“Yes, good tobacco, Turkish tobacco,” says the Frenchman. “And your tobacco—Russian?—good?”
“Russian, good,” says the soldier in the pink shirt: whereupon those present shake with laughter. “The French not good—bon jor, Monsieur,” says the soldier in the pink shirt, letting fly his entire charge of knowledge in the language at once, as he laughs and taps the Frenchman on the stomach. The French join in the laugh.
“They are not handsome, these beasts of Russians,” says a zouave, amid the crowd of Frenchmen.
“What are they laughing about?” says another black-complexioned one, with an Italian accent, approaching our men.
“Caftan good,” says the audacious soldier, staring at the zouave's embroidered coat-skirts, and then there is another laugh.
“Don't leave your lines; back to your places, sacré nom!” shouts a French corporal, and the soldiers disperse with evident reluctance.
In the meantime, our young cavalry officer is making the tour of the French officers. The conversation turns on some Count Sazonoff, “with whom I was very well acquainted, Monsieur,” says a French officer, with one epaulet—“he is one of those real Russian counts, of whom we are so fond.”
“There is a Sazonoff with whom I am acquainted,” said the cavalry officer, “but he is not a count, so far as I know, at least; a little dark-complexioned man, of about your age.”
“Exactly, Monsieur, that is the man. Oh, how I should like to see that dear count! If you see him, pray, present my compliments to him—Captain Latour,” says he, bowing.
“Isn't this a terrible business that we are conducting here? It was hot work last night, wasn't it?” says the cavalry officer, wishing to continue the conversation, and pointing to the dead bodies.
“Oh, frightful, Monsieur! But what brave fellows your soldiers are—what brave fellows! It is a pleasure to fight with such valiant fellows.”
“It must be admitted that your men do not hang back, either,” says the cavalry-man, with a bow, and the conviction that he is very amiable.
But enough of this.
Let us rather observe this lad of ten, clad in an ancient cap, his father's probably, shoes worn on bare feet, and nankeen breeches, held up by a single suspender, who had climbed over the wall at the very beginning of the truce, and has been roaming about the ravine, staring with dull curiosity at the French, and at the bodies which are lying on the earth, and plucking the blue wild-flowers with which the valley is studded. On his way home with a large bouquet, he held his nose because of the odor which the wind wafted to him, and paused beside a pile of corpses, which had been carried off the field, and stared long at one terrible headless body, which chanced to be the nearest to him. After standing there for a long while, he stepped[Pg 120] up closer, and touched with his foot the stiffened arm of the corpse which protruded. The arm swayed a little. He touched it again, and with more vigor. The arm swung back, and then fell into place again. And at once the boy uttered a shriek, hid his face in the flowers, and ran off to the fortifications as fast as he could go.
Yes, white flags are hung out from the bastion and the trenches, the flowery vale is filled with dead bodies, the splendid sun sinks into the blue sea, and the blue sea undulates and glitters in the golden rays of the sun. Thousands of people congregate, gaze, talk, and smile at each other. And why do not Christian people, who profess the one great law of love and self-sacrifice, when they behold what they have wrought, fall in repentance upon their knees before Him who, when he gave them life, implanted in the soul of each of them, together with a fear of death, a love of the good and the beautiful, and, with tears of joy and happiness, embrace each other like brothers? No! But it is a comfort to think that it was not we who began this war, that we are only defending our own country, our father-land. The white flags have been hauled in, and[Pg 121] again the weapons of death and suffering are shrieking; again innocent blood is shed, and groans and curses are audible.
I have now said all that I wish to say at this time. But a heavy thought overmasters me. Perhaps it should not have been said; perhaps what I have said belongs to one of those evil truths which, unconsciously concealed in the soul of each man, should not be uttered, lest they become pernicious, as a cask of wine should not be shaken, lest it be thereby spoiled.
Where is the expression of evil which should be avoided? Where is the expression of good which should be imitated in this sketch? Who is the villain, who the hero? All are good, and all are evil.
Neither Kalugin, with his brilliant bravery—bravoure de gentilhomme—and his vanity, the instigator of all his deeds; nor Praskukhin, the empty-headed, harmless man, though he fell in battle for the faith, the throne, and his native land; nor Mikhaïloff, with his shyness; nor Pesth, a child with no firm convictions or principles,[Pg 122] can be either the heroes or the villains of the tale.
The hero of my tale, whom I love with all the strength of my soul, whom I have tried to set forth in all his beauty, and who has always been, is, and always will be most beautiful, is—the truth.
[D] Military Gazette.
[E] A civilian, without military training, attached to a regiment as a non-commissioned officer, who may eventually become a regular officer.
[F] A polite way of referring to the general in the plural.
[G] A The Russian soldiers, who had been fighting the Turks, were so accustomed to this cry of the enemy that they always declared that the French also cried “Allah.”—Author's Note.
[H] This sentence is in French.
At the end of August, along the rocky highway to Sevastopol, between Duvanka and Bakhtchisaraï, through the thick, hot dust, at a foot-pace, drove an officer's light cart, that peculiar telyezhka, not now to be met with, which stands about half-way between a Jewish britchka, a Russian traveling-carriage, and a basket-wagon. In the front of the wagon, holding the reins, squatted the servant, clad in a nankeen coat and an officer's cap, which had become quite limp; seated behind, on bundles and packages covered with a military coat, was an infantry officer, in a summer cloak.
As well as could be judged from his sitting position, the officer was not tall in stature, but extremely thick, and that not so much from shoulder to shoulder as from chest to back; he was broad and thick, and his neck and the base of the head were excessively developed and swollen. His[Pg 124] waist, so called, a receding strip in the center of the body, did not exist in his case; but neither had he any belly; on the contrary, he was rather thin than otherwise, particularly in the face, which was overspread with an unhealthy yellowish sunburn. His face would have been handsome had it not been for a certain bloated appearance, and the soft, yet not elderly, heavy wrinkles that flowed together and enlarged his features, imparting to the whole countenance a general expression of coarseness and of lack of freshness. His eyes were small, brown, extremely searching, even bold; his mustache was very thick, but the ends were kept constantly short by his habit of gnawing them; and his chin, and his cheek-bones in particular were covered with a remarkably strong, thick, and black beard, of two days' growth.
The officer had been wounded on the 10th of May, by a splinter, in the head, on which he still wore a bandage, and, having now felt perfectly well for the last week, he had come out of the Simferopol Hospital, to rejoin his regiment, which was stationed somewhere in the direction from which shots could be heard; but whether that was in Sevastopol itself, on the northern defenses,[Pg 125] or at Inkermann, he had not so far succeeded in ascertaining with much accuracy from any one.
Shots were still audible near at hand, especially at intervals, when the hills did not interfere, or when borne on the wind with great distinctness and frequency, and apparently near at hand. Then it seemed as though some explosion shook the air, and caused an involuntary shudder. Then, one after the other, followed less resounding reports in quick succession, like a drum-beat, interrupted at times by a startling roar. Then, everything mingled in a sort of reverberating crash, resembling peals of thunder, when a thunder-storm is in full force, and the rain has just begun to pour down in floods, every one said; and it could be heard that the bombardment was progressing frightfully.
The officer kept urging on his servant, and seemed desirous of arriving as speedily as possible. They were met by a long train of the Russian-peasant type, which had carried provisions into Sevastopol, and was now returning with sick and wounded soldiers in gray coats, sailors in black paletots, volunteers in red fezes, and bearded militia-men. The officer's light cart had to halt in[Pg 126] the thick, immovable cloud of dust raised by the carts, and the officer, blinking and frowning with the dust that stuffed his eyes and ears, gazed at the faces of the sick and wounded as they passed.
“Ah, there's a sick soldier from our company,” said the servant, turning to his master, and pointing to the wagon which was just on a line with them, full of wounded, at the moment.
On the cart, towards the front, a bearded Russian, in a lamb's-wool cap, was seated sidewise, and, holding the stock of his whip under his elbow, was tying on the lash. Behind him in the cart, about five soldiers, in different positions, were shaking about. One, though pale and thin, with his arm in a bandage, and his cloak thrown on over his shirt, was sitting up bravely in the middle of the cart, and tried to touch his cap on seeing the officer, but immediately afterwards (recollecting, probably, that he was wounded) he pretended that he only wanted to scratch his head. Another, beside him, was lying flat on the bottom of the wagon; all that was visible was two hands, as they clung to the rails of the wagon, and his knees uplifted limp as mops, as they swayed about in various directions. A third,[Pg 127] with a swollen face and a bandaged head, on which was placed his soldier's cap, sat on one side, with his legs dangling over the wheel, and, with his elbows resting on his knees, seemed immersed in thought. It was to him that the passing officer addressed himself.
“Dolzhnikoff!” he exclaimed.
“Here,” replied the soldier, opening his eyes, and pulling off his cap, in such a thick and halting bass voice that it seemed as though twenty soldiers had uttered an exclamation at one and the same time.
“When were you wounded, brother?”
The leaden and swimming eyes of the soldier grew animated; he evidently recognized his officer.
“I wish Your Honor health!” he began again, in the same abrupt bass as before.
“Where is the regiment stationed now?”
“It was stationed in Sevastopol, but they were to move on Wednesday, Your Honor.”
“I don't know; it must have been to the Sivernaya, Your Honor! To-day, Your Honor,” he added, in a drawling voice, as he put on his[Pg 128] cap, “they have begun to fire clear across, mostly with bombs, that even go as far as the bay; they are fighting horribly to-day, so that—”
It was impossible to hear what the soldier said further; but it was evident, from the expression of his countenance and from his attitude, that he was uttering discouraging remarks, with the touch of malice of a man who is suffering.
The traveling officer, Lieutenant Kozeltzoff, was no common officer. He was not one of those that live so and so and do thus and so because others live and do thus; he did whatever he pleased, and others did the same, and were convinced that it was well. He was rather richly endowed by nature with small gifts: he sang well, played on the guitar, talked very cleverly, and wrote very easily, particularly official documents, in which he had practiced his hand in his capacity of adjutant of the battalion; but the most noticeable trait in his character was his egotistical energy, which, although chiefly founded on this array of petty talents, constituted in itself a sharp and striking trait. His egotism was of the sort that is most frequently found developed in masculine and especially in military circles, and which had become[Pg 129] a part of his life to such a degree that he understood no other choice than to domineer or to humiliate himself; and his egotism was the mainspring even of his private impulses; he liked to usurp the first place over people with whom he put himself on a level.
“Well! it's absurd of me to listen to what a Moskva[I] chatters!” muttered the lieutenant, experiencing a certain weight of apathy in his heart, and a dimness of thought, which the sight of the transport full of wounded and the words of the soldier, whose significance was emphasized and confirmed by the sounds of the bombardment, had left with him. “That Moskva is ridiculous! Drive on, Nikolaeff! go ahead! Are you asleep?” he added, rather fretfully, to the servant, as he re-arranged the skirts of his coat.
The reins were tightened, Nikolaeff clacked his lips, and the wagon moved on at a trot.
“We will only halt a minute for food, and will proceed at once, this very day,” said the officer.
As he entered the street of the ruined remains of the stone wall, forming the Tatar houses of Duvanka, Lieutenant Kozeltzoff was stopped by a transport of bombs and grape-shot, which were on their way to Sevastopol, and had accumulated on the road. Two infantry soldiers were seated in the dust, on the stones of a ruined garden-wall by the roadside, devouring a watermelon and bread.
“Have you come far, fellow-countryman?” said one of them, as he chewed his bread, to the soldier, with a small knapsack on his back, who had halted near them.
“I have come from my government to join my regiment,” replied the soldier, turning his eyes away from the watermelon, and readjusting the sack on his back.[Pg 131] “There we were, two weeks ago, at work on the hay, a whole troop of us; but now they have drafted all of us, and we don't know where our regiment is at the present time. They say that our men went on the Korabelnaya last week. Have you heard anything, gentlemen?”
“It's stationed in the town, brother,” said the second, an old soldier of the reserves, digging away with his clasp-knife at the white, unripe melon. “We have just come from there, this afternoon. It's terrible, my brother!”
“How so, gentlemen?”
“Don't you hear how they are firing all around to-day, so that there is not a whole spot anywhere? It is impossible to say how many of our brethren have been killed.” And the speaker waved his hand and adjusted his cap.
The passing soldier shook his head thoughtfully, gave a clack with his tongue, then pulled his pipe from his boot-leg, and, without filling it, stirred up the half-burned tobacco, lit a bit of tinder from the soldier who was smoking, and raised his cap.
“There is no one like God, gentlemen! Good-bye,” said he, and, with a shake of the sack on his back, he went his way.
“Hey, there! you'd better wait,” said the man[Pg 132] who was digging out the watermelon, with an air of conviction.
“It makes no difference!” muttered the traveler, threading his way among the wheels of the assembled transports.
The posting-station was full of people when Kozeltzoff drove up to it. The first person whom he encountered, on the porch itself, was a thin and very young man, the superintendent, who continued his altercation with two officers, who had followed him out.
“It's not three days only, but ten that you will have to wait. Even generals wait, my good sirs!” said the superintendent, with a desire to administer a prick to the travelers; “and I am not going to harness up for you.”
“Then don't give anybody horses, if there are none! But why furnish them to some lackey or other with baggage?” shouted the elder of the two officers, with a glass of tea in his hand, and plainly avoiding the use of pronouns,[J] but giving it to be understood that he might very easily address the superintendent as “thou.”
“Judge for yourself, now, Mr. Superintendent,” said the younger officer, with some hesitation. “We don't want to go for our own pleasure. We must certainly be needed, since we have been called for. And I certainly shall report to the general. But this, of course,—you know that you are not paying proper respect to the military profession.”
“You are always spoiling things,” the elder man interrupted, with vexation. “You only hinder me; you must know how to talk to them. Here, now, he has lost his respect. Horses this very instant, I say!”
“I should be glad to give them to you, bátiushka,[K] but where am I to get them?”
After a brief silence, the superintendent began to grow irritated, and to talk, flourishing his hands the while.
“I understand, bátiushka. And I know all about it myself. But what are you going to do? Only give me”—here a ray of hope gleamed across the faces of the officers—“only give me a chance to live until the end of the month, and you won't see me here any longer. I'd rather go on[Pg 135] the Malakhoff tower, by Heavens! than stay here. Let them do what they please about it! There's not a single sound team in the station this day, and the horses haven't seen a wisp of hay these three days.” And the superintendent disappeared behind the gate.
Kozeltzoff entered the room in company with the officers.
“Well,” said the elder officer, quite calmly, to the younger one, although but a second before he had appeared to be greatly irritated, “we have been traveling these three weeks, and we will wait a little longer. There's no harm done. We shall get there at last.”
The dirty, smoky apartment was so filled with officers and trunks that it was with difficulty that Kozeltzoff found a place near the window, where he seated himself; he began to roll himself a cigarette, as he glanced at the faces and lent an ear to the conversations.
To the right of the door, near a crippled and greasy table, upon which stood two samovárs, whose copper had turned green in spots, here and there, and where sugar was portioned out in various papers, sat the principal group. A young[Pg 136] officer, without mustache, in a new, short, wadded summer coat, was pouring water into the teapot.
Four such young officers were there, in different corners of the room. One of them had placed a cloak under his head, and was fast asleep on the sofa. Another, standing by the table, was cutting up some roast mutton for an officer without an arm, who was seated at the table.
Two officers, one in an adjutant's cloak, the other in an infantry cloak, a thin one however, and with a satchel strapped over his shoulder, were sitting near the oven bench, and it was evident, from the very way in which they stared at the rest, and from the manner in which the one with the satchel smoked his cigar, that they were not line officers on duty at the front, and that they were delighted at it.
Not that there was any scorn apparent in their manner, but there was a certain self-satisfied tranquility, founded partly on money and partly on their close intimacy with generals, a certain consciousness of superiority which even extended to a desire to hide it.
A thick-lipped young doctor and an officer of artillery, with a German cast of countenance, were[Pg 137] seated almost on the feet of the young officer who was sleeping on the sofa, and counting over their money.
There were four officers' servants, some dozing and others busy with the trunks and packages near the door.
Among all these faces, Kozeltzoff did not find a single familiar one; but he began to listen with curiosity to the conversation. The young officers, who, as he decided from their looks alone, had but just come out of the military academy, pleased him, and, what was the principal point, they reminded him that his brother had also come from the academy, and should have joined recently one of the batteries of Sevastopol.
But the officer with the satchel, whose face he had seen before somewhere, seemed bold and repulsive to him. He even left the window, and, going to the stove-bench, seated himself on it, with the thought that he would put the fellow down if he took it into his head to say anything. In general, purely as a brave “line” officer, he did not like “the staff,” such as he had recognized these two officers to be at the first glance.
“But this is dreadfully annoying,” said one of the young officers, “to be so near, and yet not be able to get there. Perhaps there will be an action this very day, and we shall not be there.”
In the sharp voice and the mottled freshness of the color that swept across the youthful face of this officer as he spoke there was apparent the sweet young timidity of the man who is constantly afraid lest his every word shall not turn out exactly right.
The one-armed officer glanced at him with a smile.
“You will get there soon enough, I assure you,” he said.
The young officer looked with respect at the haggard face of the armless officer, so unexpectedly illuminated by a smile, held his peace for a while, and busied himself once more with his tea. In fact, the one-armed officer's face, his attitude, and, most of all, the empty sleeve of his coat, expressed[Pg 139] much of that tranquil indifference that may be explained in this way—that he looked upon every conversation and every occurrence as though saying, “That is all very fine; I know all about that, and I can do a little of that myself, if I only choose.”
“What is our decision to be?” said the young officer again to his companion in the short coat. “Shall we pass the night here, or shall we proceed with our own horses?”
His comrade declined to proceed.
“Just imagine, captain,” said the one who was pouring the tea, turning to the one-armed man, and picking up the knife that the latter had dropped, “they told us that horses were frightfully dear in Sevastopol, so we bought a horse in partnership at Simferopol.”
“They made you pay pretty high for it, I fancy.”
“Really, I do not know, captain; we paid ninety rubles for it and the team. Is that very dear?” he added, turning to all the company, and to Kozeltzoff, who was staring at him.
“It was not dear, if the horse is young,” said Kozeltzoff.
“Really! but they told us that it was dear. Only, she limps a little, but that will pass off. They told us that she was very strong.”
“What academy are you from?” asked Kozeltzoff, who wished to inquire for his brother.
“We are just from the academy of the nobility; there are six of us, and we are on our way to Sevastopol at our own desire,” said the talkative young officer. “But we do not know where our battery is; some say that it is in Sevastopol, others that it is at Odessa.”
“Was it not possible to find out at Simferopol?” asked Kozeltzoff.
“They do not know there. Just imagine, one of our comrades went to the headquarters there, and they were impertinent to him. You can imagine how disagreeable that was! Would you like to have me make you a cigarette,” he said at that moment to the one-armed officer, who was just pulling out his cigarette-machine.
He waited on the latter with a sort of servile enthusiasm.
“And are you from Sevastopol also?” he went on.[Pg 141] “Oh, good Heavens, how wonderful that is! How much we did think of you, and of all our heroes, in Petersburg,” he said, turning to Kozeltzoff with respect and good-natured flattery.
“And now, perhaps, you may have to go back?” inquired the lieutenant.
“That is just what we are afraid of. You can imagine that, after having bought the horse, and provided ourselves with all the necessaries,—a coffee-pot with a spirit-lamp, and other indispensable trifles,—we have no money left,” he said, in a low voice, as he glanced at his companions; “so that, if we do have to go back, we don't know what is to be done.”
“Have you received no money for traveling expenses?” inquired Kozeltzoff.
“No,” replied he, in a whisper; “they only promised to give it to us here.”
“Have you the certificate?”
“I know that—the principal thing—is the certificate; but a senator in Moscow,—he's my uncle,—when I was at his house, said that they would give it to us here; otherwise, he would have given me some himself. So they will give it to us here?”
“Most certainly they will.”
“I too think that they will,” he said, in a tone[Pg 142] which showed that, after having made the same identical inquiry in thirty posting-stations, and having everywhere received different answers, he no longer believed any one implicitly.
“Who ordered beet-soup?” called out the slatternly mistress of the house, a fat woman of forty, as she entered the room with a bowl of soup.
The conversation ceased at once, and all who were in the room fixed their eyes on the woman.
“Ah, it was Kozeltzoff who ordered it,” said the young officer. “He must be waked. Get up for your dinner,” he said, approaching the sleeper on the sofa, and jogging his elbow.
A young lad of seventeen, with merry black eyes and red cheeks, sprang energetically from the sofa, and stood in the middle of the room, rubbing his eyes.
“Ah, excuse me, please,” he said to the doctor, whom he had touched in rising.
Lieutenant Kozeltzoff recognized his brother immediately, and stepped up to him.
“Don't you know me?” he said with a smile.
“A-a-a-!” exclaimed the younger brother;[Pg 144] “this is astonishing!” And he began to kiss his brother.
They kissed twice, but stopped at the third repetition as though the thought had occurred to both of them:—
“Why is it necessary to do it exactly three times?”
“Well, how delighted I am!” said the elder, looking at his brother. “Let us go out on the porch; we can have a talk.”
“Come, come, I don't want any soup. You eat it, Federsohn!” he said to his comrade.
“But you wanted something to eat.”
“I don't want anything.”
When they emerged on the porch, the younger kept asking his brother: “Well, how are you; tell me all about it.” And still he kept on saying how glad he was to see him, but he told nothing himself.
When five minutes had elapsed, during which time they had succeeded in becoming somewhat silent, the elder brother inquired why the younger had not gone into the guards, as they had all expected him to do.
He wanted to get to Sevastopol as speedily[Pg 145] as possible, he said; for if things turned out favorably there, he could get advancement more rapidly there than in the guards. There it takes ten years to reach the grade of colonel, while here Todleben had risen in two years from lieutenant-colonel to general. Well, and if one did get killed, there was nothing to be done.
“What a fellow you are!” said his brother, smiling.
“But the principal thing, do you know, brother,” said the younger, smiling and blushing as though he were preparing to say something very disgraceful, “all this is nonsense, and the principal reason why I asked it was that I was ashamed to live in Petersburg when men are dying for their country here. Yes, and I wanted to be with you,” he added, with still greater shamefacedness.
“How absurd you are!” said the elder brother, pulling out his cigarette-machine, and not even glancing at him. “It's a pity, though, that we can't be together.”
“Now, honestly, is it so terrible in the bastions?” inquired the younger man, abruptly.
“It is terrible at first, but you get used to it afterwards. It's nothing. You will see for yourself.”
“And tell me still another thing. What do you think?—will Sevastopol be taken? I think that it will not.”
“But one thing is annoying. Just imagine what bad luck! A whole bundle was stolen from us on the road, and it had my shako in it, so that now I am in a dreadful predicament; and I don't know how I am to show myself.”
The younger Kozeltzoff, Vladímir, greatly resembled his brother Mikháïl, but he resembled him as a budding rose-bush resembles one that is out of flower. His hair was chestnut also, but it was thick and lay in curls on his temples. On the soft white back of his neck there was a blond lock; a sign of good luck, so the nurses say. The full-blooded crimson of youth did not stand fixed on the soft, white hue of his face, but flashed up and betrayed all the movements of his mind. He had the same eyes as his brother, but they were more widely opened, and clearer, which appeared the more peculiar because they were veiled frequently by a slight moisture. A golden down was sprouting[Pg 147] on his cheeks, and over his ruddy lips, which were often folded into a shy smile, displaying teeth of dazzling whiteness. He was a well formed and broad-shouldered fellow, in unbuttoned coat, from beneath which was visible a red shirt with collar turned back. As he stood before his brother, leaning his elbows on the railing of the porch, with cigarette in hand and innocent joy in his face and gesture, he was so agreeable and comely a youth that any one would have gazed at him with delight. He was extremely pleased with his brother, he looked at him with respect and pride, fancying him his hero; but in some ways, so far as judgments on worldly culture, ability to talk French, behavior in the society of distinguished people, dancing, and so on, he was somewhat ashamed of him, looked down on him, and even cherished a hope of improving him if such a thing were possible.
All his impressions, so far, were from Petersburg, at the house of a lady who was fond of good-looking young fellows, and who had had him spend his holidays with her, and from Moscow, at the house of a senator, where he had once danced at a great ball.
Having nearly talked their fill and having arrived at the feeling that you frequently experience, that there is little in common between you, though you love one another, the brothers were silent for a few moments.
“Pick up your things and we will set out at once,” said the elder.
The younger suddenly blushed, stammered, and became confused.
“Are we to go straight to Sevastopol?” he inquired, after a momentary pause.
“Why, yes. You can't have many things, and we can manage to carry them, I think.”
“Very good! we will start at once,” said the younger, with a sigh, and he went inside.
But he paused in the vestibule without opening the door, dropped his head gloomily, and began to reflect.
“Straight to Sevastopol, on the instant, within range of the bombs—frightful! It's no matter, however; it must have come sometime. Now, at all events, with my brother—”
The fact was that it was only now, at the thought that, once seated in the cart, he should enter Sevastopol without dismounting from it, and that no chance occurrence could any longer detain him, that the danger which he was seeking clearly presented itself to him, and he was troubled at the very thought of its nearness. He managed to control himself in some way, and entered the room; but a quarter of an hour elapsed, and still he had not rejoined his brother, so that the latter opened the door at last, in order to call him. The younger Kozeltzoff, in the attitude of a naughty school-boy, was saying something to an officer named P. When his brother opened the door, he became utterly confused.
“Immediately. I'll come out in a minute!” he cried, waving his hand at his brother. “Wait for me there, please.”
A moment later he emerged, in fact, and approached his brother, with a deep sigh.
“Just imagine! I cannot go with you, brother,” he said.
“What? What nonsense is this?”
“I will tell you the whole truth, Misha! Not one of us has any money, and we are all in debt to that staff-captain whom you saw there. It is horribly mortifying!”
The elder brother frowned, and did not break the silence for a long while.
“Do you owe much?” he asked, glancing askance at his brother.
“A great deal—no, not a great deal; but I am dreadfully ashamed of it. He has paid for me for three stages, and all his sugar is gone, so that I do not know—yes, and we played at preference. I am a little in his debt there, too.”
“This is bad, Volodya! Now, what would you have done if you had not met me?” said the elder, sternly, without looking at his brother.
“Why, I was thinking, brother, that I should get that traveling-money at Sevastopol, and that I would give him that. Surely, that can be done; and it will be better for me to go with him to-morrow.”
The elder brother pulled out his purse, and, with fingers that shook a little, he took out two ten-ruble notes and one for three rubles.
“This is all the money I have,” said he. “How much do you owe?”
Kozeltzoff did not speak the exact truth when he said that this was all the money he had. He had, besides, four gold pieces sewn into his cuff, in case of an emergency; but he had taken a vow not to touch them.
It appeared that Kozeltzoff, what with preference and sugar, was in debt to the amount of eight rubles only. The elder brother gave him this sum, merely remarking that one should not play preference when one had no money.
“What did you play for?”
The younger brother answered not a word. His brother's question seemed to him to cast a reflection on his honor. Vexation at himself, a shame at his conduct, which could give rise to such a suspicion, and the insult from his brother, of whom he was so fond, produced upon his sensitive nature so deeply painful an impression that he made no reply. Sensible that he was not in a condition to restrain the sobs which rose in his throat, he took the money without glancing at it, and went back to his comrades.
Nikolaeff, who had fortified himself at Duvanka, with two jugs of vodka, purchased from a soldier who was peddling it on the bridge, gave the reins a jerk, and the team jolted away over the stony road, shaded here and there, which led along the Belbek to Sevastopol; but the brothers, whose legs jostled each other, maintained a stubborn silence, although they were thinking of each other every instant.
“Why did he insult me?” thought the younger.[Pg 153] “Could he not have held his tongue about that? It is exactly as though he thought that I was a thief; yes, and now he is angry, apparently, so that we have quarreled for good. And how splendid it would have been for us to be together in Sevastopol. Two brothers, on friendly terms, both fighting the foe! one of them, the elder, though not very cultivated, yet a valiant warrior, and the other younger, but a brave fellow too. In a week's time I would have showed them that I am not such a youngster after all! I shall cease to blush, there will be manliness in my countenance, and, though my mustache is not very large now, it would grow to a good size by that time;” and he felt of the down which was making its appearance round the edges of his mouth. “Perhaps we shall arrive to-day, and get directly into the conflict, my brother and I. He must be obstinate and very brave, one of those who do not say much, but act better than others. I should like to know,” he continued, “whether he is squeezing me against the side of the wagon on purpose or not. He probably is conscious that I feel awkward, and he is pretending not to notice me. We shall arrive to-day,” he went on with his argument, pressing close to the side of the wagon, and fearing to move lest his brother should observe that he was uncomfortable, “and, all at once, we shall go straight to the bastion. We shall both go together, I with my equipments, and my brother with his company. All of a sudden, the French throw themselves on us. I begin to fire, and fire on them. I kill a terrible number; but they still continue to run straight at me. Now, it is impossible to fire any longer, and there is no hope[Pg 154] for me; all at once my brother rushes out in front with his sword, and I grasp my gun, and we rush on with the soldiers. The French throw themselves on my brother. I hasten up; I kill one Frenchman, then another, and I save my brother. I am wounded in one arm; I seize my gun with the other, and continue my flight; but my brother is slain by my side by the bullets. I halt for a moment, and gaze at him so sorrowfully; then I straighten myself up and shout: ‘Follow me! We will avenge him! I loved my brother more than any one in the world,’ I shall say, ‘and I have lost him. Let us avenge him! Let us annihilate the foe, or let us all die together there!’ All shout, and fling themselves after me. Then the whole French army makes a sortie, including even Pelissier himself. We all fight; but, at last, I am wounded a second, a third time, and I fall, nearly dead. Then, all rush up to me. Gortchakoff comes up and asks what I would like. I say that I want nothing—except that I may be laid beside my brother; that I wish to die with him. They carry me, and lay me down by the side of my brother's bloody corpse. Then I shall raise myself, and merely say:[Pg 155] ‘Yes, you did not understand how to value two men who really loved their father-land; now they have both fallen,—and may God forgive you!’ and I shall die.
Who knows in what measure these dreams will be realized?
“Have you ever been in a hand to hand fight?” he suddenly inquired of his brother, quite forgetting that he had not meant to speak to him.
“No, not once,” answered the elder. “Our regiment has lost two thousand men, all on the works; and I, also, was wounded there. War is not carried on in the least as you fancy, Volodya.”
The word “Volodya” touched the younger brother. He wanted to come to an explanation with his brother, who had not the least idea that he had offended Volodya.
“You are not angry with me, Misha?” he said, after a momentary silence.
“No, because—because we had such a—nothing.”
“Not in the least,” replied the elder, turning to him, and slapping him on the leg.
“Then forgive me, Misha, if I have wounded you.”
And the younger brother turned aside, in order to hide the tears that suddenly started to his eyes.
“Is this Sevastopol already?” asked the younger brother, as they ascended the hill.
And before them appeared the bay, with its masts of ships, its shipping, and the sea, with the hostile fleet, in the distance; the white batteries on the shore, the barracks, the aqueducts, the docks and the buildings of the town, and the white and lilac clouds of smoke rising incessantly over the yellow hills, which surrounded the town and stood out against the blue sky, in the rosy rays of the sun, which was reflected by the waves, and sinking towards the horizon of the shadowy sea.
Volodya, without a shudder, gazed upon this terrible place of which he had thought so much; on the contrary, he did so with an æsthetic enjoyment, and a heroic sense of self-satisfaction at the idea that here he was—he would be there in another half-hour, that he would behold that really charmingly original spectacle—and he[Pg 158] stared with concentrated attention from that moment until they arrived at the north fortification, at the baggage-train of his brother's regiment, where they were to ascertain with certainty the situations of the regiment and the battery.
The officer in charge of the train lived near the so-called new town (huts built of boards by the sailors' families), in a tent, connecting with a tolerably large shed, constructed out of green oak-boughs, that were not yet entirely withered.
The brothers found the officer seated before a greasy table, upon which stood a glass of cold tea, a tray with vodka, crumbs of dry sturgeon roe, and bread, clad only in a shirt of a dirty yellow hue, and engaged in counting a huge pile of bank-bills on a large abacus.
But before describing the personality of the officer, and his conversation, it is indispensable that we should inspect with more attention the interior of his shed, and become a little acquainted, at least, with his mode of life and his occupations. The new shed, like those built for generals and regimental commanders, was large, closely wattled, and comfortably arranged, with little tables and benches, made of turf. The sides and[Pg 159] roof were hung with three rugs, to keep the leaves from showering down, and, though extremely ugly, they were new, and certainly costly.
Upon the iron bed, which stood beneath the principal rug, with a young amazon depicted on it, lay a plush coverlet, of a brilliant crimson, a torn and dirty pillow, and a raccoon cloak. On the table stood a mirror, in a silver frame, a silver brush, frightfully dirty, a broken horn comb, full of greasy hair, a silver candlestick, a bottle of liqueur, with a huge gold and red label, a gold watch, with a portrait of Peter I., two gold pens, a small box, containing pills of some sort, a crust of bread, and some old, castaway cards, and there were bottles, both full and empty, under the bed.
This officer had charge of the commissariat of the regiment and the fodder of the horses. With him lived his great friend, the commissioner who had charge of the operations.
At the moment when the brothers entered, the latter was asleep in the booth, and the commissary officer was making up his accounts of the government money, in anticipation of the end of the month. The commissary officer had a[Pg 160] very comely and warlike exterior. His stature was tall, his mustache huge, and he possessed a respectable amount of plumpness. The only disagreeable points about him were a certain perspiration and puffiness of the whole face, which almost concealed his small gray eyes (as though he was filled up with porter), and an excessive lack of cleanliness, from his thin, greasy hair to his big, bare feet, thrust into some sort of ermine slippers.
“Money, money!” said Kozeltzoff number one, entering the shed, and fixing his eyes, with involuntary greed, upon the pile of bank-notes. “You might lend me half of that, Vasíly Mikhaïlitch!”
The commissary officer cringed at the sight of his visitors, and, sweeping up his money, he bowed to them without rising.
“Oh, if it only belonged to me! It's government money, my dear fellow. And who is this you have with you?” said he, thrusting the money into a coffer which stood beside him, and staring at Volodya.
“This is my brother, who has just come from the military academy. We have both come to learn from you where our regiment is stationed.”
“Sit down, gentlemen,” said the officer, rising, and going into the shed, without paying any heed to his guests. “Won't you have something to drink? Some porter, for instance?” said he.
“Don't put yourself out, Vasíly Mikhaïlitch.”
Volodya was impressed by the size of the commissary officer, by his carelessness of manner, and by the respect with which his brother addressed him.
“It must be that this is one of their very fine officers, whom every one respects. Really, he is simple, but hospitable and brave,” he thought, seating himself in a timid and modest manner on the sofa.
“Where is our regiment stationed, then?” called out his elder brother into the board hut.
He repeated his query.
“Zeifer has been here to-day. He told me that they had removed to the fifth bastion.”
“Is that true?”
“If I say so, it must be true; but the deuce only knows anyway! He would think nothing of telling a lie. Won't you have some porter?” said the commissary officer, still from the tent.
“I will if you please,” said Kozeltzoff.
“And will you have a drink, Osip Ignatievitch?” went on the voice in the tent, apparently addressing the sleeping commissioner. “You have slept enough; it's five o'clock.”
“Why do you worry me? I am not asleep,” answered a shrill, languid little voice.
“Come, get up! we find it stupid without you.”
And the commissary officer came out to his guests.
“Fetch some Simferopol porter!” he shouted.
A servant entered the booth, with a haughty expression of countenance, as it seemed to Volodya, and, having jostled Volodya, he drew forth the porter from beneath the bench.
The bottle of porter was soon emptied, and the conversation had proceeded in the same style for rather a long time when the flap of the tent flew open and out stepped a short, fresh-colored man, in a blue dressing-gown with tassels, in a cap with a red rim and a cockade. At the moment of his appearance, he was smoothing his small black mustache, and, with his gaze fixed on the rugs, he replied to the greetings of the officer with a barely perceptible movement of the shoulders.
“I will drink a small glassful too!” said he, seating himself by the table. “What is this, have you come from Petersburg, young man?” he said, turning courteously to Volodya.
“Yes, sir, I am on my way to Sevastopol.”
“Did you make the application yourself?”
“What queer tastes you have, gentlemen! I do not understand it!” continued the commissioner. “It strikes me that I should be ready just now to travel on foot to Petersburg, if I could get away. By Heavens, I am tired of this cursed life!”
“What is there about it that does not suit you?” said the elder Kozeltzoff, turning to him. “You're the very last person to complain of life here!”
The commissioner cast a look upon him, and then turned away.
“This danger, these privations, it is impossible to get anything here,” he continued, addressing Volodya.[Pg 164] “And why you should take such a freak, gentlemen, I really cannot understand. If there were any advantages to be derived from it, but there is nothing of the sort. It would be a nice thing, now, wouldn't it, if you, at your age, were to be left a cripple for life!”
“Some need the money, and some serve for honor's sake!” said the elder Kozeltzoff, in a tone of vexation, joining the discussion once more.
“What's the good of honor, when there's nothing to eat!” said the commissioner with a scornful laugh, turning to the commissary, who also laughed at this. “Give us something from ‘Lucia’; we will listen,” he said, pointing to the music-box. “I love it.”
“Well, is that Vasíly Mikhaïlitch a fine man?” Volodya asked his brother when they emerged, at dusk, from the booth, and pursued their way to Sevastopol.
“Not at all; but such a niggard that it is a perfect terror! And I can't bear the sight of that commissioner, and I shall give him a thrashing one of these days.”
Volodya was not precisely out of sorts when, nearly at nightfall, they reached the great bridge over the bay, but he felt a certain heaviness at his heart. All that he had heard and seen was so little in consonance with the impressions which had recently passed away; the huge, light examination hall, with its polished floor, the kind and merry voices and laughter of his comrades, the new uniform, his beloved czar, whom he had been accustomed to see for the last seven years, and who, when he took leave of them, had called them his children, with tears in his eyes,—and everything that he had seen so little resembled his very beautiful, rainbow-hued, magnificent dreams.
“Well, here we are at last!” said the elder brother, when they arrived at the Mikhaïlovsky battery, and dismounted from their cart.[Pg 166] “If they let us pass the bridge, we will go directly to the Nikolaevsky barracks. You stay there until morning, and I will go to the regiment and find out where your battery is stationed, and to-morrow I will come for you.”
“But why? It would be better if we both went together,” said Volodya; “I will go to the bastion with you. It won't make any difference; I shall have to get used to it. If you go, then I can too.”
“Better not go.”
“No, if you please; I do know, at least, that....”
“My advice is, not to go; but if you choose....”
The sky was clear and dark; the stars, and the fires of the bombs in incessant movement and discharges, were gleaming brilliantly through the gloom. The large white building of the battery, and the beginning of the bridge stood out in the darkness. Literally, every second several discharges of artillery and explosions, following each other in quick succession or occurring simultaneously, shook the air with increasing thunder and distinctness. Through this roar, and as though repeating it, the melancholy dash of the waves was audible. A faint breeze was drawing in from the sea, and the air was heavy with moisture. The[Pg 167] brothers stepped upon the bridge. A soldier struck his gun awkwardly against his arm, and shouted:—
“Who goes there?”
“The orders are not to let any one pass!”
“What of that! We have business! We must pass!”
“Ask the officer.”
The officer, who was drowsing as he sat on an anchor, rose up and gave the order to let them pass.
“You can go that way, but not this. Where are you driving to, all in a heap!” he cried to the transport wagons piled high with gabions, which had clustered about the entrance.
As they descended to the first pontoon, the brothers encountered soldiers who were coming thence, and talking loudly.
“If he has received his ammunition money, then he has squared his accounts in full—that's what it is!”
“Eh, brothers!” said another voice,[Pg 168] “when you get over on the Severnaya you will see the world, by heavens! The air is entirely different.”
“You may say more!” said the first speaker. “A cursed shell flew in there the other day, and it tore the legs off of two sailors, so that....”
The brothers traversed the first pontoon, while waiting for the wagon, and halted on the second, which was already flooded with water in parts. The breeze, which had seemed weak inland, was very powerful here, and came in gusts; the bridge swayed to and fro, and the waves, beating noisily against the beams, and tearing at the cables and anchors, flooded the planks. At the right the gloomily hostile sea roared and darkled, as it lay separated by an interminable level black line from the starry horizon, which was light gray in its gleam; lights flashed afar on the enemy's fleet; on the left towered the black masts of one of our vessels, and the waves could be heard as they beat against her hull; a steamer was visible, as it moved noisily and swiftly from the Severnaya.
The flash of a bomb, as it burst near it, illuminated for a moment the lofty heaps of gabions on the deck, two men who were standing on it, and the white foam and the spurts of greenish waves, as the steamer plowed through them. On the edge of the bridge, with his legs dangling[Pg 169] in the water, sat a man in his shirt-sleeves, who was repairing something connected with the bridge. In front, over Sevastopol, floated the same fires, and the terrible sounds grew louder and louder. A wave rolled in from the sea, flowed over the right side of the bridge, and wet Volodya's feet; two soldiers passed them, dragging their feet through the water. Something suddenly burst with a crash and lighted up the bridge ahead of them, the wagon driving over it, and a man on horseback. The splinters fell into the waves with a hiss, and sent up the water in splashes.
“Ah, Mikhaïlo Semyónitch!” said the rider, stopping, reining in his horse in front of the elder Kozeltzoff, “have you fully recovered already?”
“As you see. Whither is God taking you?”
“To the Severnaya, for cartridges; I am on my way to the adjutant of the regiment ... we expect an assault to-morrow, at any hour.”
“And where is Martzoff?”
“He lost a leg yesterday; he was in the town, asleep in his room.... Perhaps you know it?”
“The regiment is in the fifth bastion, isn't it?”
“Yes; it has taken the place of the M—— regiment. Go to the field-hospital; some of our men are there, and they will show you the way.”
“Well, and are my quarters on the Morskaya still intact?”
“Why, my good fellow, they were smashed to bits long ago by the bombs. You will not recognize Sevastopol now; there's not a single woman there now, nor any inns nor music; the last establishment took its departure yesterday. It has become horribly dismal there now.... Farewell!”
And the officer rode on his way at a trot.
All at once, Volodya became terribly frightened; it seemed to him as though a cannon-ball or a splinter of bomb would fly in their direction, and strike him directly on the head. This damp darkness, all these sounds, especially the angry splashing of the waves, seemed to be saying to him that he ought not to go any farther, that nothing good awaited him yonder, that he would never again set foot on the ground upon this side of the bay, that he must turn about at once, and flee somewhere or other, as far as possible from this terrible haunt of death.[Pg 171] “But perhaps it is too late now, everything is settled,” thought he, trembling partly at this thought and partly because the water had soaked through his boots and wet his feet.
Volodya heaved a deep sigh, and went a little apart from his brother.
“Lord, will they kill me—me in particular? Lord, have mercy on me!” said he, in a whisper, and he crossed himself.
“Come, Volodya, let us go on!” said the elder brother, when their little cart had driven upon the bridge. “Did you see that bomb?”
On the bridge, the brothers met wagons filled with the wounded, with gabions, and one loaded with furniture, which was driven by a woman. On the further side no one detained them.
Clinging instinctively to the walls of the Nikolaevsky battery, the brothers listened in silence to the noise of the bombs, exploding overhead, and to the roar of the fragments, showering down from above, and came to that spot in the battery where the image was. There they learned that the fifth light battery, to which Volodya had been assigned, was stationed on the Korabelnaya, and they decided that he should go, in spite of[Pg 172] the danger, and pass the night with the elder in the fifth bastion, and that he should from there join his battery the next day. They turned into the corridor, stepping over the legs of the sleeping soldiers, who were lying all along the walls of the battery, and at last they arrived at the place where the wounded were attended to.
As they entered the first room, surrounded with cots on which lay the wounded, and permeated with that frightful and disgusting hospital odor, they met two Sisters of Mercy, who were coming to meet them.
One woman, of fifty, with black eyes, and a stern expression of countenance, was carrying bandages and lint, and was giving strict orders to a young fellow, an assistant surgeon, who was following her; the other, a very pretty girl of twenty, with a pale and delicate little fair face, gazed in an amiably helpless way from beneath her white cap, held her hands in the pockets of her apron, as she walked beside the elder woman, and seemed to be afraid to quit her side.
Kozeltzoff addressed to them the question whether they knew where Martzoff was—the man whose leg had been torn off on the day before.
“He belonged to the P—— regiment, did he not?” inquired the elder. “Is he a relative of yours?”
“No, a comrade.”
“Show them the way,” said she, in French, to the young sister. “Here, this way,” and she approached a wounded man, in company with the assistant.
“Come along; what are you staring at?” said Kozeltzoff to Volodya, who, with uplifted eyebrows and somewhat suffering expression of countenance, could not tear himself away, but continued to stare at the wounded. “Come, let us go.”
Volodya went off with his brother, still continuing to gaze about him, however, and repeating unconsciously:—
“Ah, my God! Ah, my God!”
“He has probably not been here long?” inquired the sister of Kozeltzoff, pointing at Volodya, who, groaning and sighing, followed them through the corridor.
“He has but just arrived.”
The pretty little sister glanced at Volodya, and suddenly burst out crying. “My God! my God! when will there be an end to all this?” she said, with the accents of despair. They entered the[Pg 175] officer's hut. Martzoff was lying on his back, with his muscular arms, bare to the elbow, thrown over his head, and with the expression on his yellow face of a man who is clenching his teeth in order to keep from shrieking with pain. His whole leg, in its stocking, was thrust outside the coverlet, and it could be seen how he was twitching his toes convulsively inside it.
“Well, how goes it, how do you feel?” asked the sister, raising his bald head with her slender, delicate fingers, on one of which Volodya noticed a gold ring, and arranging his pillow. “Here are some of your comrades come to inquire after you.”
“Badly, of course,” he answered, angrily. “Let me alone! it's all right,”—the toes in his stocking moved more rapidly than ever. “How do you do? What is your name? Excuse me,” he said, turning to Kozeltzoff.... “Ah, yes, I beg your pardon! one forgets everything here,” he said, when the latter had mentioned his name. “You and I lived together,” he added, without the slightest expression of pleasure, glancing interrogatively at Volodya.
“This is my brother, who has just arrived from Petersburg to-day.”
“Hmm! Here I have finished my service,” he said, with a frown. “Ah, how painful it is!... The best thing would be a speedy end.”
He drew up his leg, and covered his face with his hands, continuing to move his toes with redoubled swiftness.
“You must leave him,” said the sister, in a whisper, while the tears stood in her eyes; “he is in a very bad state.”
The brothers had already decided on the north side to go to the fifth bastion; but, on emerging from the Nikolaevsky battery, they seemed to have come to a tacit understanding not to subject themselves to unnecessary danger, and, without discussing the subject, they determined to go their ways separately.
“Only, how are you to find your way, Volodya?” said the elder. “However, Nikolaeff will conduct you to the Korabelnaya, and I will go my way alone, and will be with you to-morrow.”
Nothing more was said at this last leave-taking between the brothers.
The thunder of the cannon continued with the same power as before, but Yekaterinskaya street, along which Volodya walked, followed by the taciturn Nikolaeff, was quiet and deserted. All that he could see, through the thick darkness, was the wide street with the white walls of large houses, battered in many places, and the stone sidewalk beneath his feet; now and then, he met soldiers and officers. As he passed along the left side of the street, near the Admiralty building, he perceived, by the light of a bright fire burning behind the wall, the acacias planted along the sidewalk, with green guards beneath, and the wretchedly dusty leaves of these acacias.
He could plainly hear his own steps and those of Nikolaeff, who followed him, breathing heavily. He thought of nothing; the pretty little Sister of Mercy, Martzoff's leg with the toes twitching in its stocking, the bombs, the darkness, and diverse pictures of death floated hazily through his mind.[Pg 178] All his young and sensitive soul shrank together, and was borne down by his consciousness of loneliness, and the indifference of every one to his fate in the midst of danger.
“They will kill me, I shall be tortured, I shall suffer, and no one will weep.” And all this, instead of the hero's life, filled with energy and sympathy, of which he had cherished such glorious dreams. The bombs burst and shrieked nearer and ever nearer. Nikolaeff sighed more frequently, without breaking the silence. On crossing the bridge leading to the Korabelnaya, he saw something fly screaming into the bay, not far from him, which lighted up the lilac waves for an instant with a crimson glow, then disappeared, and threw on high a cloud of foam.
“See there, it was not put out!” said Nikolaeff, hoarsely.
“Yes,” answered Volodya, involuntarily, and quite unexpectedly to himself, in a thin, piping voice.
They encountered litters with wounded men, then more regimental transports with gabions; they met a regiment on Korabelnaya street; men on horseback passed them. One of them[Pg 179] was an officer, with his Cossack. He was riding at a trot, but, on catching sight of Volodya, he reined in his horse near him, looked into his face, turned and rode on, giving the horse a blow of his whip.
“Alone, alone; it is nothing to any one whether I am in existence or not,” thought the lad, and he felt seriously inclined to cry.
After ascending the hill, past a high white wall, he entered a street of small ruined houses, incessantly illuminated by bombs. A drunken and disheveled woman, who was coming out of a small door in company with a sailor, ran against him.
“If he were only a fine man,” she grumbled,—“Pardon, Your Honor the officer.”
The poor boy's heart sank lower and lower, and more and more frequently flashed the lightnings against the dark horizon, and the bombs screamed and burst about him with ever increasing frequency. Nikolaeff sighed, and all at once he began to speak, in what seemed to Volodya a frightened and constrained tone.
“What haste we made to get here from home. It was nothing but traveling. A pretty place to be in a hurry to get to!”
“What was to be done, if my brother was well again,” replied Volodya, in hope that he might banish by conversation the frightful feeling that was taking possession of him.
“Well, what sort of health is it when he is thoroughly ill! Those who are really well had better stay in the hospital at such a time. A vast deal of joy there is about it, isn't there? You will have a leg or an arm torn off, and that's all you will get! It's not far removed from a downright sin! And here in the town it's not at all like the bastion, and that is a perfect terror. You go and you say your prayers the whole way. Eh, you beast, there you go whizzing past!” he added, directing his attention to the sound of a splinter of shell whizzing by near them. “Now, here,” Nikolaeff went on, “I was ordered to show Your Honor the way. My business, of course, is to do as I am bid; but the cart has been abandoned to some wretch of a soldier, and the bundle is undone.... Go on and on; but if any of the property disappears, Nikolaeff will have to answer for it.”
After proceeding a few steps further, they came out on a square. Nikolaeff held his peace, but sighed.
“Yonder is your artillery, Your Honor!” he suddenly said. “Ask the sentinel; he will show you.”
And Volodya, after he had taken a few steps more, ceased to hear the sound of Nikolaeff's sighs behind him.
All at once, he felt himself entirely and finally alone. This consciousness of solitude in danger, before death, as it seemed to him, lay upon his heart like a terribly cold and heavy stone.
He halted in the middle of the square, glanced about him, to see whether he could catch sight of any one, grasped his head, and uttered his thought aloud in his terror:—“Lord! Can it be that I am a coward, a vile, disgusting, worthless coward ... can it be that I so lately dreamed of dying with joy for my father-land, my czar? No, I am a wretched, an unfortunate, a wretched being!” And Volodya, with a genuine sentiment of despair and disenchantment with himself, inquired of the sentinel for the house of the commander of the battery, and set out in the direction indicated.
The residence of the commander of the battery, which the sentinel had pointed out to him, was a small, two-story house, with an entrance on the court-yard. In one of the windows, which was pasted over with paper, burned the feeble flame of a candle. A servant was seated on the porch, smoking his pipe; he went in and announced Volodya to the commander, and then led him in. In the room, between the two windows, and beneath a shattered mirror, stood a table, heaped with official documents, several chairs, and an iron bedstead, with a clean pallet, and a small bed-rug by its side.
Near the door stood a handsome man, with a large mustache,—a sergeant, in saber and cloak, on the latter of which hung a cross and a Hungarian medal. Back and forth in the middle of the room paced a short staff-officer of forty, with swollen cheeks bound up, and dressed in a thin old coat.
“I have the honor to report myself, Cornet Kozeltzoff, 2d, ordered to the fifth light battery,” said Volodya, uttering the phrase which he had learned by heart, as he entered the room.
The commander of the battery responded dryly to his greeting, and, without offering his hand, invited him to be seated.
Volodya dropped timidly into a chair, beside the writing-table, and began to twist in his fingers the scissors, which his hand happened to light upon. The commander of the battery put his hands behind his back, and, dropping his head, pursued his walk up and down the room, in silence, only bestowing an occasional glance at the hands which were twirling the scissors, with the aspect of a man who is trying to recall something.
The battery commander was a rather stout man, with a large bald spot on the crown of his head, a thick mustache, which drooped straight down and concealed his mouth, and pleasant brown eyes. His hands were handsome, clean, and plump; his feet small and well turned, and they stepped out in a confident and rather dandified manner, proving that the commander was not a timid man.
“Yes,” he said, coming to a halt in front of the[Pg 184] sergeant; “a measure must be added to the grain to-morrow, or our horses will be getting thin. What do you think?”
“Of course, it is possible to do so, Your Excellency! Oats are very cheap just now,” replied the sergeant, twitching his fingers, which he held on the seams of his trousers, but which evidently liked to assist in the conversation. “Our forage-master, Franchuk, sent me a note yesterday, from the transports, Your Excellency, saying that we should certainly be obliged to purchase oats; they say they are cheap. Therefore, what are your orders?”
“To buy, of course. He has money, surely.” And the commander resumed his tramp through the room. “And where are your things?” he suddenly inquired of Volodya, as he paused in front of him.
Poor Volodya was so overwhelmed by the thought that he was a coward, that he espied scorn for himself in every glance, in every word, as though they had been addressed to a pitiable poltroon. It seemed to him that the commander of the battery had already divined his secret, and was making sport of him. He answered, with embarrassment,[Pg 185] that his effects were on the Grafskaya, and that his brother had promised to send them to him on the morrow.
But the lieutenant-colonel was not listening to him, and, turning to the sergeant, he inquired:—
“Where are we to put the ensign?”
“The ensign, sir?” said the sergeant, throwing Volodya into still greater confusion by the fleeting glance which he cast upon him, and which seemed to say, “What sort of an ensign is this?”—“He can be quartered downstairs, with the staff-captain, Your Excellency,” he continued, after a little reflection. “The captain is at the bastion just now, and his cot is empty.”
“Will that not suit you, temporarily?” said the commander.—“I think you must be tired, but we will lodge you better to-morrow.”
Volodya rose and bowed.
“Will you not have some tea?” said the commander, when he had already reached the door. “The samovár can be brought in.”
Volodya saluted and left the room. The lieutenant-colonel's servant conducted him downstairs, and led him into a bare, dirty chamber, in which various sorts of rubbish were lying about, and[Pg 186] where there was an iron bedstead without either sheets or coverlet. A man in a red shirt was fast asleep on the bed, covered over with a thick cloak.
Volodya took him for a soldier.
“Piotr Nikolaïtch!” said the servant, touching the sleeper on the shoulder. “The ensign is to sleep here.... This is our yunker,” he added, turning to the ensign.
“Ah, don't trouble him, please,” said Volodya; but the yunker, a tall, stout, young man, with a handsome but very stupid face, rose from the bed, threw on his cloak, and, evidently not having had a good sleep, left the room.
“No matter; I'll lie down in the yard,” he growled out.
Left alone with his own thoughts, Volodya's first sensation was a fear of the incoherent, forlorn state of his own soul. He wanted to go to sleep, and forget all his surroundings, and himself most of all. He extinguished the candle, lay down on the bed, and, taking off his coat, he wrapped his head up in it, in order to relieve his terror of the darkness, with which he had been afflicted since his childhood. But all at once the thought occurred to him that a bomb might come and crush in the roof and kill him. He began to listen attentively; directly overhead, he heard the footsteps of the battery commander.
“Anyway, if it does come,” he thought, “it will kill any one who is upstairs first, and then me; at all events, I shall not be the only one.”
This thought calmed him somewhat.
“Well, and what if Sevastopol should be taken unexpectedly, in the night, and the French make their way hither? What am I to defend myself with?”
He rose once more, and began to pace the room. His terror of the actual danger outweighed his secret fear of the darkness. There was nothing heavy in the room except the samovár and a saddle. “I am a scoundrel, a coward, a miserable coward!” the thought suddenly occurred to him, and again he experienced that oppressive sensation of scorn and disgust, even for himself. Again he threw himself on the bed, and tried not to think.
Then the impressions of the day involuntarily penetrated his imagination, in consequence of the unceasing sounds, which made the glass in the solitary window rattle, and again the thought of danger recurred to him: now he saw visions of wounded men and blood, now of bombs and splinters, flying into the room, then of the pretty little Sister of Mercy, who was applying a bandage to him, a dying man, and weeping over him, then of his mother, accompanying him to the provincial town, and praying, amid burning tears, before the wonder-working images, and once more sleep appeared an impossibility to him.
But suddenly the thought of Almighty God, who can do all things, and who hears every supplication, came clearly into his mind. He knelt down, crossed himself, and folded his hands as he had been taught to do in his childhood, when he prayed. This gesture, all at once, brought back to him a consoling feeling, which he had long since forgotten.
“If I must die, if I must cease to exist, ‘thy will be done, Lord,’” he thought; “let it be quickly; but if bravery is needed, and the firmness which I do not possess, give them to me; deliver me from shame and disgrace, which I cannot bear, but teach me what to do in order to fulfill thy will.”
His childish, frightened, narrow soul was suddenly encouraged; it cleared up, and caught sight of broad, brilliant, and new horizons. During the brief period while this feeling lasted, he felt and thought many other things, and soon fell asleep quietly and unconcernedly, to the continuous sounds of the roar of the bombardment and the rattling of the window-panes.
Great Lord! thou alone hast heard, and thou alone knowest those ardent, despairing prayers of[Pg 190] ignorance, of troubled repentance, those petitions for the healing of the body and the enlightenment of the mind, which have ascended to thee from that terrible precinct of death, from the general who, a moment before, was thinking of his cross of the George on his neck, and conscious in his terror of thy near presence, to the simple soldier writhing on the bare earth of the Nikolaevsky battery, and beseeching thee to bestow upon him there the reward, unconsciously presaged, for all his sufferings.
The elder Kozeltzoff, meeting on the street a soldier belonging to his regiment, betook himself at once, in company with the man, to the fifth bastion.
“Keep under the wall, Your Honor,” said the soldier.
“It's dangerous, Your Honor; there's one passing over,” said the soldier, listening to the sound of a screaming cannon-ball, which struck the dry road, on the other side of the street.
Kozeltzoff, paying no heed to the soldier, walked bravely along the middle of the street.
These were the same streets, the same fires, even more frequent now, the sounds, the groans, the encounters with the wounded, and the same batteries, breastworks, and trenches, which had been there in the spring, when he was last in Sevastopol; but, for some reason, all this was now more melancholy, and, at the same time, more energetic,[Pg 192] the apertures in the houses were larger, there were no longer any lights in the windows, with the exception of the Kushtchin house (the hospital), not a woman was to be met with, the earlier tone of custom and freedom from care no longer rested over all, but, instead, a certain impress of heavy expectation, of weariness and earnestness.
But here is the last trench already, and here is the voice of a soldier of the P—— regiment, who has recognized the former commander of his company, and here stands the third battalion in the gloom, clinging close to the wall, and lighted up now and then, for a moment, by the discharges, and a sound of subdued conversation, and the rattling of guns.
“Where is the commander of the regiment?” inquired Kozeltzoff.
“In the bomb-proofs with the sailors, Your Honor,” replied the soldier, ready to be of service. “I will show you the way, if you like.”
From trench to trench the soldier led Kozeltzoff, to the small ditch in the trench. In the ditch sat a sailor, smoking his pipe; behind him a door was visible, through whose cracks shone a light.
“Can I enter?”
“I will announce you at once,” and the sailor went in through the door.
Two voices became audible on the other side of the door.
“If Prussia continues to observe neutrality,” said one voice, “then Austria also....”
“What difference does Austria make,” said the second, “when the Slavic lands ... well, ask him to come in.”
Kozeltzoff had never been in this casemate. He was struck by its elegance. The floor was of polished wood, screens shielded the door. Two bedsteads stood against the wall, in one corner stood a large icon of the mother of God, in a gilt frame, and before her burned a rose-colored lamp.
On one of the beds, a naval officer, fully dressed, was sleeping. On the other, by a table upon which stood two bottles of wine, partly empty, sat the men who were talking—the new regimental commander and his adjutant.
Although Kozeltzoff was far from being a coward, and was certainly not guilty of any wrongdoing so far as his superior officers were concerned, nor towards the regimental commander,[Pg 194] yet he felt timid before the colonel, who had been his comrade not long before, so proudly did this colonel rise and listen to him.
“It is strange,” thought Kozeltzoff, as he surveyed his commander, “it is only seven weeks since he took the regiment, and how visible already is his power as regimental commander, in everything about him—in his dress, his bearing, his look. Is it so very long,” thought he, “since this Batrishtcheff used to carouse with us, and he wore a cheap cotton shirt, and ate by himself, never inviting any one to his quarters, his eternal meat-balls and curd-patties? But now! and that expression of cold pride in his eyes, which says to you, ‘Though I am your comrade, because I am a regimental commander of the new school, yet, believe me, I am well aware that you would give half your life merely for the sake of being in my place!’”
“You have been a long time in recovering,” said the colonel to Kozeltzoff, coldly, with a stare.
“I was ill, colonel! The wound has not closed well even now.”
“Then there was no use in your coming,” said the colonel, casting an incredulous glance at the[Pg 195] captain's stout figure. “You are, nevertheless, in a condition to fulfill your duty?”
“Certainly I am, sir.”
“Well I'm very glad of that, sir. You will take the ninth company from Ensign Zaitzoff—the one you had before; you will receive your orders immediately.”
“I obey, sir.”
“Take care to send me the regimental adjutant when you arrive,” said the regimental commander, giving him to understand, by a slight nod, that his audience was at an end.
On emerging from the casemate, Kozeltzoff muttered something several times, and shrugged his shoulders, as though pained, embarrassed, or vexed at something, and vexed, not at the regimental commander (there was no cause for that), but at himself, and he appeared to be dissatisfied with himself and with everything about him.
Before going to his officers, Kozeltzoff went to greet his company, and to see where it was stationed.
The breastwork of gabions, the shapes of the trenches, the cannons which he passed, even the fragments of shot, bombs, over which he stumbled in his path—all this, incessantly illuminated by the light of the firing, was well known to him, all this had engraved itself in vivid colors on his memory, three months before, during the two weeks which he had spent in this very bastion, without once leaving it. Although there was much that was terrible in these reminiscences, a certain charm of past things was mingled with it, and he recognized the familiar places and objects with pleasure, as though the two weeks spent there had been agreeable ones. The company was stationed along the defensive wall toward the sixth bastion.
Kozeltzoff entered the long casemate, utterly unprotected[Pg 197] at the entrance side, in which they had told him that the ninth company was stationed. There was, literally, no room to set his foot in the casemate, so filled was it, from the very entrance, with soldiers. On one side burned a crooked tallow candle, which a recumbent soldier was holding to illuminate the book which another one was spelling out slowly. Around the candle, in the reeking half-light, heads were visible, eagerly raised in strained attention to the reader. The little book in question was a primer. As Kozeltzoff entered the casemate, he heard the following:
“Pray-er af-ter lear-ning. I thank Thee, Cera-tor ...”
“Snuff that candle!” said a voice. “That's a splendid book.” “My ... God ...” went on the reader.
When Kozeltzoff asked for the sergeant, the reader stopped, the soldiers began to move about, coughed, and blew their noses, as they always do after enforced silence. The sergeant rose near the group about the reader, buttoning up his coat as he did so, and stepping over and on the feet of those who had no room to withdraw them, and came forward to his officer.
“How are you, brother? Do all these belong to our company?”
“I wish you health! Welcome on your return, Your Honor!” replied the sergeant, with a cheerful and friendly look at Kozeltzoff. “Has Your Honor recovered your health? Well, God be praised. It has been very dull for us without you.”
It was immediately apparent that Kozeltzoff was beloved in the company.
In the depths of the casemate, voices could be heard. Their old commander, who had been wounded, Mikhaïl Semyónitch Kozeltzoff, had arrived, and so forth; some even approached, and the drummer congratulated him.
“How are you, Obantchuk?” said Kozeltzoff. “Are you all right? Good-day, children!” he said, raising his voice.
“We wish you health!” sounded through the casemate.
“How are you getting on, children?”
“Badly, Your Honor. The French are getting the better of us.—Fighting from behind the fortifications is bad work, and that's all there is about it! and they won't come out into the open field.”
“Perhaps luck is with me, and God will grant that they shall come out into the field, children!” said Kozeltzoff. “It won't be the first time that you and I have taken a hand together: we'll beat them again.”
“We'll be glad to try it, Your Honor!” exclaimed several voices.
“And how about them—are they really bold?”
“Frightfully bold!” said the drummer, not loudly, but so that his words were audible, turning to another soldier, as though justifying before him the words of the commander, and persuading him that there was nothing boastful or improbable in these words.
From the soldiers, Kozeltzoff proceeded to the defensive barracks and his brother officers.
In the large room of the barracks there was a great number of men; naval, artillery, and infantry officers. Some were sleeping, others were conversing, seated on the shot-chests and gun-carriages of the cannons of the fortifications; others still, who formed a very numerous and noisy group behind the arch, were seated upon two felt rugs, which had been spread on the floor, and were drinking porter and playing cards.
“Ah! Kozeltzoff, Kozeltzoff! Capital! it's a good thing that he has come! He's a brave fellow!... How's your wound?” rang out from various quarters. Here also it was evident that they loved him and were rejoiced at his coming.
After shaking hands with his friends, Kozeltzoff joined the noisy group of officers engaged in playing cards. There were some of his acquaintances among them. A slender, handsome, dark-complexioned man, with a long, sharp nose and a huge mustache, which began on his cheeks, was dealing[Pg 201] the cards with his thin, white, taper fingers, on one of which there was a heavy gold seal ring. He was dealing straight on, and carelessly, being evidently excited by something,—and merely desirous of making a show of heedlessness. On his right, and beside him, lay a gray-haired major, supporting himself on his elbow, and playing for half a ruble with affected coolness, and settling up immediately. On his left squatted an officer with a red, perspiring face, who was laughing and jesting in a constrained way. When his cards won, he moved one hand about incessantly in his empty trousers pocket. He was playing high, and evidently no longer for ready money, which displeased the handsome, dark-complexioned man. A thin and pallid officer with a bald head, and a huge nose and mouth, was walking about the room, holding a large package of bank-notes in his hand, staking ready money on the bank, and winning.
Kozeltzoff took a drink of vodka, and sat down by the players.
“Take a hand, Mikhaïl Semyónitch!” said the dealer to him;[Pg 202] “you have brought lots of money, I suppose.”
“Where should I get any money! On the contrary, I got rid of the last I had in town.”
“The idea! Some one certainly must have fleeced you in Simpferopol.”
“I really have but very little,” said Kozeltzoff, but he was evidently desirous that they should not believe him; then he unbuttoned his coat, and took the old cards in his hand.
“I don't care if I do try; there's no knowing what the Evil One will do! queer things do come about at times. But I must have a drink, to get up my courage.”
And within a very short space of time he had drunk another glass of vodka and several of porter, and had lost his last three rubles.
A hundred and fifty rubles were written down against the little, perspiring officer.
“No, he will not bring them,” said he, carelessly, drawing a fresh card.
“Try to send it,” said the dealer to him, pausing a moment in his occupation of laying out the cards, and glancing at him.
“Permit me to send it to-morrow,” repeated the perspiring officer, rising, and moving his hand about vigorously in his empty pocket.
“Hmm!” growled the dealer, and, throwing the cards angrily to the right and left, he completed the deal. “But this won't do,” said he, when he had dealt the cards. “I'm going to stop. It won't do, Zakhár Ivánitch,” he added, “we have been playing for ready money and not on credit.”
“What, do you doubt me? That's strange, truly!”
“From whom is one to get anything?” muttered the major, who had won about eight rubles. “I have lost over twenty rubles, but when I have won—I get nothing.”
“How am I to pay,” said the dealer, “when there is no money on the table?”
“I won't listen to you!” shouted the major, jumping up, “I am playing with you, but not with him.”
All at once the perspiring officer flew into a rage.
“I tell you that I will pay to-morrow; how dare you say such impertinent things to me?”
“I shall say what I please! This is not the way to do—that's the truth!” shouted the major.
“That will do, Feódor Feodoritch!” all chimed in, holding back the major.
But let us draw a veil over this scene. To-morrow, to-day, it may be, each one of these men will go cheerfully and proudly to meet his death, and he will die with firmness and composure; but the one consolation of life in these conditions, which terrify even the coldest imagination in the absence of all that is human, and the hopelessness of any escape from them, the one consolation is forgetfulness, the annihilation of consciousness. At the bottom of the soul of each lies that noble spark, which makes of him a hero; but this spark wearies of burning clearly—when the fateful moment comes it flashes up into a flame, and illuminates great deeds.
From : Gutenberg.org.
November 30, 1887 : Chapter 16 -- Publication.
February 18, 2017 : Chapter 16 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.
March 14, 2020 : Chapter 16 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.
HTML file generated from :