Book 02, Chapter 16
Book 02, Chapter 16
Having ridden round the whole line from right flank to left, Prince Andrew made his way up to the battery from which the staff officer had told him the whole field could be seen. Here he dismounted, and stopped beside the farthest of the four unlimbered cannon. Before the guns an artillery sentry was pacing up and down; he stood at attention when the officer arrived, but at a sign resumed his measured, monotonous pacing. Behind the guns were their limbers and still farther back picket ropes and artillerymen’s bonfires. To the left, not far from the farthest cannon, was a small, newly constructed wattle shed from which came the sound of officers’ voices in eager conversation.
It was true that a view over nearly the whole Russian position and the greater part of the enemy’s opened out from this battery. Just facing it, on the crest of the opposite hill, the village of Schön Grabern could be seen, and in three places to left and right the French troops amid the smoke of their campfires, the greater part of whom were evidently in the village itself and behind the hill. To the left from that village, amid the smoke, was something resembling a battery, but it was impossible to see it clearly with the naked eye. Our right flank was posted on a rather steep incline which dominated the French position. Our infantry were stationed there, and at the farthest point the dragoons. In the center, where Túshin’s battery stood and from which Prince Andrew was surveying the position, was the easiest and most direct descent and ascent to the brook separating us from Schön Grabern. On the left our troops were close to a copse, in which smoked the bonfires of our infantry who were felling wood. The French line was wider than ours, and it was plain that they could easily outflank us on both sides. Behind our position was a steep and deep dip, making it difficult for artillery and cavalry to retire. Prince Andrew took out his notebook and, leaning on the cannon, sketched a plan of the position. He made some notes on two points, intending to mention them to Bagratión. His idea was, first, to concentrate all the artillery in the center, and secondly, to withdraw the cavalry to the other side of the dip. Prince Andrew, being always near the commander in chief, closely following the mass movements and general orders, and constantly studying historical accounts of battles, involuntarily pictured to himself the course of events in the forthcoming action in broad outline. He imagined only important possibilities: “If the enemy attacks the right flank,” he said to himself, “the Kiev grenadiers and the Podólsk chasseurs must hold their position till reserves from the center come up. In that case the dragoons could successfully make a flank counterattack. If they attack our center we, having the center battery on this high ground, shall withdraw the left flank under its cover, and retreat to the dip by echelons.” So he reasoned.... All the time he had been beside the gun, he had heard the voices of the officers distinctly, but as often happens had not understood a word of what they were saying. Suddenly, however, he was struck by a voice coming from the shed, and its tone was so sincere that he could not but listen.
“No, friend,” said a pleasant and, as it seemed to Prince Andrew, a familiar voice, “what I say is that if it were possible to know what is beyond death, none of us would be afraid of it. That’s so, friend.”
Another, a younger voice, interrupted him: “Afraid or not, you can’t escape it anyhow.”
“All the same, one is afraid! Oh, you clever people,” said a third manly voice interrupting them both. “Of course you artillery men are very wise, because you can take everything along with you—vodka and snacks.”
And the owner of the manly voice, evidently an infantry officer, laughed.
“Yes, one is afraid,” continued the first speaker, he of the familiar voice. “One is afraid of the unknown, that’s what it is. Whatever we may say about the soul going to the sky... we know there is no sky but only an atmosphere.”
The manly voice again interrupted the artillery officer.
“Well, stand us some of your herb vodka, Túshin,” it said.
“Why,” thought Prince Andrew, “that’s the captain who stood up in the sutler’s hut without his boots.” He recognized the agreeable, philosophizing voice with pleasure.
“Some herb vodka? Certainly!” said Túshin. “But still, to conceive a future life...”
He did not finish. Just then there was a whistle in the air; nearer and nearer, faster and louder, louder and faster, a cannon ball, as if it had not finished saying what was necessary, thudded into the ground near the shed with super human force, throwing up a mass of earth. The ground seemed to groan at the terrible impact.
And immediately Túshin, with a short pipe in the corner of his mouth and his kind, intelligent face rather pale, rushed out of the shed followed by the owner of the manly voice, a dashing infantry officer who hurried off to his company, buttoning up his coat as he ran.
From : Gutenberg.org
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