Book 02, Chapter 18
Book 02, Chapter 18
Prince Bagratión, having reached the highest point of our right flank, began riding downhill to where the roll of musketry was heard but where on account of the smoke nothing could be seen. The nearer they got to the hollow the less they could see but the more they felt the nearness of the actual battlefield. They began to meet wounded men. One with a bleeding head and no cap was being dragged along by two soldiers who supported him under the arms. There was a gurgle in his throat and he was spitting blood. A bullet had evidently hit him in the throat or mouth. Another was walking sturdily by himself but without his musket, groaning aloud and swinging his arm which had just been hurt, while blood from it was streaming over his greatcoat as from a bottle. He had that moment been wounded and his face showed fear rather than suffering. Crossing a road they descended a steep incline and saw several men lying on the ground; they also met a crowd of soldiers some of whom were unwounded. The soldiers were ascending the hill breathing heavily, and despite the general’s presence were talking loudly and gesticulating. In front of them rows of gray cloaks were already visible through the smoke, and an officer catching sight of Bagratión rushed shouting after the crowd of retreating soldiers, ordering them back. Bagratión rode up to the ranks along which shots crackled now here and now there, drowning the sound of voices and the shouts of command. The whole air reeked with smoke. The excited faces of the soldiers were blackened with it. Some were using their ramrods, others putting powder on the touchpans or taking charges from their pouches, while others were firing, though who they were firing at could not be seen for the smoke which there was no wind to carry away. A pleasant humming and whistling of bullets were often heard. “What is this?” thought Prince Andrew approaching the crowd of soldiers. “It can’t be an attack, for they are not moving; it can’t be a square—for they are not drawn up for that.”
The commander of the regiment, a thin, feeble-looking old man with a pleasant smile—his eyelids drooping more than half over his old eyes, giving him a mild expression, rode up to Bagratión and welcomed him as a host welcomes an honored guest. He reported that his regiment had been attacked by French cavalry and that, though the attack had been repulsed, he had lost more than half his men. He said the attack had been repulsed, employing this military term to describe what had occurred to his regiment, but in reality he did not himself know what had happened during that half-hour to the troops entrusted to him, and could not say with certainty whether the attack had been repulsed or his regiment had been broken up. All he knew was that at the commencement of the action balls and shells began flying all over his regiment and hitting men and that afterwards someone had shouted “Cavalry!” and our men had begun firing. They were still firing, not at the cavalry which had disappeared, but at French infantry who had come into the hollow and were firing at our men. Prince Bagratión bowed his head as a sign that this was exactly what he had desired and expected. Turning to his adjutant he ordered him to bring down the two battalions of the Sixth Chasseurs whom they had just passed. Prince Andrew was struck by the changed expression on Prince Bagratión’s face at this moment. It expressed the concentrated and happy resolution you see on the face of a man who on a hot day takes a final run before plunging into the water. The dull, sleepy expression was no longer there, nor the affectation of profound thought. The round, steady, hawk’s eyes looked before him eagerly and rather disdainfully, not resting on anything although his movements were still slow and measured.
The commander of the regiment turned to Prince Bagratión, entreating him to go back as it was too dangerous to remain where they were. “Please, your excellency, for God’s sake!” he kept saying, glancing for support at an officer of the suite who turned away from him. “There, you see!” and he drew attention to the bullets whistling, singing, and hissing continually around them. He spoke in the tone of entreaty and reproach that a carpenter uses to a gentleman who has picked up an ax: “We are used to it, but you, sir, will blister your hands.” He spoke as if those bullets could not kill him, and his half-closed eyes gave still more persuasiveness to his words. The staff officer joined in the colonel’s appeals, but Bagratión did not reply; he only gave an order to cease firing and re-form, so as to give room for the two approaching battalions. While he was speaking, the curtain of smoke that had concealed the hollow, driven by a rising wind, began to move from right to left as if drawn by an invisible hand, and the hill opposite, with the French moving about on it, opened out before them. All eyes fastened involuntarily on this French column advancing against them and winding down over the uneven ground. One could already see the soldiers’ shaggy caps, distinguish the officers from the men, and see the standard flapping against its staff.
“They march splendidly,” remarked someone in Bagratión’s suite.
The head of the column had already descended into the hollow. The clash would take place on this side of it...
The remains of our regiment which had been in action rapidly formed up and moved to the right; from behind it, dispersing the laggards, came two battalions of the Sixth Chasseurs in fine order. Before they had reached Bagratión, the weighty tread of the mass of men marching in step could be heard. On their left flank, nearest to Bagratión, marched a company commander, a fine round-faced man, with a stupid and happy expression—the same man who had rushed out of the wattle shed. At that moment he was clearly thinking of nothing but how dashing a fellow he would appear as he passed the commander.
With the self-satisfaction of a man on parade, he stepped lightly with his muscular legs as if sailing along, stretching himself to his full height without the smallest effort, his ease contrasting with the heavy tread of the soldiers who were keeping step with him. He carried close to his leg a narrow unsheathed sword (small, curved, and not like a real weapon) and looked now at the superior officers and now back at the men without losing step, his whole powerful body turning flexibly. It was as if all the powers of his soul were concentrated on passing the commander in the best possible manner, and feeling that he was doing it well he was happy. “Left... left... left...” he seemed to repeat to himself at each alternate step; and in time to this, with stern but varied faces, the wall of soldiers burdened with knapsacks and muskets marched in step, and each one of these hundreds of soldiers seemed to be repeating to himself at each alternate step, “Left... left... left...” A fat major skirted a bush, puffing and falling out of step; a soldier who had fallen behind, his face showing alarm at his defection, ran at a trot, panting to catch up with his company. A cannon ball, cleaving the air, flew over the heads of Bagratión and his suite, and fell into the column to the measure of “Left... left!” “Close up!” came the company commander’s voice in jaunty tones. The soldiers passed in a semicircle round something where the ball had fallen, and an old trooper on the flank, a noncommissioned officer who had stopped beside the dead men, ran to catch up his line and, falling into step with a hop, looked back angrily, and through the ominous silence and the regular tramp of feet beating the ground in unison, one seemed to hear left... left... left.
“Well done, lads!” said Prince Bagratión.
“Glad to do our best, your ex’len-lency!” came a confused shout from the ranks. A morose soldier marching on the left turned his eyes on Bagratión as he shouted, with an expression that seemed to say: “We know that ourselves!” Another, without looking round, as though fearing to relax, shouted with his mouth wide open and passed on.
The order was given to halt and down knapsacks.
Bagratión rode round the ranks that had marched past him and dismounted. He gave the reins to a Cossack, took off and handed over his felt coat, stretched his legs, and set his cap straight. The head of the French column, with its officers leading, appeared from below the hill.
“Forward, with God!” said Bagratión, in a resolute, sonorous voice, turning for a moment to the front line, and slightly swinging his arms, he went forward uneasily over the rough field with the awkward gait of a cavalryman. Prince Andrew felt that an invisible power was leading him forward, and experienced great happiness.
The French were already near. Prince Andrew, walking beside Bagratión, could clearly distinguish their bandoleers, red epaulets, and even their faces. (He distinctly saw an old French officer who, with gaitered legs and turned-out toes, climbed the hill with difficulty.) Prince Bagratión gave no further orders and silently continued to walk on in front of the ranks. Suddenly one shot after another rang out from the French, smoke appeared all along their uneven ranks, and musket shots sounded. Several of our men fell, among them the round-faced officer who had marched so gaily and complacently. But at the moment the first report was heard, Bagratión looked round and shouted, “Hurrah!”
“Hurrah—ah!—ah!” rang a long-drawn shout from our ranks, and passing Bagratión and racing one another they rushed in an irregular but joyous and eager crowd down the hill at their disordered foe.
From : Gutenberg.org
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