BOOK THIRTEEN: 1812
Man's mind cannot grasp the causes of events in their completeness, but the desire to find those causes is implanted in man's soul. And without considering the multiplicity and complexity of the conditions any one of which taken separately may seem to be the cause, he snatches at the first approximation to a cause that seems to him intelligible and says: "This is the cause!" In historical events (where the actions of men are the subject of observation) the first and most primitive approximation to present itself was the will of the gods and, after that, the will of those who stood in the most prominent position—the heroes of history. But we need only penetrate to the essence of any historic event—which lies in the activity of the general mass of men who take part in it—to be convinced that the will of the historic hero does not control the actions of the mass but is itself continually controlled. It may seem to be a matter of indifference whether we understand the meaning of historical events this way or that; yet there is the same difference between a man who says that the people of the West moved on the East because Napoleon wished it and a man who says that this happened because it had to happen, as there is between those who declared that the earth was stationary and that the planets moved round it and those who admitted that they did not know what upheld the earth, but knew there were laws directing its movement and that of the other planets. There is, and can be, no cause of an historical event except the one cause of all causes. But there are laws directing events, and some of these laws are known to us while we are conscious of others we cannot comprehend. The discovery of these laws is only possible when we have quite abandoned the attempt to find the cause in the will of some one man, just as the discovery of the laws of the motion of the planets was possible only when men abandoned the conception of the fixity of the earth.
The historians consider that, next to the battle of Borodino and the occupation of Moscow by the enemy and its destruction by fire, the most important episode of the war of 1812 was the movement of the Russian army from the Ryazana to the Kaluga road and to the Tarutino camp—the so-called flank march across the Krasnaya Pakhra River. They ascribe the glory of that achievement of genius to different men and dispute as to whom the honor is due. Even foreign historians, including the French, acknowledge the genius of the Russian commanders when they speak of that flank march. But it is hard to understand why military writers, and following them others, consider this flank march to be the profound conception of some one man who saved Russia and destroyed Napoleon. In the first place it is hard to understand where the profundity and genius of this movement lay, for not much mental effort was needed to see that the best position for an army when it is not being attacked is where there are most provisions; and even a dull boy of thirteen could have guessed that the best position for an army after its retreat from Moscow in 1812 was on the Kaluga road. So it is impossible to understand by what reasoning the historians reach the conclusion that this maneuver was a profound one. And it is even more difficult to understand just why they think that this maneuver was calculated to save Russia and destroy the French; for this flank march, had it been preceded, accompanied, or followed by other circumstances, might have proved ruinous to the Russians and salutary for the French. If the position of the Russian army really began to improve from the time of that march, it does not at all follow that the march was the cause of it.
That flank march might not only have failed to give any advantage to the Russian army, but might in other circumstances have led to its destruction. What would have happened had Moscow not burned down? If Murat had not lost sight of the Russians? If Napoleon had not remained inactive? If the Russian army at Krasnaya Pakhra had given battle as Bennigsen and Barclay advised? What would have happened had the French attacked the Russians while they were marching beyond the Pakhra? What would have happened if on approaching Tarutino, Napoleon had attacked the Russians with but a tenth of the energy he had shown when he attacked them at Smolensk? What would have happened had the French moved on Petersburg?... In any of these eventualities the flank march that brought salvation might have proved disastrous.
The third and most incomprehensible thing is that people studying history deliberately avoid seeing that this flank march cannot be attributed to any one man, that no one ever foresaw it, and that in reality, like the retreat from Fili, it did not suggest itself to anyone in its entirety, but resulted—moment by moment, step by step, event by event—from an endless number of most diverse circumstances and was only seen in its entirety when it had been accomplished and belonged to the past.
At the council at Fili the prevailing thought in the minds of the Russian commanders was the one naturally suggesting itself, namely, a direct retreat by the Nizhni road. In proof of this there is the fact that the majority of the council voted for such a retreat, and above all there is the well-known conversation after the council, between the commander in chief and Lanskoy, who was in charge of the commissariat department. Lanskoy informed the commander in chief that the army supplies were for the most part stored along the Oka in the Tula and Ryazan provinces, and that if they retreated on Nizhni the army would be separated from its supplies by the broad river Oka, which cannot be crossed early in winter. This was the first indication of the necessity of deviating from what had previously seemed the most natural course—a direct retreat on Nizhni-Novgorod. The army turned more to the south, along the Ryazan road and nearer to its supplies. Subsequently the inactivity of the French (who even lost sight of the Russian army), concern for the safety of the arsenal at Tula, and especially the advantages of drawing nearer to its supplies caused the army to turn still further south to the Tula road. Having crossed over, by a forced march, to the Tula road beyond the Pakhra, the Russian commanders intended to remain at Podolsk and had no thought of the Tarutino position; but innumerable circumstances and the reappearance of French troops who had for a time lost touch with the Russians, and projects of giving battle, and above all the abundance of provisions in Kaluga province, obliged our army to turn still more to the south and to cross from the Tula to the Kaluga road and go to Tarutino, which was between the roads along which those supplies lay. Just as it is impossible to say when it was decided to abandon Moscow, so it is impossible to say precisely when, or by whom, it was decided to move to Tarutino. Only when the army had got there, as the result of innumerable and varying forces, did people begin to assure themselves that they had desired this movement and long ago foreseen its result.
The famous flank movement merely consisted in this: after the advance of the French had ceased, the Russian army, which had been continually retreating straight back from the invaders, deviated from that direct course and, not finding itself pursued, was naturally drawn toward the district where supplies were abundant.
If instead of imagining to ourselves commanders of genius leading the Russian army, we picture that army without any leaders, it could not have done anything but make a return movement toward Moscow, describing an arc in the direction where most provisions were to be found and where the country was richest.
That movement from the Nizhni to the Ryazan, Tula, and Kaluga roads was so natural that even the Russian marauders moved in that direction, and demands were sent from Petersburg for Kutuzov to take his army that way. At Tarutino Kutuzov received what was almost a reprimand from the Emperor for having moved his army along the Ryazan road, and the Emperor's letter indicated to him the very position he had already occupied near Kaluga.
Having rolled like a ball in the direction of the impetus given by the whole campaign and by the battle of Borodino, the Russian army—when the strength of that impetus was exhausted and no fresh push was received—assumed the position natural to it.
Kutuzov's merit lay, not in any strategic maneuver of genius, as it is called, but in the fact that he alone understood the significance of what had happened. He alone then understood the meaning of the French army's inactivity, he alone continued to assert that the battle of Borodino had been a victory, he alone—who as commander in chief might have been expected to be eager to attack—employed his whole strength to restrain the Russian army from useless engagements.
The beast wounded at Borodino was lying where the fleeing hunter had left him; but whether he was still alive, whether he was strong and merely lying low, the hunter did not know. Suddenly the beast was heard to moan.
The moan of that wounded beast (the French army) which betrayed its calamitous condition was the sending of Lauriston to Kutuzov's camp with overtures for peace.
Napoleon, with his usual assurance that whatever entered his head was right, wrote to Kutuzov the first words that occurred to him, though they were meaningless.
MONSIEUR LE PRINCE KOUTOUZOV: I am sending one of my adjutants-general to discuss several interesting questions with you. I beg your Highness to credit what he says to you, especially when he expresses the sentiment of esteem and special regard I have long entertained for your person. This letter having no other object, I pray God, monsieur le Prince Koutouzov, to keep you in His holy and gracious protection!
MOSCOW, OCTOBER 30, 1812
Kutuzov replied: "I should be cursed by posterity were I looked on as the initiator of a settlement of any sort. Such is the present spirit of my nation." But he continued to exert all his powers to restrain his troops from attacking.
During the month that the French troops were pillaging in Moscow and the Russian troops were quietly encamped at Tarutino, a change had taken place in the relative strength of the two armies—both in spirit and in number—as a result of which the superiority had passed to the Russian side. Though the condition and numbers of the French army were unknown to the Russians, as soon as that change occurred the need of attacking at once showed itself by countless signs. These signs were: Lauriston's mission; the abundance of provisions at Tarutino; the reports coming in from all sides of the inactivity and disorder of the French; the flow of recruits to our regiments; the fine weather; the long rest the Russian soldiers had enjoyed, and the impatience to do what they had been assembled for, which usually shows itself in an army that has been resting; curiosity as to what the French army, so long lost sight of, was doing; the boldness with which our outposts now scouted close up to the French stationed at Tarutino; the news of easy successes gained by peasants and guerrilla troops over the French, the envy aroused by this; the desire for revenge that lay in the heart of every Russian as long as the French were in Moscow, and (above all) a dim consciousness in every soldier's mind that the relative strength of the armies had changed and that the advantage was now on our side. There was a substantial change in the relative strength, and an advance had become inevitable. And at once, as a clock begins to strike and chime as soon as the minute hand has completed a full circle, this change was shown by an increased activity, whirring, and chiming in the higher spheres.
The Russian army was commanded by Kutuzov and his staff, and also by the Emperor from Petersburg. Before the news of the abandonment of Moscow had been received in Petersburg, a detailed plan of the whole campaign had been drawn up and sent to Kutuzov for his guidance. Though this plan had been drawn up on the supposition that Moscow was still in our hands, it was approved by the staff and accepted as a basis for action. Kutuzov only replied that movements arranged from a distance were always difficult to execute. So fresh instructions were sent for the solution of difficulties that might be encountered, as well as fresh people who were to watch Kutuzov's actions and report upon them.
Besides this, the whole staff of the Russian army was now reorganized. The posts left vacant by Bagration, who had been killed, and by Barclay, who had gone away in dudgeon, had to be filled. Very serious consideration was given to the question whether it would be better to put A in B's place and B in D's, or on the contrary to put D in A's place, and so on—as if anything more than A's or B's satisfaction depended on this.
As a result of the hostility between Kutuzov and Bennigsen, his Chief of Staff, the presence of confidential representatives of the Emperor, and these transfers, a more than usually complicated play of parties was going on among the staff of the army. A was undermining B, D was undermining C, and so on in all possible combinations and permutations. In all these plottings the subject of intrigue was generally the conduct of the war, which all these men believed they were directing; but this affair of the war went on independently of them, as it had to go: that is, never in the way people devised, but flowing always from the essential attitude of the masses. Only in the highest spheres did all these schemes, crossings, and interminglings appear to be a true reflection of what had to happen.
Prince Michael Ilarionovich! (wrote the Emperor on the second of October in a letter that reached Kutuzov after the battle at Tarutino) Since September 2 Moscow has been in the hands of the enemy. Your last reports were written on the twentieth, and during all this time not only has no action been taken against the enemy or for the relief of the ancient capital, but according to your last report you have even retreated farther. Serpukhov is already occupied by an enemy detachment and Tula with its famous arsenal so indispensable to the army, is in danger. From General Wintzingerode's reports, I see that an enemy corps of ten thousand men is moving on the Petersburg road. Another corps of several thousand men is moving on Dmitrov. A third has advanced along the Vladimir road, and a fourth, rather considerable detachment is stationed between Ruza and Mozhaysk. Napoleon himself was in Moscow as late as the twenty-fifth. In view of all this information, when the enemy has scattered his forces in large detachments, and with Napoleon and his Guards in Moscow, is it possible that the enemy's forces confronting you are so considerable as not to allow of your taking the offensive? On the contrary, he is probably pursuing you with detachments, or at most with an army corps much weaker than the army entrusted to you. It would seem that, availing yourself of these circumstances, you might advantageously attack a weaker one and annihilate him, or at least oblige him to retreat, retaining in our hands an important part of the provinces now occupied by the enemy, and thereby averting danger from Tula and other towns in the interior. You will be responsible if the enemy is able to direct a force of any size against Petersburg to threaten this capital in which it has not been possible to retain many troops; for with the army entrusted to you, and acting with resolution and energy, you have ample means to avert this fresh calamity. Remember that you have still to answer to our offended country for the loss of Moscow. You have experienced my readiness to reward you. That readiness will not weaken in me, but I and Russia have a right to expect from you all the zeal, firmness, and success which your intellect, military talent, and the courage of the troops you command justify us in expecting.
But by the time this letter, which proved that the real relation of the forces had already made itself felt in Petersburg, was dispatched, Kutuzov had found himself unable any longer to restrain the army he commanded from attacking and a battle had taken place.
On the second of October a Cossack, Shapovalov, who was out scouting, killed one hare and wounded another. Following the wounded hare he made his way far into the forest and came upon the left flank of Murat's army, encamped there without any precautions. The Cossack laughingly told his comrades how he had almost fallen into the hands of the French. A cornet, hearing the story, informed his commander.
The Cossack was sent for and questioned. The Cossack officers wished to take advantage of this chance to capture some horses, but one of the superior officers, who was acquainted with the higher authorities, reported the incident to a general on the staff. The state of things on the staff had of late been exceedingly strained. Ermolov had been to see Bennigsen a few days previously and had entreated him to use his influence with the commander in chief to induce him to take the offensive.
"If I did not know you I should think you did not want what you are asking for. I need only advise anything and his Highness is sure to do the opposite," replied Bennigsen.
The Cossack's report, confirmed by horse patrols who were sent out, was the final proof that events had matured. The tightly coiled spring was released, the clock began to whirr and the chimes to play. Despite all his supposed power, his intellect, his experience, and his knowledge of men, Kutuzov—having taken into consideration the Cossack's report, a note from Bennigsen who sent personal reports to the Emperor, the wishes he supposed the Emperor to hold, and the fact that all the generals expressed the same wish—could no longer check the inevitable movement, and gave the order to do what he regarded as useless and harmful—gave his approval, that is, to the accomplished fact.
Bennigsen's note and the Cossack's information that the left flank of the French was unguarded were merely final indications that it was necessary to order an attack, and it was fixed for the fifth of October.
On the morning of the fourth of October Kutuzov signed the dispositions. Toll read them to Ermolov, asking him to attend to the further arrangements.
"All right—all right. I haven't time just now," replied Ermolov, and left the hut.
The dispositions drawn up by Toll were very good. As in the Austerlitz dispositions, it was written—though not in German this time:
"The First Column will march here and here," "the Second Column will march there and there," and so on; and on paper, all these columns arrived at their places at the appointed time and destroyed the enemy. Everything had been admirably thought out as is usual in dispositions, and as is always the case, not a single column reached its place at the appointed time.
When the necessary number of copies of the dispositions had been prepared, an officer was summoned and sent to deliver them to Ermolov to deal with. A young officer of the Horse Guards, Kutuzov's orderly, pleased at the importance of the mission entrusted to him, went to Ermolov's quarters.
"Gone away," said Ermolov's orderly.
The officer of the Horse Guards went to a general with whom Ermolov was often to be found.
"No, and the general's out too."
The officer, mounting his horse, rode off to someone else.
"No, he's gone out."
"If only they don't make me responsible for this delay! What a nuisance it is!" thought the officer, and he rode round the whole camp. One man said he had seen Ermolov ride past with some other generals, others said he must have returned home. The officer searched till six o'clock in the evening without even stopping to eat. Ermolov was nowhere to be found and no one knew where he was. The officer snatched a little food at a comrade's, and rode again to the vanguard to find Miloradovich. Miloradovich too was away, but here he was told that he had gone to a ball at General Kikin's and that Ermolov was probably there too.
"But where is it?"
"Why, there, over at Echkino," said a Cossack officer, pointing to a country house in the far distance.
"What, outside our line?"
"They've put two regiments as outposts, and they're having such a spree there, it's awful! Two bands and three sets of singers!"
The officer rode out beyond our lines to Echkino. While still at a distance he heard as he rode the merry sounds of a soldier's dance song proceeding from the house.
"In the meadows... in the meadows!" he heard, accompanied by whistling and the sound of a torban, drowned every now and then by shouts. These sounds made his spirits rise, but at the same time he was afraid that he would be blamed for not having executed sooner the important order entrusted to him. It was already past eight o'clock. He dismounted and went up into the porch of a large country house which had remained intact between the Russian and French forces. In the refreshment room and the hall, footmen were bustling about with wine and viands. Groups of singers stood outside the windows. The officer was admitted and immediately saw all the chief generals of the army together, and among them Ermolov's big imposing figure. They all had their coats unbuttoned and were standing in a semicircle with flushed and animated faces, laughing loudly. In the middle of the room a short handsome general with a red face was dancing the trepak with much spirit and agility.
"Ha, ha, ha! Bravo, Nicholas Ivanych! Ha, ha, ha!"
The officer felt that by arriving with important orders at such a moment he was doubly to blame, and he would have preferred to wait; but one of the generals espied him and, hearing what he had come about, informed Ermolov.
Ermolov came forward with a frown on his face and, hearing what the officer had to say, took the papers from him without a word.
"You think he went off just by chance?" said a comrade, who was on the staff that evening, to the officer of the Horse Guards, referring to Ermolov. "It was a trick. It was done on purpose to get Konovnitsyn into trouble. You'll see what a mess there'll be tomorrow."
Next day the decrepit Kutuzov, having given orders to be called early, said his prayers, dressed, and, with an unpleasant consciousness of having to direct a battle he did not approve of, got into his caleche and drove from Letashovka (a village three and a half miles from Tarutino) to the place where the attacking columns were to meet. He sat in the caleche, dozing and waking up by turns, and listening for any sound of firing on the right as an indication that the action had begun. But all was still quiet. A damp dull autumn morning was just dawning. On approaching Tarutino Kutuzov noticed cavalrymen leading their horses to water across the road along which he was driving. Kutuzov looked at them searchingly, stopped his carriage, and inquired what regiment they belonged to. They belonged to a column that should have been far in front and in ambush long before then. "It may be a mistake," thought the old commander in chief. But a little further on he saw infantry regiments with their arms piled and the soldiers, only partly dressed, eating their rye porridge and carrying fuel. He sent for an officer. The officer reported that no order to advance had been received.
"How! Not rec..." Kutuzov began, but checked himself immediately and sent for a senior officer. Getting out of his caleche, he waited with drooping head and breathing heavily, pacing silently up and down. When Eykhen, the officer of the general staff whom he had summoned, appeared, Kutuzov went purple in the face, not because that officer was to blame for the mistake, but because he was an object of sufficient importance for him to vent his wrath on. Trembling and panting the old man fell into that state of fury in which he sometimes used to roll on the ground, and he fell upon Eykhen, threatening him with his hands, shouting and loading him with gross abuse. Another man, Captain Brozin, who happened to turn up and who was not at all to blame, suffered the same fate.
"What sort of another blackguard are you? I'll have you shot! Scoundrels!" yelled Kutuzov in a hoarse voice, waving his arms and reeling.
He was suffering physically. He, the commander in chief, a Serene Highness who everybody said possessed powers such as no man had ever had in Russia, to be placed in this position—made the laughingstock of the whole army! "I needn't have been in such a hurry to pray about today, or have kept awake thinking everything over all night," thought he to himself. "When I was a chit of an officer no one would have dared to mock me so... and now!" He was in a state of physical suffering as if from corporal punishment, and could not avoid expressing it by cries of anger and distress. But his strength soon began to fail him, and looking about him, conscious of having said much that was amiss, he again got into his caleche and drove back in silence.
His wrath, once expended, did not return, and blinking feebly he listened to excuses and self-justifications (Ermolov did not come to see him till the next day) and to the insistence of Bennigsen, Konovnitsyn, and Toll that the movement that had miscarried should be executed next day. And once more Kutuzov had to consent.
Next day the troops assembled in their appointed places in the evening and advanced during the night. It was an autumn night with dark purple clouds, but no rain. The ground was damp but not muddy, and the troops advanced noiselessly, only occasionally a jingling of the artillery could be faintly heard. The men were forbidden to talk out loud, to smoke their pipes, or to strike a light, and they tried to prevent their horses neighing. The secrecy of the undertaking heightened its charm and they marched gaily. Some columns, supposing they had reached their destination, halted, piled arms, and settled down on the cold ground, but the majority marched all night and arrived at places where they evidently should not have been.
Only Count Orlov-Denisov with his Cossacks (the least important detachment of all) got to his appointed place at the right time. This detachment halted at the outskirts of a forest, on the path leading from the village of Stromilova to Dmitrovsk.
Toward dawn, Count Orlov-Denisov, who had dozed off, was awakened by a deserter from the French army being brought to him. This was a Polish sergeant of Poniatowski's corps, who explained in Polish that he had come over because he had been slighted in the service: that he ought long ago to have been made an officer, that he was braver than any of them, and so he had left them and wished to pay them out. He said that Murat was spending the night less than a mile from where they were, and that if they would let him have a convoy of a hundred men he would capture him alive. Count Orlov-Denisov consulted his fellow officers.
The offer was too tempting to be refused. Everyone volunteered to go and everybody advised making the attempt. After much disputing and arguing, Major-General Grekov with two Cossack regiments decided to go with the Polish sergeant.
"Now, remember," said Count Orlov-Denisov to the sergeant at parting, "if you have been lying I'll have you hanged like a dog; but if it's true you shall have a hundred gold pieces!"
Without replying, the sergeant, with a resolute air, mounted and rode away with Grekov whose men had quickly assembled. They disappeared into the forest, and Count Orlov-Denisov, having seen Grekov off, returned, shivering from the freshness of the early dawn and excited by what he had undertaken on his own responsibility, and began looking at the enemy camp, now just visible in the deceptive light of dawn and the dying campfires. Our columns ought to have begun to appear on an open declivity to his right. He looked in that direction, but though the columns would have been visible quite far off, they were not to be seen. It seemed to the count that things were beginning to stir in the French camp, and his keen-sighted adjutant confirmed this.
"Oh, it is really too late," said Count Orlov, looking at the camp.
As often happens when someone we have trusted is no longer before our eyes, it suddenly seemed quite clear and obvious to him that the sergeant was an impostor, that he had lied, and that the whole Russian attack would be ruined by the absence of those two regiments, which he would lead away heaven only knew where. How could one capture a commander in chief from among such a mass of troops!
"I am sure that rascal was lying," said the count.
"They can still be called back," said one of his suite, who like Count Orlov felt distrustful of the adventure when he looked at the enemy's camp.
"Eh? Really... what do you think? Should we let them go on or not?"
"Will you have them fetched back?"
"Fetch them back, fetch them back!" said Count Orlov with sudden determination, looking at his watch. "It will be too late. It is quite light."
And the adjutant galloped through the forest after Grekov. When Grekov returned, Count Orlov-Denisov, excited both by the abandoned attempt and by vainly awaiting the infantry columns that still did not appear, as well as by the proximity of the enemy, resolved to advance. All his men felt the same excitement.
"Mount!" he commanded in a whisper. The men took their places and crossed themselves.... "Forward, with God's aid!"
"Hurrah-ah-ah!" reverberated in the forest, and the Cossack companies, trailing their lances and advancing one after another as if poured out of a sack, dashed gaily across the brook toward the camp.
One desperate, frightened yell from the first French soldier who saw the Cossacks, and all who were in the camp, undressed and only just waking up, ran off in all directions, abandoning cannons, muskets, and horses.
Had the Cossacks pursued the French, without heeding what was behind and around them, they would have captured Murat and everything there. That was what the officers desired. But it was impossible to make the Cossacks budge when once they had got booty and prisoners. None of them listened to orders. Fifteen hundred prisoners and thirty-eight guns were taken on the spot, besides standards and (what seemed most important to the Cossacks) horses, saddles, horsecloths, and the like. All this had to be dealt with, the prisoners and guns secured, the booty divided—not without some shouting and even a little fighting among themselves—and it was on this that the Cossacks all busied themselves.
The French, not being farther pursued, began to recover themselves: they formed into detachments and began firing. Orlov-Denisov, still waiting for the other columns to arrive, advanced no further.
Meantime, according to the dispositions which said that "the First Column will march" and so on, the infantry of the belated columns, commanded by Bennigsen and directed by Toll, had started in due order and, as always happens, had got somewhere, but not to their appointed places. As always happens the men, starting cheerfully, began to halt; murmurs were heard, there was a sense of confusion, and finally a backward movement. Adjutants and generals galloped about, shouted, grew angry, quarreled, said they had come quite wrong and were late, gave vent to a little abuse, and at last gave it all up and went forward, simply to get somewhere. "We shall get somewhere or other!" And they did indeed get somewhere, though not to their right places; a few eventually even got to their right place, but too late to be of any use and only in time to be fired at. Toll, who in this battle played the part of Weyrother at Austerlitz, galloped assiduously from place to place, finding everything upside down everywhere. Thus he stumbled on Bagovut's corps in a wood when it was already broad daylight, though the corps should long before have joined Orlov-Denisov. Excited and vexed by the failure and supposing that someone must be responsible for it, Toll galloped up to the commander of the corps and began upbraiding him severely, saying that he ought to be shot. General Bagovut, a fighting old soldier of placid temperament, being also upset by all the delay, confusion, and cross-purposes, fell into a rage to everybody's surprise and quite contrary to his usual character and said disagreeable things to Toll.
"I prefer not to take lessons from anyone, but I can die with my men as well as anybody," he said, and advanced with a single division.
Coming out onto a field under the enemy's fire, this brave general went straight ahead, leading his men under fire, without considering in his agitation whether going into action now, with a single division, would be of any use or no. Danger, cannon balls, and bullets were just what he needed in his angry mood. One of the first bullets killed him, and other bullets killed many of his men. And his division remained under fire for some time quite uselessly.
Meanwhile another column was to have attacked the French from the front, but Kutuzov accompanied that column. He well knew that nothing but confusion would come of this battle undertaken against his will, and as far as was in his power held the troops back. He did not advance.
He rode silently on his small gray horse, indolently answering suggestions that they should attack.
"The word attack is always on your tongue, but you don't see that we are unable to execute complicated maneuvers," said he to Miloradovich who asked permission to advance.
"We couldn't take Murat prisoner this morning or get to the place in time, and nothing can be done now!" he replied to someone else.
When Kutuzov was informed that at the French rear—where according to the reports of the Cossacks there had previously been nobody—there were now two battalions of Poles, he gave a sidelong glance at Ermolov who was behind him and to whom he had not spoken since the previous day.
"You see! They are asking to attack and making plans of all kinds, but as soon as one gets to business nothing is ready, and the enemy, forewarned, takes measures accordingly."
Ermolov screwed up his eyes and smiled faintly on hearing these words. He understood that for him the storm had blown over, and that Kutuzov would content himself with that hint.
"He's having a little fun at my expense," said Ermolov softly, nudging with his knee Raevski who was at his side.
Soon after this, Ermolov moved up to Kutuzov and respectfully remarked:
"It is not too late yet, your Highness—the enemy has not gone away—if you were to order an attack! If not, the Guards will not so much as see a little smoke."
Kutuzov did not reply, but when they reported to him that Murat's troops were in retreat he ordered an advance, though at every hundred paces he halted for three quarters of an hour.
The whole battle consisted in what Orlov-Denisov's Cossacks had done: the rest of the army merely lost some hundreds of men uselessly.
In consequence of this battle Kutuzov received a diamond decoration, and Bennigsen some diamonds and a hundred thousand rubles, others also received pleasant recognitions corresponding to their various grades, and following the battle fresh changes were made in the staff.
"That's how everything is done with us, all topsy-turvy!" said the Russian officers and generals after the Tarutino battle, letting it be understood that some fool there is doing things all wrong but that we ourselves should not have done so, just as people speak today. But people who talk like that either do not know what they are talking about or deliberately deceive themselves. No battle—Tarutino, Borodino, or Austerlitz—takes place as those who planned it anticipated. That is an essential condition.
A countless number of free forces (for nowhere is man freer than during a battle, where it is a question of life and death) influence the course taken by the fight, and that course never can be known in advance and never coincides with the direction of any one force.
If many simultaneously and variously directed forces act on a given body, the direction of its motion cannot coincide with any one of those forces, but will always be a mean—what in mechanics is represented by the diagonal of a parallelogram of forces.
If in the descriptions given by historians, especially French ones, we find their wars and battles carried out in accordance with previously formed plans, the only conclusion to be drawn is that those descriptions are false.
The battle of Tarutino obviously did not attain the aim Toll had in view—to lead the troops into action in the order prescribed by the dispositions; nor that which Count Orlov-Denisov may have had in view—to take Murat prisoner; nor the result of immediately destroying the whole corps, which Bennigsen and others may have had in view; nor the aim of the officer who wished to go into action to distinguish himself; nor that of the Cossack who wanted more booty than he got, and so on. But if the aim of the battle was what actually resulted and what all the Russians of that day desired—to drive the French out of Russia and destroy their army—it is quite clear that the battle of Tarutino, just because of its incongruities, was exactly what was wanted at that stage of the campaign. It would be difficult and even impossible to imagine any result more opportune than the actual outcome of this battle. With a minimum of effort and insignificant losses, despite the greatest confusion, the most important results of the whole campaign were attained: the transition from retreat to advance, an exposure of the weakness of the French, and the administration of that shock which Napoleon's army had only awaited to begin its flight.
Napoleon enters Moscow after the brilliant victory de la Moskowa; there can be no doubt about the victory for the battlefield remains in the hands of the French. The Russians retreat and abandon their ancient capital. Moscow, abounding in provisions, arms, munitions, and incalculable wealth, is in Napoleon's hands. The Russian army, only half the strength of the French, does not make a single attempt to attack for a whole month. Napoleon's position is most brilliant. He can either fall on the Russian army with double its strength and destroy it; negotiate an advantageous peace, or in case of a refusal make a menacing move on Petersburg, or even, in the case of a reverse, return to Smolensk or Vilna; or remain in Moscow; in short, no special genius would seem to be required to retain the brilliant position the French held at that time. For that, only very simple and easy steps were necessary: not to allow the troops to loot, to prepare winter clothing—of which there was sufficient in Moscow for the whole army—and methodically to collect the provisions, of which (according to the French historians) there were enough in Moscow to supply the whole army for six months. Yet Napoleon, that greatest of all geniuses, who the historians declare had control of the army, took none of these steps.
He not merely did nothing of the kind, but on the contrary he used his power to select the most foolish and ruinous of all the courses open to him. Of all that Napoleon might have done: wintering in Moscow, advancing on Petersburg or on Nizhni-Novgorod, or retiring by a more northerly or more southerly route (say by the road Kutuzov afterwards took), nothing more stupid or disastrous can be imagined than what he actually did. He remained in Moscow till October, letting the troops plunder the city; then, hesitating whether to leave a garrison behind him, he quitted Moscow, approached Kutuzov without joining battle, turned to the right and reached Malo-Yaroslavets, again without attempting to break through and take the road Kutuzov took, but retiring instead to Mozhaysk along the devastated Smolensk road. Nothing more stupid than that could have been devised, or more disastrous for the army, as the sequel showed. Had Napoleon's aim been to destroy his army, the most skillful strategist could hardly have devised any series of actions that would so completely have accomplished that purpose, independently of anything the Russian army might do.
Napoleon, the man of genius, did this! But to say that he destroyed his army because he wished to, or because he was very stupid, would be as unjust as to say that he had brought his troops to Moscow because he wished to and because he was very clever and a genius.
In both cases his personal activity, having no more force than the personal activity of any soldier, merely coincided with the laws that guided the event.
The historians quite falsely represent Napoleon's faculties as having weakened in Moscow, and do so only because the results did not justify his actions. He employed all his ability and strength to do the best he could for himself and his army, as he had done previously and as he did subsequently in 1813. His activity at that time was no less astounding than it was in Egypt, in Italy, in Austria, and in Prussia. We do not know for certain in how far his genius was genuine in Egypt—where forty centuries looked down upon his grandeur—for his great exploits there are all told us by Frenchmen. We cannot accurately estimate his genius in Austria or Prussia, for we have to draw our information from French or German sources, and the incomprehensible surrender of whole corps without fighting and of fortresses without a siege must incline Germans to recognize his genius as the only explanation of the war carried on in Germany. But we, thank God, have no need to recognize his genius in order to hide our shame. We have paid for the right to look at the matter plainly and simply, and we will not abandon that right.
His activity in Moscow was as amazing and as full of genius as elsewhere. Order after order and plan after plan were issued by him from the time he entered Moscow till the time he left it. The absence of citizens and of a deputation, and even the burning of Moscow, did not disconcert him. He did not lose sight either of the welfare of his army or of the doings of the enemy, or of the welfare of the people of Russia, or of the direction of affairs in Paris, or of diplomatic considerations concerning the terms of the anticipated peace.
With regard to military matters, Napoleon immediately on his entry into Moscow gave General Sabastiani strict orders to observe the movements of the Russian army, sent army corps out along the different roads, and charged Murat to find Kutuzov. Then he gave careful directions about the fortification of the Kremlin, and drew up a brilliant plan for a future campaign over the whole map of Russia.
With regard to diplomatic questions, Napoleon summoned Captain Yakovlev, who had been robbed and was in rags and did not know how to get out of Moscow, minutely explained to him his whole policy and his magnanimity, and having written a letter to the Emperor Alexander in which he considered it his duty to inform his Friend and Brother that Rostopchin had managed affairs badly in Moscow, he dispatched Yakovlev to Petersburg.
Having similarly explained his views and his magnanimity to Tutolmin, he dispatched that old man also to Petersburg to negotiate.
With regard to legal matters, immediately after the fires he gave orders to find and execute the incendiaries. And the scoundrel Rostopchin was punished by an order to burn down his houses.
With regard to administrative matters, Moscow was granted a constitution. A municipality was established and the following announcement issued:
INHABITANTS OF MOSCOW!
Your misfortunes are cruel, but His Majesty the Emperor and King desires to arrest their course. Terrible examples have taught you how he punishes disobedience and crime. Strict measures have been taken to put an end to disorder and to re-establish public security. A paternal administration, chosen from among yourselves, will form your municipality or city government. It will take care of you, of your needs, and of your welfare. Its members will be distinguished by a red ribbon worn across the shoulder, and the mayor of the city will wear a white belt as well. But when not on duty they will only wear a red ribbon round the left arm.
The city police is established on its former footing, and better order already prevails in consequence of its activity. The government has appointed two commissaries general, or chiefs of police, and twenty commissaries or captains of wards have been appointed to the different wards of the city. You will recognize them by the white ribbon they will wear on the left arm. Several churches of different denominations are open, and divine service is performed in them unhindered. Your fellow citizens are returning every day to their homes and orders have been given that they should find in them the help and protection due to their misfortunes. These are the measures the government has adopted to re-establish order and relieve your condition. But to achieve this aim it is necessary that you should add your efforts and should, if possible, forget the misfortunes you have suffered, should entertain the hope of a less cruel fate, should be certain that inevitable and ignominious death awaits those who make any attempt on your persons or on what remains of your property, and finally that you should not doubt that these will be safeguarded, since such is the will of the greatest and most just of monarchs. Soldiers and citizens, of whatever nation you may be, re-establish public confidence, the source of the welfare of a state, live like brothers, render mutual aid and protection one to another, unite to defeat the intentions of the evil-minded, obey the military and civil authorities, and your tears will soon cease to flow!
With regard to supplies for the army, Napoleon decreed that all the troops in turn should enter Moscow a la maraude * to obtain provisions for themselves, so that the army might have its future provided for.
* As looters.
With regard to religion, Napoleon ordered the priests to be brought back and services to be again performed in the churches.
With regard to commerce and to provisioning the army, the following was placarded everywhere:
You, peaceful inhabitants of Moscow, artisans and workmen whom misfortune has driven from the city, and you scattered tillers of the soil, still kept out in the fields by groundless fear, listen! Tranquillity is returning to this capital and order is being restored in it. Your fellow countrymen are emerging boldly from their hiding places on finding that they are respected. Any violence to them or to their property is promptly punished. His Majesty the Emperor and King protects them, and considers no one among you his enemy except those who disobey his orders. He desires to end your misfortunes and restore you to your homes and families. Respond, therefore, to his benevolent intentions and come to us without fear. Inhabitants, return with confidence to your abodes! You will soon find means of satisfying your needs. Craftsmen and industrious artisans, return to your work, your houses, your shops, where the protection of guards awaits you! You shall receive proper pay for your work. And lastly you too, peasants, come from the forests where you are hiding in terror, return to your huts without fear, in full assurance that you will find protection! Markets are established in the city where peasants can bring their surplus supplies and the products of the soil. The government has taken the following steps to ensure freedom of sale for them: (1) From today, peasants, husbandmen, and those living in the neighborhood of Moscow may without any danger bring their supplies of all kinds to two appointed markets, of which one is on the Mokhovaya Street and the other at the Provision Market. (2) Such supplies will be bought from them at such prices as seller and buyer may agree on, and if a seller is unable to obtain a fair price he will be free to take his goods back to his village and no one may hinder him under any pretense. (3) Sunday and Wednesday of each week are appointed as the chief market days and to that end a sufficient number of troops will be stationed along the highroads on Tuesdays and Saturdays at such distances from the town as to protect the carts. (4) Similar measures will be taken that peasants with their carts and horses may meet with no hindrance on their return journey. (5) Steps will immediately be taken to re-establish ordinary trading.
Inhabitants of the city and villages, and you, workingmen and artisans, to whatever nation you belong, you are called on to carry out the paternal intentions of His Majesty the Emperor and King and to co-operate with him for the public welfare! Lay your respect and confidence at his feet and do not delay to unite with us!
With the object of raising the spirits of the troops and of the people, reviews were constantly held and rewards distributed. The Emperor rode through the streets to comfort the inhabitants, and, despite his preoccupation with state affairs, himself visited the theaters that were established by his order.
In regard to philanthropy, the greatest virtue of crowned heads, Napoleon also did all in his power. He caused the words Maison de ma Mere to be inscribed on the charitable institutions, thereby combining tender filial affection with the majestic benevolence of a monarch. He visited the Foundling Hospital and, allowing the orphans saved by him to kiss his white hands, graciously conversed with Tutolmin. Then, as Thiers eloquently recounts, he ordered his soldiers to be paid in forged Russian money which he had prepared: "Raising the use of these means by an act worthy of himself and of the French army, he let relief be distributed to those who had been burned out. But as food was too precious to be given to foreigners, who were for the most part enemies, Napoleon preferred to supply them with money with which to purchase food from outside, and had paper rubles distributed to them."
With reference to army discipline, orders were continually being issued to inflict severe punishment for the nonperformance of military duties and to suppress robbery.
But strange to say, all these measures, efforts, and plans—which were not at all worse than others issued in similar circumstances—did not affect the essence of the matter but, like the hands of a clock detached from the mechanism, swung about in an arbitrary and aimless way without engaging the cogwheels.
With reference to the military side—the plan of campaign—that work of genius of which Thiers remarks that, "His genius never devised anything more profound, more skillful, or more admirable," and enters into a polemic with M. Fain to prove that this work of genius must be referred not to the fourth but to the fifteenth of October—that plan never was or could be executed, for it was quite out of touch with the facts of the case. The fortifying of the Kremlin, for which la Mosquee (as Napoleon termed the church of Basil the Beatified) was to have been razed to the ground, proved quite useless. The mining of the Kremlin only helped toward fulfilling Napoleon's wish that it should be blown up when he left Moscow—as a child wants the floor on which he has hurt himself to be beaten. The pursuit of the Russian army, about which Napoleon was so concerned, produced an unheard-of result. The French generals lost touch with the Russian army of sixty thousand men, and according to Thiers it was only eventually found, like a lost pin, by the skill—and apparently the genius—of Murat.
With reference to diplomacy, all Napoleon's arguments as to his magnanimity and justice, both to Tutolmin and to Yakovlev (whose chief concern was to obtain a greatcoat and a conveyance), proved useless; Alexander did not receive these envoys and did not reply to their embassage.
With regard to legal matters, after the execution of the supposed incendiaries the rest of Moscow burned down.
With regard to administrative matters, the establishment of a municipality did not stop the robberies and was only of use to certain people who formed part of that municipality and under pretext of preserving order looted Moscow or saved their own property from being looted.
With regard to religion, as to which in Egypt matters had so easily been settled by Napoleon's visit to a mosque, no results were achieved. Two or three priests who were found in Moscow did try to carry out Napoleon's wish, but one of them was slapped in the face by a French soldier while conducting service, and a French official reported of another that: "The priest whom I found and invited to say Mass cleaned and locked up the church. That night the doors were again broken open, the padlocks smashed, the books mutilated, and other disorders perpetrated."
With reference to commerce, the proclamation to industrious workmen and to peasants evoked no response. There were no industrious workmen, and the peasants caught the commissaries who ventured too far out of town with the proclamation and killed them.
As to the theaters for the entertainment of the people and the troops, these did not meet with success either. The theaters set up in the Kremlin and in Posnyakov's house were closed again at once because the actors and actresses were robbed.
Even philanthropy did not have the desired effect. The genuine as well as the false paper money which flooded Moscow lost its value. The French, collecting booty, cared only for gold. Not only was the paper money valueless which Napoleon so graciously distributed to the unfortunate, but even silver lost its value in relation to gold.
But the most amazing example of the ineffectiveness of the orders given by the authorities at that time was Napoleon's attempt to stop the looting and re-establish discipline.
This is what the army authorities were reporting:
"Looting continues in the city despite the decrees against it. Order is not yet restored and not a single merchant is carrying on trade in a lawful manner. The sutlers alone venture to trade, and they sell stolen goods."
"The neighborhood of my ward continues to be pillaged by soldiers of the 3rd Corps who, not satisfied with taking from the unfortunate inhabitants hiding in the cellars the little they have left, even have the ferocity to wound them with their sabers, as I have repeatedly witnessed."
"Nothing new, except that the soldiers are robbing and pillaging—October 9."
"Robbery and pillaging continue. There is a band of thieves in our district who ought to be arrested by a strong force—October 11."
"The Emperor is extremely displeased that despite the strict orders to stop pillage, parties of marauding Guards are continually seen returning to the Kremlin. Among the Old Guard disorder and pillage were renewed more violently than ever yesterday evening, last night, and today. The Emperor sees with regret that the picked soldiers appointed to guard his person, who should set an example of discipline, carry disobedience to such a point that they break into the cellars and stores containing army supplies. Others have disgraced themselves to the extent of disobeying sentinels and officers, and have abused and beaten them."
"The Grand Marshal of the palace," wrote the governor, "complains bitterly that in spite of repeated orders, the soldiers continue to commit nuisances in all the courtyards and even under the very windows of the Emperor."
That army, like a herd of cattle run wild and trampling underfoot the provender which might have saved it from starvation, disintegrated and perished with each additional day it remained in Moscow. But it did not go away.
It began to run away only when suddenly seized by a panic caused by the capture of transport trains on the Smolensk road, and by the battle of Tarutino. The news of that battle of Tarutino, unexpectedly received by Napoleon at a review, evoked in him a desire to punish the Russians (Thiers says), and he issued the order for departure which the whole army was demanding.
Fleeing from Moscow the soldiers took with them everything they had stolen. Napoleon, too, carried away his own personal tresor, but on seeing the baggage trains that impeded the army, he was (Thiers says) horror-struck. And yet with his experience of war he did not order all the superfluous vehicles to be burned, as he had done with those of a certain marshal when approaching Moscow. He gazed at the caleches and carriages in which soldiers were riding and remarked that it was a very good thing, as those vehicles could be used to carry provisions, the sick, and the wounded.
The plight of the whole army resembled that of a wounded animal which feels it is perishing and does not know what it is doing. To study the skillful tactics and aims of Napoleon and his army from the time it entered Moscow till it was destroyed is like studying the dying leaps and shudders of a mortally wounded animal. Very often a wounded animal, hearing a rustle, rushes straight at the hunter's gun, runs forward and back again, and hastens its own end. Napoleon, under pressure from his whole army, did the same thing. The rustle of the battle of Tarutino frightened the beast, and it rushed forward onto the hunter's gun, reached him, turned back, and finally—like any wild beast—ran back along the most disadvantageous and dangerous path, where the old scent was familiar.
During the whole of that period Napoleon, who seems to us to have been the leader of all these movements—as the figurehead of a ship may seem to a savage to guide the vessel—acted like a child who, holding a couple of strings inside a carriage, thinks he is driving it.
Early in the morning of the sixth of October Pierre went out of the shed, and on returning stopped by the door to play with a little blue-gray dog, with a long body and short bandy legs, that jumped about him. This little dog lived in their shed, sleeping beside Karataev at night; it sometimes made excursions into the town but always returned again. Probably it had never had an owner, and it still belonged to nobody and had no name. The French called it Azor; the soldier who told stories called it Femgalka; Karataev and others called it Gray, or sometimes Flabby. Its lack of a master, a name, or even of a breed or any definite color did not seem to trouble the blue-gray dog in the least. Its furry tail stood up firm and round as a plume, its bandy legs served it so well that it would often gracefully lift a hind leg and run very easily and quickly on three legs, as if disdaining to use all four. Everything pleased it. Now it would roll on its back, yelping with delight, now bask in the sun with a thoughtful air of importance, and now frolic about playing with a chip of wood or a straw.
Pierre's attire by now consisted of a dirty torn shirt (the only remnant of his former clothing), a pair of soldier's trousers which by Karataev's advice he tied with string round the ankles for warmth, and a peasant coat and cap. Physically he had changed much during this time. He no longer seemed stout, though he still had the appearance of solidity and strength hereditary in his family. A beard and mustache covered the lower part of his face, and a tangle of hair, infested with lice, curled round his head like a cap. The look of his eyes was resolute, calm, and animatedly alert, as never before. The former slackness which had shown itself even in his eyes was now replaced by an energetic readiness for action and resistance. His feet were bare.
Pierre first looked down the field across which vehicles and horsemen were passing that morning, then into the distance across the river, then at the dog who was pretending to be in earnest about biting him, and then at his bare feet which he placed with pleasure in various positions, moving his dirty thick big toes. Every time he looked at his bare feet a smile of animated self-satisfaction flitted across his face. The sight of them reminded him of all he had experienced and learned during these weeks and this recollection was pleasant to him.
For some days the weather had been calm and clear with slight frosts in the mornings—what is called an "old wives' summer."
In the sunshine the air was warm, and that warmth was particularly pleasant with the invigorating freshness of the morning frost still in the air.
On everything—far and near—lay the magic crystal glitter seen only at that time of autumn. The Sparrow Hills were visible in the distance, with the village, the church, and the large white house. The bare trees, the sand, the bricks and roofs of the houses, the green church spire, and the corners of the white house in the distance, all stood out in the transparent air in most delicate outline and with unnatural clearness. Near by could be seen the familiar ruins of a half-burned mansion occupied by the French, with lilac bushes still showing dark green beside the fence. And even that ruined and befouled house—which in dull weather was repulsively ugly—seemed quietly beautiful now, in the clear, motionless brilliance.
A French corporal, with coat unbuttoned in a homely way, a skullcap on his head, and a short pipe in his mouth, came from behind a corner of the shed and approached Pierre with a friendly wink.
"What sunshine, Monsieur Kiril!" (Their name for Pierre.) "Eh? Just like spring!"
And the corporal leaned against the door and offered Pierre his pipe, though whenever he offered it Pierre always declined it.
"To be on the march in such weather..." he began.
Pierre inquired what was being said about leaving, and the corporal told him that nearly all the troops were starting and there ought to be an order about the prisoners that day. Sokolov, one of the soldiers in the shed with Pierre, was dying, and Pierre told the corporal that something should be done about him. The corporal replied that Pierre need not worry about that as they had an ambulance and a permanent hospital and arrangements would be made for the sick, and that in general everything that could happen had been foreseen by the authorities.
"Besides, Monsieur Kiril, you have only to say a word to the captain, you know. He is a man who never forgets anything. Speak to the captain when he makes his round, he will do anything for you."
(The captain of whom the corporal spoke often had long chats with Pierre and showed him all sorts of favors.)
"'You see, St. Thomas,' he said to me the other day. 'Monsieur Kiril is a man of education, who speaks French. He is a Russian seigneur who has had misfortunes, but he is a man. He knows what's what.... If he wants anything and asks me, he won't get a refusal. When one has studied, you see, one likes education and well-bred people.' It is for your sake I mention it, Monsieur Kiril. The other day if it had not been for you that affair would have ended ill."
And after chatting a while longer, the corporal went away. (The affair he had alluded to had happened a few days before—a fight between the prisoners and the French soldiers, in which Pierre had succeeded in pacifying his comrades.) Some of the prisoners who had heard Pierre talking to the corporal immediately asked what the Frenchman had said. While Pierre was repeating what he had been told about the army leaving Moscow, a thin, sallow, tattered French soldier came up to the door of the shed. Rapidly and timidly raising his fingers to his forehead by way of greeting, he asked Pierre whether the soldier Platoche to whom he had given a shirt to sew was in that shed.
A week before the French had had boot leather and linen issued to them, which they had given out to the prisoners to make up into boots and shirts for them.
"Ready, ready, dear fellow!" said Karataev, coming out with a neatly folded shirt.
Karataev, on account of the warm weather and for convenience at work, was wearing only trousers and a tattered shirt as black as soot. His hair was bound round, workman fashion, with a wisp of lime-tree bast, and his round face seemed rounder and pleasanter than ever.
"A promise is own brother to performance! I said Friday and here it is, ready," said Platon, smiling and unfolding the shirt he had sewn.
The Frenchman glanced around uneasily and then, as if overcoming his hesitation, rapidly threw off his uniform and put on the shirt. He had a long, greasy, flowered silk waistcoat next to his sallow, thin bare body, but no shirt. He was evidently afraid the prisoners looking on would laugh at him, and thrust his head into the shirt hurriedly. None of the prisoners said a word.
"See, it fits well!" Platon kept repeating, pulling the shirt straight.
The Frenchman, having pushed his head and hands through, without raising his eyes, looked down at the shirt and examined the seams.
"You see, dear man, this is not a sewing shop, and I had no proper tools; and, as they say, one needs a tool even to kill a louse," said Platon with one of his round smiles, obviously pleased with his work.
"It's good, quite good, thank you," said the Frenchman, in French, "but there must be some linen left over.
"It will fit better still when it sets to your body," said Karataev, still admiring his handiwork. "You'll be nice and comfortable...."
"Thanks, thanks, old fellow.... But the bits left over?" said the Frenchman again and smiled. He took out an assignation ruble note and gave it to Karataev. "But give me the pieces that are over."
Pierre saw that Platon did not want to understand what the Frenchman was saying, and he looked on without interfering. Karataev thanked the Frenchman for the money and went on admiring his own work. The Frenchman insisted on having the pieces returned that were left over and asked Pierre to translate what he said.
"What does he want the bits for?" said Karataev. "They'd make fine leg bands for us. Well, never mind."
And Karataev, with a suddenly changed and saddened expression, took a small bundle of scraps from inside his shirt and gave it to the Frenchman without looking at him. "Oh dear!" muttered Karataev and went away. The Frenchman looked at the linen, considered for a moment, then looked inquiringly at Pierre and, as if Pierre's look had told him something, suddenly blushed and shouted in a squeaky voice:
"Platoche! Eh, Platoche! Keep them yourself!" And handing back the odd bits he turned and went out.
"There, look at that," said Karataev, swaying his head. "People said they were not Christians, but they too have souls. It's what the old folk used to say: 'A sweating hand's an open hand, a dry hand's close.' He's naked, but yet he's given it back."
Karataev smiled thoughtfully and was silent awhile looking at the pieces.
"But they'll make grand leg bands, dear friend," he said, and went back into the shed.
Four weeks had passed since Pierre had been taken prisoner and though the French had offered to move him from the men's to the officers' shed, he had stayed in the shed where he was first put.
In burned and devastated Moscow Pierre experienced almost the extreme limits of privation a man can endure; but thanks to his physical strength and health, of which he had till then been unconscious, and thanks especially to the fact that the privations came so gradually that it was impossible to say when they began, he endured his position not only lightly but joyfully. And just at this time he obtained the tranquillity and ease of mind he had formerly striven in vain to reach. He had long sought in different ways that tranquillity of mind, that inner harmony which had so impressed him in the soldiers at the battle of Borodino. He had sought it in philanthropy, in Freemasonry, in the dissipations of town life, in wine, in heroic feats of self-sacrifice, and in romantic love for Natasha; he had sought it by reasoning—and all these quests and experiments had failed him. And now without thinking about it he had found that peace and inner harmony only through the horror of death, through privation, and through what he recognized in Karataev.
Those dreadful moments he had lived through at the executions had as it were forever washed away from his imagination and memory the agitating thoughts and feelings that had formerly seemed so important. It did not now occur to him to think of Russia, or the war, or politics, or Napoleon. It was plain to him that all these things were no business of his, and that he was not called on to judge concerning them and therefore could not do so. "Russia and summer weather are not bound together," he thought, repeating words of Karataev's which he found strangely consoling. His intention of killing Napoleon and his calculations of the cabalistic number of the beast of the Apocalypse now seemed to him meaningless and even ridiculous. His anger with his wife and anxiety that his name should not be smirched now seemed not merely trivial but even amusing. What concern was it of his that somewhere or other that woman was leading the life she preferred? What did it matter to anybody, and especially to him, whether or not they found out that their prisoner's name was Count Bezukhov?
He now often remembered his conversation with Prince Andrew and quite agreed with him, though he understood Prince Andrew's thoughts somewhat differently. Prince Andrew had thought and said that happiness could only be negative, but had said it with a shade of bitterness and irony as though he was really saying that all desire for positive happiness is implanted in us merely to torment us and never be satisfied. But Pierre believed it without any mental reservation. The absence of suffering, the satisfaction of one's needs and consequent freedom in the choice of one's occupation, that is, of one's way of life, now seemed to Pierre to be indubitably man's highest happiness. Here and now for the first time he fully appreciated the enjoyment of eating when he wanted to eat, drinking when he wanted to drink, sleeping when he wanted to sleep, of warmth when he was cold, of talking to a fellow man when he wished to talk and to hear a human voice. The satisfaction of one's needs—good food, cleanliness, and freedom—now that he was deprived of all this, seemed to Pierre to constitute perfect happiness; and the choice of occupation, that is, of his way of life—now that that was so restricted—seemed to him such an easy matter that he forgot that a superfluity of the comforts of life destroys all joy in satisfying one's needs, while great freedom in the choice of occupation—such freedom as his wealth, his education, and his social position had given him in his own life—is just what makes the choice of occupation insolubly difficult and destroys the desire and possibility of having an occupation.
All Pierre's daydreams now turned on the time when he would be free. Yet subsequently, and for the rest of his life, he thought and spoke with enthusiasm of that month of captivity, of those irrecoverable, strong, joyful sensations, and chiefly of the complete peace of mind and inner freedom which he experienced only during those weeks.
When on the first day he got up early, went out of the shed at dawn, and saw the cupolas and crosses of the New Convent of the Virgin still dark at first, the hoarfrost on the dusty grass, the Sparrow Hills, and the wooded banks above the winding river vanishing in the purple distance, when he felt the contact of the fresh air and heard the noise of the crows flying from Moscow across the field, and when afterwards light gleamed from the east and the sun's rim appeared solemnly from behind a cloud, and the cupolas and crosses, the hoarfrost, the distance and the river, all began to sparkle in the glad light—Pierre felt a new joy and strength in life such as he had never before known. And this not only stayed with him during the whole of his imprisonment, but even grew in strength as the hardships of his position increased.
That feeling of alertness and of readiness for anything was still further strengthened in him by the high opinion his fellow prisoners formed of him soon after his arrival at the shed. With his knowledge of languages, the respect shown him by the French, his simplicity, his readiness to give anything asked of him (he received the allowance of three rubles a week made to officers); with his strength, which he showed to the soldiers by pressing nails into the walls of the hut; his gentleness to his companions, and his capacity for sitting still and thinking without doing anything (which seemed to them incomprehensible), he appeared to them a rather mysterious and superior being. The very qualities that had been a hindrance, if not actually harmful, to him in the world he had lived in—his strength, his disdain for the comforts of life, his absent-mindedness and simplicity—here among these people gave him almost the status of a hero. And Pierre felt that their opinion placed responsibilities upon him.
The French evacuation began on the night between the sixth and seventh of October: kitchens and sheds were dismantled, carts loaded, and troops and baggage trains started.
At seven in the morning a French convoy in marching trim, wearing shakos and carrying muskets, knapsacks, and enormous sacks, stood in front of the sheds, and animated French talk mingled with curses sounded all along the lines.
In the shed everyone was ready, dressed, belted, shod, and only awaited the order to start. The sick soldier, Sokolov, pale and thin with dark shadows round his eyes, alone sat in his place barefoot and not dressed. His eyes, prominent from the emaciation of his face, gazed inquiringly at his comrades who were paying no attention to him, and he moaned regularly and quietly. It was evidently not so much his sufferings that caused him to moan (he had dysentery) as his fear and grief at being left alone.
Pierre, girt with a rope round his waist and wearing shoes Karataev had made for him from some leather a French soldier had torn off a tea chest and brought to have his boots mended with, went up to the sick man and squatted down beside him.
"You know, Sokolov, they are not all going away! They have a hospital here. You may be better off than we others," said Pierre.
"O Lord! Oh, it will be the death of me! O Lord!" moaned the man in a louder voice.
"I'll go and ask them again directly," said Pierre, rising and going to the door of the shed.
Just as Pierre reached the door, the corporal who had offered him a pipe the day before came up to it with two soldiers. The corporal and soldiers were in marching kit with knapsacks and shakos that had metal straps, and these changed their familiar faces.
The corporal came, according to orders, to shut the door. The prisoners had to be counted before being let out.
"Corporal, what will they do with the sick man?..." Pierre began.
But even as he spoke he began to doubt whether this was the corporal he knew or a stranger, so unlike himself did the corporal seem at that moment. Moreover, just as Pierre was speaking a sharp rattle of drums was suddenly heard from both sides. The corporal frowned at Pierre's words and, uttering some meaningless oaths, slammed the door. The shed became semidark, and the sharp rattle of the drums on two sides drowned the sick man's groans.
"There it is!... It again!..." said Pierre to himself, and an involuntary shudder ran down his spine. In the corporal's changed face, in the sound of his voice, in the stirring and deafening noise of the drums, he recognized that mysterious, callous force which compelled people against their will to kill their fellow men—that force the effect of which he had witnessed during the executions. To fear or to try to escape that force, to address entreaties or exhortations to those who served as its tools, was useless. Pierre knew this now. One had to wait and endure. He did not again go to the sick man, nor turn to look at him, but stood frowning by the door of the hut.
When that door was opened and the prisoners, crowding against one another like a flock of sheep, squeezed into the exit, Pierre pushed his way forward and approached that very captain who as the corporal had assured him was ready to do anything for him. The captain was also in marching kit, and on his cold face appeared that same it which Pierre had recognized in the corporal's words and in the roll of the drums.
"Pass on, pass on!" the captain reiterated, frowning sternly, and looking at the prisoners who thronged past him.
Pierre went up to him, though he knew his attempt would be vain.
"What now?" the officer asked with a cold look as if not recognizing Pierre.
Pierre told him about the sick man.
"He'll manage to walk, devil take him!" said the captain. "Pass on, pass on!" he continued without looking at Pierre.
"But he is dying," Pierre again began.
"Be so good..." shouted the captain, frowning angrily.
"Dram-da-da-dam, dam-dam..." rattled the drums, and Pierre understood that this mysterious force completely controlled these men and that it was now useless to say any more.
The officer prisoners were separated from the soldiers and told to march in front. There were about thirty officers, with Pierre among them, and about three hundred men.
The officers, who had come from the other sheds, were all strangers to Pierre and much better dressed than he. They looked at him and at his shoes mistrustfully, as at an alien. Not far from him walked a fat major with a sallow, bloated, angry face, who was wearing a Kazan dressing gown tied round with a towel, and who evidently enjoyed the respect of his fellow prisoners. He kept one hand, in which he clasped his tobacco pouch, inside the bosom of his dressing gown and held the stem of his pipe firmly with the other. Panting and puffing, the major grumbled and growled at everybody because he thought he was being pushed and that they were all hurrying when they had nowhere to hurry to and were all surprised at something when there was nothing to be surprised at. Another, a thin little officer, was speaking to everyone, conjecturing where they were now being taken and how far they would get that day. An official in felt boots and wearing a commissariat uniform ran round from side to side and gazed at the ruins of Moscow, loudly announcing his observations as to what had been burned down and what this or that part of the city was that they could see. A third officer, who by his accent was a Pole, disputed with the commissariat officer, arguing that he was mistaken in his identification of the different wards of Moscow.
"What are you disputing about?" said the major angrily. "What does it matter whether it is St. Nicholas or St. Blasius? You see it's burned down, and there's an end of it.... What are you pushing for? Isn't the road wide enough?" said he, turning to a man behind him who was not pushing him at all.
"Oh, oh, oh! What have they done?" the prisoners on one side and another were heard saying as they gazed on the charred ruins. "All beyond the river, and Zubova, and in the Kremlin.... Just look! There's not half of it left. Yes, I told you—the whole quarter beyond the river, and so it is."
"Well, you know it's burned, so what's the use of talking?" said the major.
As they passed near a church in the Khamovniki (one of the few unburned quarters of Moscow) the whole mass of prisoners suddenly started to one side and exclamations of horror and disgust were heard.
"Ah, the villains! What heathens! Yes; dead, dead, so he is... And smeared with something!"
Pierre too drew near the church where the thing was that evoked these exclamations, and dimly made out something leaning against the palings surrounding the church. From the words of his comrades who saw better than he did, he found that this was the body of a man, set upright against the palings with its face smeared with soot.
"Go on! What the devil... Go on! Thirty thousand devils!..." the convoy guards began cursing and the French soldiers, with fresh virulence, drove away with their swords the crowd of prisoners who were gazing at the dead man.
Through the cross streets of the Khamovniki quarter the prisoners marched, followed only by their escort and the vehicles and wagons belonging to that escort, but when they reached the supply stores they came among a huge and closely packed train of artillery mingled with private vehicles.
At the bridge they all halted, waiting for those in front to get across. From the bridge they had a view of endless lines of moving baggage trains before and behind them. To the right, where the Kaluga road turns near Neskuchny, endless rows of troops and carts stretched away into the distance. These were troops of Beauharnais' corps which had started before any of the others. Behind, along the riverside and across the Stone Bridge, were Ney's troops and transport.
Davout's troops, in whose charge were the prisoners, were crossing the Crimean bridge and some were already debouching into the Kaluga road. But the baggage trains stretched out so that the last of Beauharnais' train had not yet got out of Moscow and reached the Kaluga road when the vanguard of Ney's army was already emerging from the Great Ordynka Street.
When they had crossed the Crimean bridge the prisoners moved a few steps forward, halted, and again moved on, and from all sides vehicles and men crowded closer and closer together. They advanced the few hundred paces that separated the bridge from the Kaluga road, taking more than an hour to do so, and came out upon the square where the streets of the Transmoskva ward and the Kaluga road converge, and the prisoners jammed close together had to stand for some hours at that crossway. From all sides, like the roar of the sea, were heard the rattle of wheels, the tramp of feet, and incessant shouts of anger and abuse. Pierre stood pressed against the wall of a charred house, listening to that noise which mingled in his imagination with the roll of the drums.
To get a better view, several officer prisoners climbed onto the wall of the half-burned house against which Pierre was leaning.
"What crowds! Just look at the crowds!... They've loaded goods even on the cannon! Look there, those are furs!" they exclaimed. "Just see what the blackguards have looted.... There! See what that one has behind in the cart.... Why, those are settings taken from some icons, by heaven!... Oh, the rascals!... See how that fellow has loaded himself up, he can hardly walk! Good lord, they've even grabbed those chaises!... See that fellow there sitting on the trunks.... Heavens! They're fighting."
"That's right, hit him on the snout—on his snout! Like this, we shan't get away before evening. Look, look there.... Why, that must be Napoleon's own. See what horses! And the monograms with a crown! It's like a portable house.... That fellow's dropped his sack and doesn't see it. Fighting again... A woman with a baby, and not bad-looking either! Yes, I dare say, that's the way they'll let you pass... Just look, there's no end to it. Russian wenches, by heaven, so they are! In carriages—see how comfortably they've settled themselves!"
Again, as at the church in Khamovniki, a wave of general curiosity bore all the prisoners forward onto the road, and Pierre, thanks to his stature, saw over the heads of the others what so attracted their curiosity. In three carriages involved among the munition carts, closely squeezed together, sat women with rouged faces, dressed in glaring colors, who were shouting something in shrill voices.
From the moment Pierre had recognized the appearance of the mysterious force nothing had seemed to him strange or dreadful: neither the corpse smeared with soot for fun nor these women hurrying away nor the burned ruins of Moscow. All that he now witnessed scarcely made an impression on him—as if his soul, making ready for a hard struggle, refused to receive impressions that might weaken it.
The women's vehicles drove by. Behind them came more carts, soldiers, wagons, soldiers, gun carriages, carriages, soldiers, ammunition carts, more soldiers, and now and then women.
Pierre did not see the people as individuals but saw their movement.
All these people and horses seemed driven forward by some invisible power. During the hour Pierre watched them they all came flowing from the different streets with one and the same desire to get on quickly; they all jostled one another, began to grow angry and to fight, white teeth gleamed, brows frowned, ever the same words of abuse flew from side to side, and all the faces bore the same swaggeringly resolute and coldly cruel expression that had struck Pierre that morning on the corporal's face when the drums were beating.
It was not till nearly evening that the officer commanding the escort collected his men and with shouts and quarrels forced his way in among the baggage trains, and the prisoners, hemmed in on all sides, emerged onto the Kaluga road.
They marched very quickly, without resting, and halted only when the sun began to set. The baggage carts drew up close together and the men began to prepare for their night's rest. They all appeared angry and dissatisfied. For a long time, oaths, angry shouts, and fighting could be heard from all sides. A carriage that followed the escort ran into one of the carts and knocked a hole in it with its pole. Several soldiers ran toward the cart from different sides: some beat the carriage horses on their heads, turning them aside, others fought among themselves, and Pierre saw that one German was badly wounded on the head by a sword.
It seemed that all these men, now that they had stopped amid fields in the chill dusk of the autumn evening, experienced one and the same feeling of unpleasant awakening from the hurry and eagerness to push on that had seized them at the start. Once at a standstill they all seemed to understand that they did not yet know where they were going, and that much that was painful and difficult awaited them on this journey.
During this halt the escort treated the prisoners even worse than they had done at the start. It was here that the prisoners for the first time received horseflesh for their meat ration.
From the officer down to the lowest soldier they showed what seemed like personal spite against each of the prisoners, in unexpected contrast to their former friendly relations.
This spite increased still more when, on calling over the roll of prisoners, it was found that in the bustle of leaving Moscow one Russian soldier, who had pretended to suffer from colic, had escaped. Pierre saw a Frenchman beat a Russian soldier cruelly for straying too far from the road, and heard his friend the captain reprimand and threaten to court-martial a noncommissioned officer on account of the escape of the Russian. To the noncommissioned officer's excuse that the prisoner was ill and could not walk, the officer replied that the order was to shoot those who lagged behind. Pierre felt that that fatal force which had crushed him during the executions, but which he had not felt during his imprisonment, now again controlled his existence. It was terrible, but he felt that in proportion to the efforts of that fatal force to crush him, there grew and strengthened in his soul a power of life independent of it.
He ate his supper of buckwheat soup with horseflesh and chatted with his comrades.
Neither Pierre nor any of the others spoke of what they had seen in Moscow, or of the roughness of their treatment by the French, or of the order to shoot them which had been announced to them. As if in reaction against the worsening of their position they were all particularly animated and gay. They spoke of personal reminiscences, of amusing scenes they had witnessed during the campaign, and avoided all talk of their present situation.
The sun had set long since. Bright stars shone out here and there in the sky. A red glow as of a conflagration spread above the horizon from the rising full moon, and that vast red ball swayed strangely in the gray haze. It grew light. The evening was ending, but the night had not yet come. Pierre got up and left his new companions, crossing between the campfires to the other side of the road where he had been told the common soldier prisoners were stationed. He wanted to talk to them. On the road he was stopped by a French sentinel who ordered him back.
Pierre turned back, not to his companions by the campfire, but to an unharnessed cart where there was nobody. Tucking his legs under him and dropping his head he sat down on the cold ground by the wheel of the cart and remained motionless a long while sunk in thought. Suddenly he burst out into a fit of his broad, good-natured laughter, so loud that men from various sides turned with surprise to see what this strange and evidently solitary laughter could mean.
"Ha-ha-ha!" laughed Pierre. And he said aloud to himself: "The soldier did not let me pass. They took me and shut me up. They hold me captive. What, me? Me? My immortal soul? Ha-ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha!..." and he laughed till tears started to his eyes.
A man got up and came to see what this queer big fellow was laughing at all by himself. Pierre stopped laughing, got up, went farther away from the inquisitive man, and looked around him.
The huge, endless bivouac that had previously resounded with the crackling of campfires and the voices of many men had grown quiet, the red campfires were growing paler and dying down. High up in the light sky hung the full moon. Forests and fields beyond the camp, unseen before, were now visible in the distance. And farther still, beyond those forests and fields, the bright, oscillating, limitless distance lured one to itself. Pierre glanced up at the sky and the twinkling stars in its faraway depths. "And all that is me, all that is within me, and it is all I!" thought Pierre. "And they caught all that and put it into a shed boarded up with planks!" He smiled, and went and lay down to sleep beside his companions.
In the early days of October another envoy came to Kutuzov with a letter from Napoleon proposing peace and falsely dated from Moscow, though Napoleon was already not far from Kutuzov on the old Kaluga road. Kutuzov replied to this letter as he had done to the one formerly brought by Lauriston, saying that there could be no question of peace.
Soon after that a report was received from Dorokhov's guerrilla detachment operating to the left of Tarutino that troops of Broussier's division had been seen at Forminsk and that being separated from the rest of the French army they might easily be destroyed. The soldiers and officers again demanded action. Generals on the staff, excited by the memory of the easy victory at Tarutino, urged Kutuzov to carry out Dorokhov's suggestion. Kutuzov did not consider any offensive necessary. The result was a compromise which was inevitable: a small detachment was sent to Forminsk to attack Broussier.
By a strange coincidence, this task, which turned out to be a most difficult and important one, was entrusted to Dokhturov—that same modest little Dokhturov whom no one had described to us as drawing up plans of battles, dashing about in front of regiments, showering crosses on batteries, and so on, and who was thought to be and was spoken of as undecided and undiscerning—but whom we find commanding wherever the position was most difficult all through the Russo-French wars from Austerlitz to the year 1813. At Austerlitz he remained last at the Augezd dam, rallying the regiments, saving what was possible when all were flying and perishing and not a single general was left in the rear guard. Ill with fever he went to Smolensk with twenty thousand men to defend the town against Napoleon's whole army. In Smolensk, at the Malakhov Gate, he had hardly dozed off in a paroxysm of fever before he was awakened by the bombardment of the town—and Smolensk held out all day long. At the battle of Borodino, when Bagration was killed and nine tenths of the men of our left flank had fallen and the full force of the French artillery fire was directed against it, the man sent there was this same irresolute and undiscerning Dokhturov—Kutuzov hastening to rectify a mistake he had made by sending someone else there first. And the quiet little Dokhturov rode thither, and Borodino became the greatest glory of the Russian army. Many heroes have been described to us in verse and prose, but of Dokhturov scarcely a word has been said.
It was Dokhturov again whom they sent to Forminsk and from there to Malo-Yaroslavets, the place where the last battle with the French was fought and where the obvious disintegration of the French army began; and we are told of many geniuses and heroes of that period of the campaign, but of Dokhturov nothing or very little is said and that dubiously. And this silence about Dokhturov is the clearest testimony to his merit.
It is natural for a man who does not understand the workings of a machine to imagine that a shaving that has fallen into it by chance and is interfering with its action and tossing about in it is its most important part. The man who does not understand the construction of the machine cannot conceive that the small connecting cogwheel which revolves quietly is one of the most essential parts of the machine, and not the shaving which merely harms and hinders the working.
On the tenth of October when Dokhturov had gone halfway to Forminsk and stopped at the village of Aristovo, preparing faithfully to execute the orders he had received, the whole French army having, in its convulsive movement, reached Murat's position apparently in order to give battle—suddenly without any reason turned off to the left onto the new Kaluga road and began to enter Forminsk, where only Broussier had been till then. At that time Dokhturov had under his command, besides Dorokhov's detachment, the two small guerrilla detachments of Figner and Seslavin.
On the evening of October 11 Seslavin came to the Aristovo headquarters with a French guardsman he had captured. The prisoner said that the troops that had entered Forminsk that day were the vanguard of the whole army, that Napoleon was there and the whole army had left Moscow four days previously. That same evening a house serf who had come from Borovsk said he had seen an immense army entering the town. Some Cossacks of Dokhturov's detachment reported having sighted the French Guards marching along the road to Borovsk. From all these reports it was evident that where they had expected to meet a single division there was now the whole French army marching from Moscow in an unexpected direction—along the Kaluga road. Dokhturov was unwilling to undertake any action, as it was not clear to him now what he ought to do. He had been ordered to attack Forminsk. But only Broussier had been there at that time and now the whole French army was there. Ermolov wished to act on his own judgment, but Dokhturov insisted that he must have Kutuzov's instructions. So it was decided to send a dispatch to the staff.
For this purpose a capable officer, Bolkhovitinov, was chosen, who was to explain the whole affair by word of mouth, besides delivering a written report. Toward midnight Bolkhovitinov, having received the dispatch and verbal instructions, galloped off to the General Staff accompanied by a Cossack with spare horses.
It was a warm, dark, autumn night. It had been raining for four days. Having changed horses twice and galloped twenty miles in an hour and a half over a sticky, muddy road, Bolkhovitinov reached Litashevka after one o'clock at night. Dismounting at a cottage on whose wattle fence hung a signboard, GENERAL STAFF, and throwing down his reins, he entered a dark passage.
"The general on duty, quick! It's very important!" said he to someone who had risen and was sniffing in the dark passage.
"He has been very unwell since the evening and this is the third night he has not slept," said the orderly pleadingly in a whisper. "You should wake the captain first."
"But this is very important, from General Dokhturov," said Bolkhovitinov, entering the open door which he had found by feeling in the dark.
The orderly had gone in before him and began waking somebody.
"Your honor, your honor! A courier."
"What? What's that? From whom?" came a sleepy voice.
"From Dokhturov and from Alexey Petrovich. Napoleon is at Forminsk," said Bolkhovitinov, unable to see in the dark who was speaking but guessing by the voice that it was not Konovnitsyn.
The man who had wakened yawned and stretched himself.
"I don't like waking him," he said, fumbling for something. "He is very ill. Perhaps this is only a rumor."
"Here is the dispatch," said Bolkhovitinov. "My orders are to give it at once to the general on duty."
"Wait a moment, I'll light a candle. You damned rascal, where do you always hide it?" said the voice of the man who was stretching himself, to the orderly. (This was Shcherbinin, Konovnitsyn's adjutant.) "I've found it, I've found it!" he added.
The orderly was striking a light and Shcherbinin was fumbling for something on the candlestick.
"Oh, the nasty beasts!" said he with disgust.
By the light of the sparks Bolkhovitinov saw Shcherbinin's youthful face as he held the candle, and the face of another man who was still asleep. This was Konovnitsyn.
When the flame of the sulphur splinters kindled by the tinder burned up, first blue and then red, Shcherbinin lit the tallow candle, from the candlestick of which the cockroaches that had been gnawing it were running away, and looked at the messenger. Bolkhovitinov was bespattered all over with mud and had smeared his face by wiping it with his sleeve.
"Who gave the report?" inquired Shcherbinin, taking the envelope.
"The news is reliable," said Bolkhovitinov. "Prisoners, Cossacks, and the scouts all say the same thing."
"There's nothing to be done, we'll have to wake him," said Shcherbinin, rising and going up to the man in the nightcap who lay covered by a greatcoat. "Peter Petrovich!" said he. (Konovnitsyn did not stir.) "To the General Staff!" he said with a smile, knowing that those words would be sure to arouse him.
And in fact the head in the nightcap was lifted at once. On Konovnitsyn's handsome, resolute face with cheeks flushed by fever, there still remained for an instant a faraway dreamy expression remote from present affairs, but then he suddenly started and his face assumed its habitual calm and firm appearance.
"Well, what is it? From whom?" he asked immediately but without hurry, blinking at the light.
While listening to the officer's report Konovnitsyn broke the seal and read the dispatch. Hardly had he done so before he lowered his legs in their woolen stockings to the earthen floor and began putting on his boots. Then he took off his nightcap, combed his hair over his temples, and donned his cap.
"Did you get here quickly? Let us go to his Highness."
Konovnitsyn had understood at once that the news brought was of great importance and that no time must be lost. He did not consider or ask himself whether the news was good or bad. That did not interest him. He regarded the whole business of the war not with his intelligence or his reason but by something else. There was within him a deep unexpressed conviction that all would be well, but that one must not trust to this and still less speak about it, but must only attend to one's own work. And he did his work, giving his whole strength to the task.
Peter Petrovich Konovnitsyn, like Dokhturov, seems to have been included merely for propriety's sake in the list of the so-called heroes of 1812—the Barclays, Raevskis, Ermolovs, Platovs, and Miloradoviches. Like Dokhturov he had the reputation of being a man of very limited capacity and information, and like Dokhturov he never made plans of battle but was always found where the situation was most difficult. Since his appointment as general on duty he had always slept with his door open, giving orders that every messenger should be allowed to wake him up. In battle he was always under fire, so that Kutuzov reproved him for it and feared to send him to the front, and like Dokhturov he was one of those unnoticed cogwheels that, without clatter or noise, constitute the most essential part of the machine.
Coming out of the hut into the damp, dark night Konovnitsyn frowned—partly from an increased pain in his head and partly at the unpleasant thought that occurred to him, of how all that nest of influential men on the staff would be stirred up by this news, especially Bennigsen, who ever since Tarutino had been at daggers drawn with Kutuzov; and how they would make suggestions, quarrel, issue orders, and rescind them. And this premonition was disagreeable to him though he knew it could not be helped.
And in fact Toll, to whom he went to communicate the news, immediately began to expound his plans to a general sharing his quarters, until Konovnitsyn, who listened in weary silence, reminded him that they must go to see his Highness.
Kutuzov like all old people did not sleep much at night. He often fell asleep unexpectedly in the daytime, but at night, lying on his bed without undressing, he generally remained awake thinking.
So he lay now on his bed, supporting his large, heavy, scarred head on his plump hand, with his one eye open, meditating and peering into the darkness.
Since Bennigsen, who corresponded with the Emperor and had more influence than anyone else on the staff, had begun to avoid him, Kutuzov was more at ease as to the possibility of himself and his troops being obliged to take part in useless aggressive movements. The lesson of the Tarutino battle and of the day before it, which Kutuzov remembered with pain, must, he thought, have some effect on others too.
"They must understand that we can only lose by taking the offensive. Patience and time are my warriors, my champions," thought Kutuzov. He knew that an apple should not be plucked while it is green. It will fall of itself when ripe, but if picked unripe the apple is spoiled, the tree is harmed, and your teeth are set on edge. Like an experienced sportsman he knew that the beast was wounded, and wounded as only the whole strength of Russia could have wounded it, but whether it was mortally wounded or not was still an undecided question. Now by the fact of Lauriston and Barthelemi having been sent, and by the reports of the guerrillas, Kutuzov was almost sure that the wound was mortal. But he needed further proofs and it was necessary to wait.
"They want to run to see how they have wounded it. Wait and we shall see! Continual maneuvers, continual advances!" thought he. "What for? Only to distinguish themselves! As if fighting were fun. They are like children from whom one can't get any sensible account of what has happened because they all want to show how well they can fight. But that's not what is needed now.
"And what ingenious maneuvers they all propose to me! It seems to them that when they have thought of two or three contingencies" (he remembered the general plan sent him from Petersburg) "they have foreseen everything. But the contingencies are endless."
The undecided question as to whether the wound inflicted at Borodino was mortal or not had hung over Kutuzov's head for a whole month. On the one hand the French had occupied Moscow. On the other Kutuzov felt assured with all his being that the terrible blow into which he and all the Russians had put their whole strength must have been mortal. But in any case proofs were needed; he had waited a whole month for them and grew more impatient the longer he waited. Lying on his bed during those sleepless nights he did just what he reproached those younger generals for doing. He imagined all sorts of possible contingencies, just like the younger men, but with this difference, that he saw thousands of contingencies instead of two or three and based nothing on them. The longer he thought the more contingencies presented themselves. He imagined all sorts of movements of the Napoleonic army as a whole or in sections—against Petersburg, or against him, or to outflank him. He thought too of the possibility (which he feared most of all) that Napoleon might fight him with his own weapon and remain in Moscow awaiting him. Kutuzov even imagined that Napoleon's army might turn back through Medyn and Yukhnov, but the one thing he could not foresee was what happened—the insane, convulsive stampede of Napoleon's army during its first eleven days after leaving Moscow: a stampede which made possible what Kutuzov had not yet even dared to think of—the complete extermination of the French. Dorokhov's report about Broussier's division, the guerrillas' reports of distress in Napoleon's army, rumors of preparations for leaving Moscow, all confirmed the supposition that the French army was beaten and preparing for flight. But these were only suppositions, which seemed important to the younger men but not to Kutuzov. With his sixty years' experience he knew what value to attach to rumors, knew how apt people who desire anything are to group all news so that it appears to confirm what they desire, and he knew how readily in such cases they omit all that makes for the contrary. And the more he desired it the less he allowed himself to believe it. This question absorbed all his mental powers. All else was to him only life's customary routine. To such customary routine belonged his conversations with the staff, the letters he wrote from Tarutino to Madame de Stael, the reading of novels, the distribution of awards, his correspondence with Petersburg, and so on. But the destruction of the French, which he alone foresaw, was his heart's one desire.
On the night of the eleventh of October he lay leaning on his arm and thinking of that.
There was a stir in the next room and he heard the steps of Toll, Konovnitsyn, and Bolkhovitinov.
"Eh, who's there? Come in, come in! What news?" the field marshal called out to them.
While a footman was lighting a candle, Toll communicated the substance of the news.
"Who brought it?" asked Kutuzov with a look which, when the candle was lit, struck Toll by its cold severity.
"There can be no doubt about it, your Highness."
"Call him in, call him here."
Kutuzov sat up with one leg hanging down from the bed and his big paunch resting against the other which was doubled under him. He screwed up his seeing eye to scrutinize the messenger more carefully, as if wishing to read in his face what preoccupied his own mind.
"Tell me, tell me, friend," said he to Bolkhovitinov in his low, aged voice, as he pulled together the shirt which gaped open on his chest, "come nearer—nearer. What news have you brought me? Eh? That Napoleon has left Moscow? Are you sure? Eh?"
Bolkhovitinov gave a detailed account from the beginning of all he had been told to report.
"Speak quicker, quicker! Don't torture me!" Kutuzov interrupted him.
Bolkhovitinov told him everything and was then silent, awaiting instructions. Toll was beginning to say something but Kutuzov checked him. He tried to say something, but his face suddenly puckered and wrinkled; he waved his arm at Toll and turned to the opposite side of the room, to the corner darkened by the icons that hung there.
"O Lord, my Creator, Thou has heard our prayer..." said he in a tremulous voice with folded hands. "Russia is saved. I thank Thee, O Lord!" and he wept.
From the time he received this news to the end of the campaign all Kutuzov's activity was directed toward restraining his troops, by authority, by guile, and by entreaty, from useless attacks, maneuvers, or encounters with the perishing enemy. Dokhturov went to Malo-Yaroslavets, but Kutuzov lingered with the main army and gave orders for the evacuation of Kaluga—a retreat beyond which town seemed to him quite possible.
Everywhere Kutuzov retreated, but the enemy without waiting for his retreat fled in the opposite direction.
Napoleon's historians describe to us his skilled maneuvers at Tarutino and Malo-Yaroslavets, and make conjectures as to what would have happened had Napoleon been in time to penetrate into the rich southern provinces.
But not to speak of the fact that nothing prevented him from advancing into those southern provinces (for the Russian army did not bar his way), the historians forget that nothing could have saved his army, for then already it bore within itself the germs of inevitable ruin. How could that army—which had found abundant supplies in Moscow and had trampled them underfoot instead of keeping them, and on arriving at Smolensk had looted provisions instead of storing them—how could that army recuperate in Kaluga province, which was inhabited by Russians such as those who lived in Moscow, and where fire had the same property of consuming what was set ablaze?
That army could not recover anywhere. Since the battle of Borodino and the pillage of Moscow it had borne within itself, as it were, the chemical elements of dissolution.
The members of what had once been an army—Napoleon himself and all his soldiers fled—without knowing whither, each concerned only to make his escape as quickly as possible from this position, of the hopelessness of which they were all more or less vaguely conscious.
So it came about that at the council at Malo-Yaroslavets, when the generals pretending to confer together expressed various opinions, all mouths were closed by the opinion uttered by the simple-minded soldier Mouton who, speaking last, said what they all felt: that the one thing needful was to get away as quickly as possible; and no one, not even Napoleon, could say anything against that truth which they all recognized.
But though they all realized that it was necessary to get away, there still remained a feeling of shame at admitting that they must flee. An external shock was needed to overcome that shame, and this shock came in due time. It was what the French called "le hourra de l'Empereur."
The day after the council at Malo-Yaroslavets Napoleon rode out early in the morning amid the lines of his army with his suite of marshals and an escort, on the pretext of inspecting the army and the scene of the previous and of the impending battle. Some Cossacks on the prowl for booty fell in with the Emperor and very nearly captured him. If the Cossacks did not capture Napoleon then, what saved him was the very thing that was destroying the French army, the booty on which the Cossacks fell. Here as at Tarutino they went after plunder, leaving the men. Disregarding Napoleon they rushed after the plunder and Napoleon managed to escape.
When les enfants du Don might so easily have taken the Emperor himself in the midst of his army, it was clear that there was nothing for it but to fly as fast as possible along the nearest, familiar road. Napoleon with his forty-year-old stomach understood that hint, not feeling his former agility and boldness, and under the influence of the fright the Cossacks had given him he at once agreed with Mouton and issued orders—as the historians tell us—to retreat by the Smolensk road.
That Napoleon agreed with Mouton, and that the army retreated, does not prove that Napoleon caused it to retreat, but that the forces which influenced the whole army and directed it along the Mozhaysk (that is, the Smolensk) road acted simultaneously on him also.
A man in motion always devises an aim for that motion. To be able to go a thousand miles he must imagine that something good awaits him at the end of those thousand miles. One must have the prospect of a promised land to have the strength to move.
The promised land for the French during their advance had been Moscow, during their retreat it was their native land. But that native land was too far off, and for a man going a thousand miles it is absolutely necessary to set aside his final goal and to say to himself: "Today I shall get to a place twenty-five miles off where I shall rest and spend the night," and during the first day's journey that resting place eclipses his ultimate goal and attracts all his hopes and desires. And the impulses felt by a single person are always magnified in a crowd.
For the French retreating along the old Smolensk road, the final goal—their native land—was too remote, and their immediate goal was Smolensk, toward which all their desires and hopes, enormously intensified in the mass, urged them on. It was not that they knew that much food and fresh troops awaited them in Smolensk, nor that they were told so (on the contrary their superior officers, and Napoleon himself, knew that provisions were scarce there), but because this alone could give them strength to move on and endure their present privations. So both those who knew and those who did not know deceived themselves, and pushed on to Smolensk as to a promised land.
Coming out onto the highroad the French fled with surprising energy and unheard-of rapidity toward the goal they had fixed on. Besides the common impulse which bound the whole crowd of French into one mass and supplied them with a certain energy, there was another cause binding them together—their great numbers. As with the physical law of gravity, their enormous mass drew the individual human atoms to itself. In their hundreds of thousands they moved like a whole nation.
Each of them desired nothing more than to give himself up as a prisoner to escape from all this horror and misery; but on the one hand the force of this common attraction to Smolensk, their goal, drew each of them in the same direction; on the other hand an army corps could not surrender to a company, and though the French availed themselves of every convenient opportunity to detach themselves and to surrender on the slightest decent pretext, such pretexts did not always occur. Their very numbers and their crowded and swift movement deprived them of that possibility and rendered it not only difficult but impossible for the Russians to stop this movement, to which the French were directing all their energies. Beyond a certain limit no mechanical disruption of the body could hasten the process of decomposition.
A lump of snow cannot be melted instantaneously. There is a certain limit of time in less than which no amount of heat can melt the snow. On the contrary the greater the heat the more solidified the remaining snow becomes.
Of the Russian commanders Kutuzov alone understood this. When the flight of the French army along the Smolensk road became well defined, what Konovnitsyn had foreseen on the night of the eleventh of October began to occur. The superior officers all wanted to distinguish themselves, to cut off, to seize, to capture, and to overthrow the French, and all clamored for action.
Kutuzov alone used all his power (and such power is very limited in the case of any commander in chief) to prevent an attack.
He could not tell them what we say now: "Why fight, why block the road, losing our own men and inhumanly slaughtering unfortunate wretches? What is the use of that, when a third of their army has melted away on the road from Moscow to Vyazma without any battle?" But drawing from his aged wisdom what they could understand, he told them of the golden bridge, and they laughed at and slandered him, flinging themselves on, rending and exulting over the dying beast.
Ermolov, Miloradovich, Platov, and others in proximity to the French near Vyazma could not resist their desire to cut off and break up two French corps, and by way of reporting their intention to Kutuzov they sent him a blank sheet of paper in an envelope.
And try as Kutuzov might to restrain the troops, our men attacked, trying to bar the road. Infantry regiments, we are told, advanced to the attack with music and with drums beating, and killed and lost thousands of men.
But they did not cut off or overthrow anybody and the French army, closing up more firmly at the danger, continued, while steadily melting away, to pursue its fatal path to Smolensk.
BOOK FOURTEEN: 1812
The Battle of Borodino, with the occupation of Moscow that followed it and the flight of the French without further conflicts, is one of the most instructive phenomena in history.
All historians agree that the external activity of states and nations in their conflicts with one another is expressed in wars, and that as a direct result of greater or less success in war the political strength of states and nations increases or decreases.
Strange as may be the historical account of how some king or emperor, having quarreled with another, collects an army, fights his enemy's army, gains a victory by killing three, five, or ten thousand men, and subjugates a kingdom and an entire nation of several millions, all the facts of history (as far as we know it) confirm the truth of the statement that the greater or lesser success of one army against another is the cause, or at least an essential indication, of an increase or decrease in the strength of the nation—even though it is unintelligible why the defeat of an army—a hundredth part of a nation—should oblige that whole nation to submit. An army gains a victory, and at once the rights of the conquering nation have increased to the detriment of the defeated. An army has suffered defeat, and at once a people loses its rights in proportion to the severity of the reverse, and if its army suffers a complete defeat the nation is quite subjugated.
So according to history it has been found from the most ancient times, and so it is to our own day. All Napoleon's wars serve to confirm this rule. In proportion to the defeat of the Austrian army Austria loses its rights, and the rights and the strength of France increase. The victories of the French at Jena and Auerstadt destroy the independent existence of Prussia.
But then, in 1812, the French gain a victory near Moscow. Moscow is taken and after that, with no further battles, it is not Russia that ceases to exist, but the French army of six hundred thousand, and then Napoleonic France itself. To strain the facts to fit the rules of history: to say that the field of battle at Borodino remained in the hands of the Russians, or that after Moscow there were other battles that destroyed Napoleon's army, is impossible.
After the French victory at Borodino there was no general engagement nor any that were at all serious, yet the French army ceased to exist. What does this mean? If it were an example taken from the history of China, we might say that it was not an historic phenomenon (which is the historians' usual expedient when anything does not fit their standards); if the matter concerned some brief conflict in which only a small number of troops took part, we might treat it as an exception; but this event occurred before our fathers' eyes, and for them it was a question of the life or death of their fatherland, and it happened in the greatest of all known wars.
The period of the campaign of 1812 from the battle of Borodino to the expulsion of the French proved that the winning of a battle does not produce a conquest and is not even an invariable indication of conquest; it proved that the force which decides the fate of peoples lies not in the conquerors, nor even in armies and battles, but in something else.
The French historians, describing the condition of the French army before it left Moscow, affirm that all was in order in the Grand Army, except the cavalry, the artillery, and the transport—there was no forage for the horses or the cattle. That was a misfortune no one could remedy, for the peasants of the district burned their hay rather than let the French have it.
The victory gained did not bring the usual results because the peasants Karp and Vlas (who after the French had evacuated Moscow drove in their carts to pillage the town, and in general personally failed to manifest any heroic feelings), and the whole innumerable multitude of such peasants, did not bring their hay to Moscow for the high price offered them, but burned it instead.
Let us imagine two men who have come out to fight a duel with rapiers according to all the rules of the art of fencing. The fencing has gone on for some time; suddenly one of the combatants, feeling himself wounded and understanding that the matter is no joke but concerns his life, throws down his rapier, and seizing the first cudgel that comes to hand begins to brandish it. Then let us imagine that the combatant who so sensibly employed the best and simplest means to attain his end was at the same time influenced by traditions of chivalry and, desiring to conceal the facts of the case, insisted that he had gained his victory with the rapier according to all the rules of art. One can imagine what confusion and obscurity would result from such an account of the duel.
The fencer who demanded a contest according to the rules of fencing was the French army; his opponent who threw away the rapier and snatched up the cudgel was the Russian people; those who try to explain the matter according to the rules of fencing are the historians who have described the event.
After the burning of Smolensk a war began which did not follow any previous traditions of war. The burning of towns and villages, the retreats after battles, the blow dealt at Borodino and the renewed retreat, the burning of Moscow, the capture of marauders, the seizure of transports, and the guerrilla war were all departures from the rules.
Napoleon felt this, and from the time he took up the correct fencing attitude in Moscow and instead of his opponent's rapier saw a cudgel raised above his head, he did not cease to complain to Kutuzov and to the Emperor Alexander that the war was being carried on contrary to all the rules—as if there were any rules for killing people. In spite of the complaints of the French as to the nonobservance of the rules, in spite of the fact that to some highly placed Russians it seemed rather disgraceful to fight with a cudgel and they wanted to assume a pose en quarte or en tierce according to all the rules, and to make an adroit thrust en prime, and so on—the cudgel of the people's war was lifted with all its menacing and majestic strength, and without consulting anyone's tastes or rules and regardless of anything else, it rose and fell with stupid simplicity, but consistently, and belabored the French till the whole invasion had perished.
And it is well for a people who do not—as the French did in 1813—salute according to all the rules of art, and, presenting the hilt of their rapier gracefully and politely, hand it to their magnanimous conqueror, but at the moment of trial, without asking what rules others have adopted in similar cases, simply and easily pick up the first cudgel that comes to hand and strike with it till the feeling of resentment and revenge in their soul yields to a feeling of contempt and compassion.
One of the most obvious and advantageous departures from the so-called laws of war is the action of scattered groups against men pressed together in a mass. Such action always occurs in wars that take on a national character. In such actions, instead of two crowds opposing each other, the men disperse, attack singly, run away when attacked by stronger forces, but again attack when opportunity offers. This was done by the guerrillas in Spain, by the mountain tribes in the Caucasus, and by the Russians in 1812.
People have called this kind of war "guerrilla warfare" and assume that by so calling it they have explained its meaning. But such a war does not fit in under any rule and is directly opposed to a well-known rule of tactics which is accepted as infallible. That rule says that an attacker should concentrate his forces in order to be stronger than his opponent at the moment of conflict.
Guerrilla war (always successful, as history shows) directly infringes that rule.
This contradiction arises from the fact that military science assumes the strength of an army to be identical with its numbers. Military science says that the more troops the greater the strength. Les gros bataillons ont toujours raison. *
* Large battalions are always victorious.
For military science to say this is like defining momentum in mechanics by reference to the mass only: stating that momenta are equal or unequal to each other simply because the masses involved are equal or unequal.
Momentum (quantity of motion) is the product of mass and velocity.
In military affairs the strength of an army is the product of its mass and some unknown x.
Military science, seeing in history innumerable instances of the fact that the size of any army does not coincide with its strength and that small detachments defeat larger ones, obscurely admits the existence of this unknown factor and tries to discover it—now in a geometric formation, now in the equipment employed, now, and most usually, in the genius of the commanders. But the assignment of these various meanings to the factor does not yield results which accord with the historic facts.
Yet it is only necessary to abandon the false view (adopted to gratify the "heroes") of the efficacy of the directions issued in wartime by commanders, in order to find this unknown quantity.
That unknown quantity is the spirit of the army, that is to say, the greater or lesser readiness to fight and face danger felt by all the men composing an army, quite independently of whether they are, or are not, fighting under the command of a genius, in two—or three-line formation, with cudgels or with rifles that repeat thirty times a minute. Men who want to fight will always put themselves in the most advantageous conditions for fighting.
The spirit of an army is the factor which multiplied by the mass gives the resulting force. To define and express the significance of this unknown factor—the spirit of an army—is a problem for science.
This problem is only solvable if we cease arbitrarily to substitute for the unknown x itself the conditions under which that force becomes apparent—such as the commands of the general, the equipment employed, and so on—mistaking these for the real significance of the factor, and if we recognize this unknown quantity in its entirety as being the greater or lesser desire to fight and to face danger. Only then, expressing known historic facts by equations and comparing the relative significance of this factor, can we hope to define the unknown.
Ten men, battalions, or divisions, fighting fifteen men, battalions, or divisions, conquer—that is, kill or take captive—all the others, while themselves losing four, so that on the one side four and on the other fifteen were lost. Consequently the four were equal to the fifteen, and therefore 4x = 15y. Consequently x/y = 15/4. This equation does not give us the value of the unknown factor but gives us a ratio between two unknowns. And by bringing variously selected historic units (battles, campaigns, periods of war) into such equations, a series of numbers could be obtained in which certain laws should exist and might be discovered.
The tactical rule that an army should act in masses when attacking, and in smaller groups in retreat, unconsciously confirms the truth that the strength of an army depends on its spirit. To lead men forward under fire more discipline (obtainable only by movement in masses) is needed than is needed to resist attacks. But this rule which leaves out of account the spirit of the army continually proves incorrect and is in particularly striking contrast to the facts when some strong rise or fall in the spirit of the troops occurs, as in all national wars.
The French, retreating in 1812—though according to tactics they should have separated into detachments to defend themselves—congregated into a mass because the spirit of the army had so fallen that only the mass held the army together. The Russians, on the contrary, ought according to tactics to have attacked in mass, but in fact they split up into small units, because their spirit had so risen that separate individuals, without orders, dealt blows at the French without needing any compulsion to induce them to expose themselves to hardships and dangers.
The so-called partisan war began with the entry of the French into Smolensk.
Before partisan warfare had been officially recognized by the government, thousands of enemy stragglers, marauders, and foragers had been destroyed by the Cossacks and the peasants, who killed them off as instinctively as dogs worry a stray mad dog to death. Denis Davydov, with his Russian instinct, was the first to recognize the value of this terrible cudgel which regardless of the rules of military science destroyed the French, and to him belongs the credit for taking the first step toward regularizing this method of warfare.
On August 24 Davydov's first partisan detachment was formed and then others were recognized. The further the campaign progressed the more numerous these detachments became.
The irregulars destroyed the great army piecemeal. They gathered the fallen leaves that dropped of themselves from that withered tree—the French army—and sometimes shook that tree itself. By October, when the French were fleeing toward Smolensk, there were hundreds of such companies, of various sizes and characters. There were some that adopted all the army methods and had infantry, artillery, staffs, and the comforts of life. Others consisted solely of Cossack cavalry. There were also small scratch groups of foot and horse, and groups of peasants and landowners that remained unknown. A sacristan commanded one party which captured several hundred prisoners in the course of a month; and there was Vasilisa, the wife of a village elder, who slew hundreds of the French.
The partisan warfare flamed up most fiercely in the latter days of October. Its first period had passed: when the partisans themselves, amazed at their own boldness, feared every minute to be surrounded and captured by the French, and hid in the forests without unsaddling, hardly daring to dismount and always expecting to be pursued. By the end of October this kind of warfare had taken definite shape: it had become clear to all what could be ventured against the French and what could not. Now only the commanders of detachments with staffs, and moving according to rules at a distance from the French, still regarded many things as impossible. The small bands that had started their activities long before and had already observed the French closely considered things possible which the commanders of the big detachments did not dare to contemplate. The Cossacks and peasants who crept in among the French now considered everything possible.
On October 22, Denisov (who was one of the irregulars) was with his group at the height of the guerrilla enthusiasm. Since early morning he and his party had been on the move. All day long he had been watching from the forest that skirted the highroad a large French convoy of cavalry baggage and Russian prisoners separated from the rest of the army, which—as was learned from spies and prisoners—was moving under a strong escort to Smolensk. Besides Denisov and Dolokhov (who also led a small party and moved in Denisov's vicinity), the commanders of some large divisions with staffs also knew of this convoy and, as Denisov expressed it, were sharpening their teeth for it. Two of the commanders of large parties—one a Pole and the other a German—sent invitations to Denisov almost simultaneously, requesting him to join up with their divisions to attack the convoy.
"No, bwother, I have gwown mustaches myself," said Denisov on reading these documents, and he wrote to the German that, despite his heartfelt desire to serve under so valiant and renowned a general, he had to forgo that pleasure because he was already under the command of the Polish general. To the Polish general he replied to the same effect, informing him that he was already under the command of the German.
Having arranged matters thus, Denisov and Dolokhov intended, without reporting matters to the higher command, to attack and seize that convoy with their own small forces. On October 22 it was moving from the village of Mikulino to that of Shamshevo. To the left of the road between Mikulino and Shamshevo there were large forests, extending in some places up to the road itself though in others a mile or more back from it. Through these forests Denisov and his party rode all day, sometimes keeping well back in them and sometimes coming to the very edge, but never losing sight of the moving French. That morning, Cossacks of Denisov's party had seized and carried off into the forest two wagons loaded with cavalry saddles, which had stuck in the mud not far from Mikulino where the forest ran close to the road. Since then, and until evening, the party had watched the movements of the French without attacking. It was necessary to let the French reach Shamshevo quietly without alarming them and then, after joining Dolokhov who was to come that evening to a consultation at a watchman's hut in the forest less than a mile from Shamshevo, to surprise the French at dawn, falling like an avalanche on their heads from two sides, and rout and capture them all at one blow.
In their rear, more than a mile from Mikulino where the forest came right up to the road, six Cossacks were posted to report if any fresh columns of French should show themselves.
Beyond Shamshevo, Dolokhov was to observe the road in the same way, to find out at what distance there were other French troops. They reckoned that the convoy had fifteen hundred men. Denisov had two hundred, and Dolokhov might have as many more, but the disparity of numbers did not deter Denisov. All that he now wanted to know was what troops these were and to learn that he had to capture a "tongue"—that is, a man from the enemy column. That morning's attack on the wagons had been made so hastily that the Frenchmen with the wagons had all been killed; only a little drummer boy had been taken alive, and as he was a straggler he could tell them nothing definite about the troops in that column.
Denisov considered it dangerous to make a second attack for fear of putting the whole column on the alert, so he sent Tikhon Shcherbaty, a peasant of his party, to Shamshevo to try and seize at least one of the French quartermasters who had been sent on in advance.
It was a warm rainy autumn day. The sky and the horizon were both the color of muddy water. At times a sort of mist descended, and then suddenly heavy slanting rain came down.
Denisov in a felt cloak and a sheepskin cap from which the rain ran down was riding a thin thoroughbred horse with sunken sides. Like his horse, which turned its head and laid its ears back, he shrank from the driving rain and gazed anxiously before him. His thin face with its short, thick black beard looked angry.
Beside Denisov rode an esaul, * Denisov's fellow worker, also in felt cloak and sheepskin cap, and riding a large sleek Don horse.
* A captain of Cossacks.
Esaul Lovayski the Third was a tall man as straight as an arrow, pale-faced, fair-haired, with narrow light eyes and with calm self-satisfaction in his face and bearing. Though it was impossible to say in what the peculiarity of the horse and rider lay, yet at first glance at the esaul and Denisov one saw that the latter was wet and uncomfortable and was a man mounted on a horse, while looking at the esaul one saw that he was as comfortable and as much at ease as always and that he was not a man who had mounted a horse, but a man who was one with his horse, a being consequently possessed of twofold strength.
A little ahead of them walked a peasant guide, wet to the skin and wearing a gray peasant coat and a white knitted cap.
A little behind, on a poor, small, lean Kirghiz mount with an enormous tail and mane and a bleeding mouth, rode a young officer in a blue French overcoat.
Beside him rode an hussar, with a boy in a tattered French uniform and blue cap behind him on the crupper of his horse. The boy held on to the hussar with cold, red hands, and raising his eyebrows gazed about him with surprise. This was the French drummer boy captured that morning.
Behind them along the narrow, sodden, cutup forest road came hussars in threes and fours, and then Cossacks: some in felt cloaks, some in French greatcoats, and some with horsecloths over their heads. The horses, being drenched by the rain, all looked black whether chestnut or bay. Their necks, with their wet, close-clinging manes, looked strangely thin. Steam rose from them. Clothes, saddles, reins, were all wet, slippery, and sodden, like the ground and the fallen leaves that strewed the road. The men sat huddled up trying not to stir, so as to warm the water that had trickled to their bodies and not admit the fresh cold water that was leaking in under their seats, their knees, and at the back of their necks. In the midst of the outspread line of Cossacks two wagons, drawn by French horses and by saddled Cossack horses that had been hitched on in front, rumbled over the tree stumps and branches and splashed through the water that lay in the ruts.
Denisov's horse swerved aside to avoid a pool in the track and bumped his rider's knee against a tree.
"Oh, the devil!" exclaimed Denisov angrily, and showing his teeth he struck his horse three times with his whip, splashing himself and his comrades with mud.
Denisov was out of sorts both because of the rain and also from hunger (none of them had eaten anything since morning), and yet more because he still had no news from Dolokhov and the man sent to capture a "tongue" had not returned.
"There'll hardly be another such chance to fall on a transport as today. It's too risky to attack them by oneself, and if we put it off till another day one of the big guerrilla detachments will snatch the prey from under our noses," thought Denisov, continually peering forward, hoping to see a messenger from Dolokhov.
On coming to a path in the forest along which he could see far to the right, Denisov stopped.
"There's someone coming," said he.
The esaul looked in the direction Denisov indicated.
"There are two, an officer and a Cossack. But it is not presupposable that it is the lieutenant colonel himself," said the esaul, who was fond of using words the Cossacks did not know.
The approaching riders having descended a decline were no longer visible, but they reappeared a few minutes later. In front, at a weary gallop and using his leather whip, rode an officer, disheveled and drenched, whose trousers had worked up to above his knees. Behind him, standing in the stirrups, trotted a Cossack. The officer, a very young lad with a broad rosy face and keen merry eyes, galloped up to Denisov and handed him a sodden envelope.
"From the general," said the officer. "Please excuse its not being quite dry."
Denisov, frowning, took the envelope and opened it.
"There, they kept telling us: 'It's dangerous, it's dangerous,'" said the officer, addressing the esaul while Denisov was reading the dispatch. "But Komarov and I"—he pointed to the Cossack—"were prepared. We have each of us two pistols.... But what's this?" he asked, noticing the French drummer boy. "A prisoner? You've already been in action? May I speak to him?"
"Wostov! Petya!" exclaimed Denisov, having run through the dispatch. "Why didn't you say who you were?" and turning with a smile he held out his hand to the lad.
The officer was Petya Rostov.
All the way Petya had been preparing himself to behave with Denisov as befitted a grownup man and an officer—without hinting at their previous acquaintance. But as soon as Denisov smiled at him Petya brightened up, blushed with pleasure, forgot the official manner he had been rehearsing, and began telling him how he had already been in a battle near Vyazma and how a certain hussar had distinguished himself there.
"Well, I am glad to see you," Denisov interrupted him, and his face again assumed its anxious expression.
"Michael Feoklitych," said he to the esaul, "this is again fwom that German, you know. He"—he indicated Petya—"is serving under him."
And Denisov told the esaul that the dispatch just delivered was a repetition of the German general's demand that he should join forces with him for an attack on the transport.
"If we don't take it tomowwow, he'll snatch it fwom under our noses," he added.
While Denisov was talking to the esaul, Petya—abashed by Denisov's cold tone and supposing that it was due to the condition of his trousers—furtively tried to pull them down under his greatcoat so that no one should notice it, while maintaining as martial an air as possible.
"Will there be any orders, your honor?" he asked Denisov, holding his hand at the salute and resuming the game of adjutant and general for which he had prepared himself, "or shall I remain with your honor?"
"Orders?" Denisov repeated thoughtfully. "But can you stay till tomowwow?"
"Oh, please... May I stay with you?" cried Petya.
"But, just what did the genewal tell you? To weturn at once?" asked Denisov.
"He gave me no instructions. I think I could?" he returned, inquiringly.
"Well, all wight," said Denisov.
And turning to his men he directed a party to go on to the halting place arranged near the watchman's hut in the forest, and told the officer on the Kirghiz horse (who performed the duties of an adjutant) to go and find out where Dolokhov was and whether he would come that evening. Denisov himself intended going with the esaul and Petya to the edge of the forest where it reached out to Shamshevo, to have a look at the part of the French bivouac they were to attack next day.
"Well, old fellow," said he to the peasant guide, "lead us to Shamshevo."
Denisov, Petya, and the esaul, accompanied by some Cossacks and the hussar who had the prisoner, rode to the left across a ravine to the edge of the forest.
The rain had stopped, and only the mist was falling and drops from the trees. Denisov, the esaul, and Petya rode silently, following the peasant in the knitted cap who, stepping lightly with outturned toes and moving noiselessly in his bast shoes over the roots and wet leaves, silently led them to the edge of the forest.
He ascended an incline, stopped, looked about him, and advanced to where the screen of trees was less dense. On reaching a large oak tree that had not yet shed its leaves, he stopped and beckoned mysteriously to them with his hand.
Denisov and Petya rode up to him. From the spot where the peasant was standing they could see the French. Immediately beyond the forest, on a downward slope, lay a field of spring rye. To the right, beyond a steep ravine, was a small village and a landowner's house with a broken roof. In the village, in the house, in the garden, by the well, by the pond, over all the rising ground, and all along the road uphill from the bridge leading to the village, not more than five hundred yards away, crowds of men could be seen through the shimmering mist. Their un-Russian shouting at their horses which were straining uphill with the carts, and their calls to one another, could be clearly heard.
"Bwing the prisoner here," said Denisov in a low voice, not taking his eyes off the French.
A Cossack dismounted, lifted the boy down, and took him to Denisov. Pointing to the French troops, Denisov asked him what these and those of them were. The boy, thrusting his cold hands into his pockets and lifting his eyebrows, looked at Denisov in affright, but in spite of an evident desire to say all he knew gave confused answers, merely assenting to everything Denisov asked him. Denisov turned away from him frowning and addressed the esaul, conveying his own conjectures to him.
Petya, rapidly turning his head, looked now at the drummer boy, now at Denisov, now at the esaul, and now at the French in the village and along the road, trying not to miss anything of importance.
"Whether Dolokhov comes or not, we must seize it, eh?" said Denisov with a merry sparkle in his eyes.
"It is a very suitable spot," said the esaul.
"We'll send the infantwy down by the swamps," Denisov continued. "They'll cweep up to the garden; you'll wide up fwom there with the Cossacks"—he pointed to a spot in the forest beyond the village—"and I with my hussars fwom here. And at the signal shot..."
"The hollow is impassable—there's a swamp there," said the esaul. "The horses would sink. We must ride round more to the left...."
While they were talking in undertones the crack of a shot sounded from the low ground by the pond, a puff of white smoke appeared, then another, and the sound of hundreds of seemingly merry French voices shouting together came up from the slope. For a moment Denisov and the esaul drew back. They were so near that they thought they were the cause of the firing and shouting. But the firing and shouting did not relate to them. Down below, a man wearing something red was running through the marsh. The French were evidently firing and shouting at him.
"Why, that's our Tikhon," said the esaul.
"So it is! It is!"
"The wascal!" said Denisov.
"He'll get away!" said the esaul, screwing up his eyes.
The man whom they called Tikhon, having run to the stream, plunged in so that the water splashed in the air, and, having disappeared for an instant, scrambled out on all fours, all black with the wet, and ran on. The French who had been pursuing him stopped.
"Smart, that!" said the esaul.
"What a beast!" said Denisov with his former look of vexation. "What has he been doing all this time?"
"Who is he?" asked Petya.
"He's our plastun. I sent him to capture a 'tongue.'"
"Oh, yes," said Petya, nodding at the first words Denisov uttered as if he understood it all, though he really did not understand anything of it.
Tikhon Shcherbaty was one of the most indispensable men in their band. He was a peasant from Pokrovsk, near the river Gzhat. When Denisov had come to Pokrovsk at the beginning of his operations and had as usual summoned the village elder and asked him what he knew about the French, the elder, as though shielding himself, had replied, as all village elders did, that he had neither seen nor heard anything of them. But when Denisov explained that his purpose was to kill the French, and asked if no French had strayed that way, the elder replied that some "more-orderers" had really been at their village, but that Tikhon Shcherbaty was the only man who dealt with such matters. Denisov had Tikhon called and, having praised him for his activity, said a few words in the elder's presence about loyalty to the Tsar and the country and the hatred of the French that all sons of the fatherland should cherish.
"We don't do the French any harm," said Tikhon, evidently frightened by Denisov's words. "We only fooled about with the lads for fun, you know! We killed a score or so of 'more-orderers,' but we did no harm else..."
Next day when Denisov had left Pokrovsk, having quite forgotten about this peasant, it was reported to him that Tikhon had attached himself to their party and asked to be allowed to remain with it. Denisov gave orders to let him do so.
Tikhon, who at first did rough work, laying campfires, fetching water, flaying dead horses, and so on, soon showed a great liking and aptitude for partisan warfare. At night he would go out for booty and always brought back French clothing and weapons, and when told to would bring in French captives also. Denisov then relieved him from drudgery and began taking him with him when he went out on expeditions and had him enrolled among the Cossacks.
Tikhon did not like riding, and always went on foot, never lagging behind the cavalry. He was armed with a musketoon (which he carried rather as a joke), a pike and an ax, which latter he used as a wolf uses its teeth, with equal ease picking fleas out of its fur or crunching thick bones. Tikhon with equal accuracy would split logs with blows at arm's length, or holding the head of the ax would cut thin little pegs or carve spoons. In Denisov's party he held a peculiar and exceptional position. When anything particularly difficult or nasty had to be done—to push a cart out of the mud with one's shoulders, pull a horse out of a swamp by its tail, skin it, slink in among the French, or walk more than thirty miles in a day—everybody pointed laughingly at Tikhon.
"It won't hurt that devil—he's as strong as a horse!" they said of him.
Once a Frenchman Tikhon was trying to capture fired a pistol at him and shot him in the fleshy part of the back. That wound (which Tikhon treated only with internal and external applications of vodka) was the subject of the liveliest jokes by the whole detachment—jokes in which Tikhon readily joined.
"Hallo, mate! Never again? Gave you a twist?" the Cossacks would banter him. And Tikhon, purposely writhing and making faces, pretended to be angry and swore at the French with the funniest curses. The only effect of this incident on Tikhon was that after being wounded he seldom brought in prisoners.
He was the bravest and most useful man in the party. No one found more opportunities for attacking, no one captured or killed more Frenchmen, and consequently he was made the buffoon of all the Cossacks and hussars and willingly accepted that role. Now he had been sent by Denisov overnight to Shamshevo to capture a "tongue." But whether because he had not been content to take only one Frenchman or because he had slept through the night, he had crept by day into some bushes right among the French and, as Denisov had witnessed from above, had been detected by them.
After talking for some time with the esaul about next day's attack, which now, seeing how near they were to the French, he seemed to have definitely decided on, Denisov turned his horse and rode back.
"Now, my lad, we'll go and get dwy," he said to Petya.
As they approached the watchhouse Denisov stopped, peering into the forest. Among the trees a man with long legs and long, swinging arms, wearing a short jacket, bast shoes, and a Kazan hat, was approaching with long, light steps. He had a musketoon over his shoulder and an ax stuck in his girdle. When he espied Denisov he hastily threw something into the bushes, removed his sodden hat by its floppy brim, and approached his commander. It was Tikhon. His wrinkled and pockmarked face and narrow little eyes beamed with self-satisfied merriment. He lifted his head high and gazed at Denisov as if repressing a laugh.
"Well, where did you disappear to?" inquired Denisov.
"Where did I disappear to? I went to get Frenchmen," answered Tikhon boldly and hurriedly, in a husky but melodious bass voice.
"Why did you push yourself in there by daylight? You ass! Well, why haven't you taken one?"
"Oh, I took one all right," said Tikhon.
"Where is he?"
"You see, I took him first thing at dawn," Tikhon continued, spreading out his flat feet with outturned toes in their bast shoes. "I took him into the forest. Then I see he's no good and think I'll go and fetch a likelier one."
"You see?... What a wogue—it's just as I thought," said Denisov to the esaul. "Why didn't you bwing that one?"
"What was the good of bringing him?" Tikhon interrupted hastily and angrily—"that one wouldn't have done for you. As if I don't know what sort you want!"
"What a bwute you are!... Well?"
"I went for another one," Tikhon continued, "and I crept like this through the wood and lay down." (He suddenly lay down on his stomach with a supple movement to show how he had done it.) "One turned up and I grabbed him, like this." (He jumped up quickly and lightly.) "'Come along to the colonel,' I said. He starts yelling, and suddenly there were four of them. They rushed at me with their little swords. So I went for them with my ax, this way: 'What are you up to?' says I. 'Christ be with you!'" shouted Tikhon, waving his arms with an angry scowl and throwing out his chest.
"Yes, we saw from the hill how you took to your heels through the puddles!" said the esaul, screwing up his glittering eyes.
Petya badly wanted to laugh, but noticed that they all refrained from laughing. He turned his eyes rapidly from Tikhon's face to the esaul's and Denisov's, unable to make out what it all meant.
"Don't play the fool!" said Denisov, coughing angrily. "Why didn't you bwing the first one?"
Tikhon scratched his back with one hand and his head with the other, then suddenly his whole face expanded into a beaming, foolish grin, disclosing a gap where he had lost a tooth (that was why he was called Shcherbaty—the gap-toothed). Denisov smiled, and Petya burst into a peal of merry laughter in which Tikhon himself joined.
"Oh, but he was a regular good-for-nothing," said Tikhon. "The clothes on him—poor stuff! How could I bring him? And so rude, your honor! Why, he says: 'I'm a general's son myself, I won't go!' he says."
"You are a bwute!" said Denisov. "I wanted to question..."
"But I questioned him," said Tikhon. "He said he didn't know much. 'There are a lot of us,' he says, 'but all poor stuff—only soldiers in name,' he says. 'Shout loud at them,' he says, 'and you'll take them all,'" Tikhon concluded, looking cheerfully and resolutely into Denisov's eyes.
"I'll give you a hundwed sharp lashes—that'll teach you to play the fool!" said Denisov severely.
"But why are you angry?" remonstrated Tikhon, "just as if I'd never seen your Frenchmen! Only wait till it gets dark and I'll fetch you any of them you want—three if you like."
"Well, let's go," said Denisov, and rode all the way to the watchhouse in silence and frowning angrily.
Tikhon followed behind and Petya heard the Cossacks laughing with him and at him, about some pair of boots he had thrown into the bushes.
When the fit of laughter that had seized him at Tikhon's words and smile had passed and Petya realized for a moment that this Tikhon had killed a man, he felt uneasy. He looked round at the captive drummer boy and felt a pang in his heart. But this uneasiness lasted only a moment. He felt it necessary to hold his head higher, to brace himself, and to question the esaul with an air of importance about tomorrow's undertaking, that he might not be unworthy of the company in which he found himself.
The officer who had been sent to inquire met Denisov on the way with the news that Dolokhov was soon coming and that all was well with him.
Denisov at once cheered up and, calling Petya to him, said: "Well, tell me about yourself."
Petya, having left his people after their departure from Moscow, joined his regiment and was soon taken as orderly by a general commanding a large guerrilla detachment. From the time he received his commission, and especially since he had joined the active army and taken part in the battle of Vyazma, Petya had been in a constant state of blissful excitement at being grown-up and in a perpetual ecstatic hurry not to miss any chance to do something really heroic. He was highly delighted with what he saw and experienced in the army, but at the same time it always seemed to him that the really heroic exploits were being performed just where he did not happen to be. And he was always in a hurry to get where he was not.
When on the twenty-first of October his general expressed a wish to send somebody to Denisov's detachment, Petya begged so piteously to be sent that the general could not refuse. But when dispatching him he recalled Petya's mad action at the battle of Vyazma, where instead of riding by the road to the place to which he had been sent, he had galloped to the advanced line under the fire of the French and had there twice fired his pistol. So now the general explicitly forbade his taking part in any action whatever of Denisov's. That was why Petya had blushed and grown confused when Denisov asked him whether he could stay. Before they had ridden to the outskirts of the forest Petya had considered he must carry out his instructions strictly and return at once. But when he saw the French and saw Tikhon and learned that there would certainly be an attack that night, he decided, with the rapidity with which young people change their views, that the general, whom he had greatly respected till then, was a rubbishy German, that Denisov was a hero, the esaul a hero, and Tikhon a hero too, and that it would be shameful for him to leave them at a moment of difficulty.
It was already growing dusk when Denisov, Petya, and the esaul rode up to the watchhouse. In the twilight saddled horses could be seen, and Cossacks and hussars who had rigged up rough shelters in the glade and were kindling glowing fires in a hollow of the forest where the French could not see the smoke. In the passage of the small watchhouse a Cossack with sleeves rolled up was chopping some mutton. In the room three officers of Denisov's band were converting a door into a tabletop. Petya took off his wet clothes, gave them to be dried, and at once began helping the officers to fix up the dinner table.
In ten minutes the table was ready and a napkin spread on it. On the table were vodka, a flask of rum, white bread, roast mutton, and salt.
Sitting at table with the officers and tearing the fat savory mutton with his hands, down which the grease trickled, Petya was in an ecstatic childish state of love for all men, and consequently of confidence that others loved him in the same way.
"So then what do you think, Vasili Dmitrich?" said he to Denisov. "It's all right my staying a day with you?" And not waiting for a reply he answered his own question: "You see I was told to find out—well, I am finding out.... Only do let me into the very... into the chief... I don't want a reward... But I want..."
Petya clenched his teeth and looked around, throwing back his head and flourishing his arms.
"Into the vewy chief..." Denisov repeated with a smile.
"Only, please let me command something, so that I may really command..." Petya went on. "What would it be to you?... Oh, you want a knife?" he said, turning to an officer who wished to cut himself a piece of mutton.
And he handed him his clasp knife. The officer admired it.
"Please keep it. I have several like it," said Petya, blushing. "Heavens! I was quite forgetting!" he suddenly cried. "I have some raisins, fine ones; you know, seedless ones. We have a new sutler and he has such capital things. I bought ten pounds. I am used to something sweet. Would you like some?..." and Petya ran out into the passage to his Cossack and brought back some bags which contained about five pounds of raisins. "Have some, gentlemen, have some!"
"You want a coffeepot, don't you?" he asked the esaul. "I bought a capital one from our sutler! He has splendid things. And he's very honest, that's the chief thing. I'll be sure to send it to you. Or perhaps your flints are giving out, or are worn out—that happens sometimes, you know. I have brought some with me, here they are"—and he showed a bag—"a hundred flints. I bought them very cheap. Please take as many as you want, or all if you like...."
Then suddenly, dismayed lest he had said too much, Petya stopped and blushed.
He tried to remember whether he had not done anything else that was foolish. And running over the events of the day he remembered the French drummer boy. "It's capital for us here, but what of him? Where have they put him? Have they fed him? Haven't they hurt his feelings?" he thought. But having caught himself saying too much about the flints, he was now afraid to speak out.
"I might ask," he thought, "but they'll say: 'He's a boy himself and so he pities the boy.' I'll show them tomorrow whether I'm a boy. Will it seem odd if I ask?" Petya thought. "Well, never mind!" and immediately, blushing and looking anxiously at the officers to see if they appeared ironical, he said:
"May I call in that boy who was taken prisoner and give him something to eat?... Perhaps..."
"Yes, he's a poor little fellow," said Denisov, who evidently saw nothing shameful in this reminder. "Call him in. His name is Vincent Bosse. Have him fetched."
"I'll call him," said Petya.
"Yes, yes, call him. A poor little fellow," Denisov repeated.
Petya was standing at the door when Denisov said this. He slipped in between the officers, came close to Denisov, and said:
"Let me kiss you, dear old fellow! Oh, how fine, how splendid!"
And having kissed Denisov he ran out of the hut.
"Bosse! Vincent!" Petya cried, stopping outside the door.
"Who do you want, sir?" asked a voice in the darkness.
Petya replied that he wanted the French lad who had been captured that day.
"Ah, Vesenny?" said a Cossack.
Vincent, the boy's name, had already been changed by the Cossacks into Vesenny (vernal) and into Vesenya by the peasants and soldiers. In both these adaptations the reference to spring (vesna) matched the impression made by the young lad.
"He is warming himself there by the bonfire. Ho, Vesenya! Vesenya!—Vesenny!" laughing voices were heard calling to one another in the darkness.
"He's a smart lad," said an hussar standing near Petya. "We gave him something to eat a while ago. He was awfully hungry!"
The sound of bare feet splashing through the mud was heard in the darkness, and the drummer boy came to the door.
"Ah, c'est vous!" said Petya. "Voulez-vous manger? N'ayez pas peur, on ne vous fera pas de mal," * he added shyly and affectionately, touching the boy's hand. "Entrez, entrez." *(2)
* "Ah, it's you! Do you want something to eat? Don't be
afraid, they won't hurt you."
* (2) "Come in, come in."
"Merci, monsieur," * said the drummer boy in a trembling almost childish voice, and he began scraping his dirty feet on the threshold.
* "Thank you, sir."
There were many things Petya wanted to say to the drummer boy, but did not dare to. He stood irresolutely beside him in the passage. Then in the darkness he took the boy's hand and pressed it.
"Come in, come in!" he repeated in a gentle whisper. "Oh, what can I do for him?" he thought, and opening the door he let the boy pass in first.
When the boy had entered the hut, Petya sat down at a distance from him, considering it beneath his dignity to pay attention to him. But he fingered the money in his pocket and wondered whether it would seem ridiculous to give some to the drummer boy.
The arrival of Dolokhov diverted Petya's attention from the drummer boy, to whom Denisov had had some mutton and vodka given, and whom he had had dressed in a Russian coat so that he might be kept with their band and not sent away with the other prisoners. Petya had heard in the army many stories of Dolokhov's extraordinary bravery and of his cruelty to the French, so from the moment he entered the hut Petya did not take his eyes from him, but braced himself up more and more and held his head high, that he might not be unworthy even of such company.
Dolokhov's appearance amazed Petya by its simplicity.
Denisov wore a Cossack coat, had a beard, had an icon of Nicholas the Wonder-Worker on his breast, and his way of speaking and everything he did indicated his unusual position. But Dolokhov, who in Moscow had worn a Persian costume, had now the appearance of a most correct officer of the Guards. He was clean-shaven and wore a Guardsman's padded coat with an Order of St. George at his buttonhole and a plain forage cap set straight on his head. He took off his wet felt cloak in a corner of the room, and without greeting anyone went up to Denisov and began questioning him about the matter in hand. Denisov told him of the designs the large detachments had on the transport, of the message Petya had brought, and his own replies to both generals. Then he told him all he knew of the French detachment.
"That's so. But we must know what troops they are and their numbers," said Dolokhov. "It will be necessary to go there. We can't start the affair without knowing for certain how many there are. I like to work accurately. Here now—wouldn't one of these gentlemen like to ride over to the French camp with me? I have brought a spare uniform."
"I, I... I'll go with you!" cried Petya.
"There's no need for you to go at all," said Denisov, addressing Dolokhov, "and as for him, I won't let him go on any account."
"I like that!" exclaimed Petya. "Why shouldn't I go?"
"Because it's useless."
"Well, you must excuse me, because... because... I shall go, and that's all. You'll take me, won't you?" he said, turning to Dolokhov.
"Why not?" Dolokhov answered absently, scrutinizing the face of the French drummer boy. "Have you had that youngster with you long?" he asked Denisov.
"He was taken today but he knows nothing. I'm keeping him with me."
"Yes, and where do you put the others?" inquired Dolokhov.
"Where? I send them away and take a weceipt for them," shouted Denisov, suddenly flushing. "And I say boldly that I have not a single man's life on my conscience. Would it be difficult for you to send thirty or thwee hundwed men to town under escort, instead of staining—I speak bluntly—staining the honor of a soldier?"
"That kind of amiable talk would be suitable from this young count of sixteen," said Dolokhov with cold irony, "but it's time for you to drop it."
"Why, I've not said anything! I only say that I'll certainly go with you," said Petya shyly.
"But for you and me, old fellow, it's time to drop these amenities," continued Dolokhov, as if he found particular pleasure in speaking of this subject which irritated Denisov. "Now, why have you kept this lad?" he went on, swaying his head. "Because you are sorry for him! Don't we know those 'receipts' of yours? You send a hundred men away, and thirty get there. The rest either starve or get killed. So isn't it all the same not to send them?"
The esaul, screwing up his light-colored eyes, nodded approvingly.
"That's not the point. I'm not going to discuss the matter. I do not wish to take it on my conscience. You say they'll die. All wight. Only not by my fault!"
Dolokhov began laughing.
"Who has told them not to capture me these twenty times over? But if they did catch me they'd string me up to an aspen tree, and with all your chivalry just the same." He paused. "However, we must get to work. Tell the Cossack to fetch my kit. I have two French uniforms in it. Well, are you coming with me?" he asked Petya.
"I? Yes, yes, certainly!" cried Petya, blushing almost to tears and glancing at Denisov.
While Dolokhov had been disputing with Denisov what should be done with prisoners, Petya had once more felt awkward and restless; but again he had no time to grasp fully what they were talking about. "If grown-up, distinguished men think so, it must be necessary and right," thought he. "But above all Denisov must not dare to imagine that I'll obey him and that he can order me about. I will certainly go to the French camp with Dolokhov. If he can, so can I!"
And to all Denisov's persuasions, Petya replied that he too was accustomed to do everything accurately and not just anyhow, and that he never considered personal danger.
"For you'll admit that if we don't know for sure how many of them there are... hundreds of lives may depend on it, while there are only two of us. Besides, I want to go very much and certainly will go, so don't hinder me," said he. "It will only make things worse..."
Having put on French greatcoats and shakos, Petya and Dolokhov rode to the clearing from which Denisov had reconnoitered the French camp, and emerging from the forest in pitch darkness they descended into the hollow. On reaching the bottom, Dolokhov told the Cossacks accompanying him to await him there and rode on at a quick trot along the road to the bridge. Petya, his heart in his mouth with excitement, rode by his side.
"If we're caught, I won't be taken alive! I have a pistol," whispered he.
"Don't talk Russian," said Dolokhov in a hurried whisper, and at that very moment they heard through the darkness the challenge: "Qui vive?" * and the click of a musket.
* "Who goes there?"
The blood rushed to Petya's face and he grasped his pistol.
"Lanciers du 6-me," * replied Dolokhov, neither hastening nor slackening his horse's pace.
* "Lancers of the 6th Regiment."
The black figure of a sentinel stood on the bridge.
"Mot d'ordre." *
Dolokhov reined in his horse and advanced at a walk.
"Dites donc, le colonel Gerard est ici?" * he asked.
* "Tell me, is Colonel Gerard here?"
"Mot d'ordre," repeated the sentinel, barring the way and not replying.
"Quand un officier fait sa ronde, les sentinelles ne demandent pas le mot d'ordre..." cried Dolokhov suddenly flaring up and riding straight at the sentinel. "Je vous demande si le colonel est ici." *
* "When an officer is making his round, sentinels don't ask
him for the password.... I am asking you if the colonel is
And without waiting for an answer from the sentinel, who had stepped aside, Dolokhov rode up the incline at a walk.
Noticing the black outline of a man crossing the road, Dolokhov stopped him and inquired where the commander and officers were. The man, a soldier with a sack over his shoulder, stopped, came close up to Dolokhov's horse, touched it with his hand, and explained simply and in a friendly way that the commander and the officers were higher up the hill to the right in the courtyard of the farm, as he called the landowner's house.
Having ridden up the road, on both sides of which French talk could be heard around the campfires, Dolokhov turned into the courtyard of the landowner's house. Having ridden in, he dismounted and approached a big blazing campfire, around which sat several men talking noisily. Something was boiling in a small cauldron at the edge of the fire and a soldier in a peaked cap and blue overcoat, lit up by the fire, was kneeling beside it stirring its contents with a ramrod.
"Oh, he's a hard nut to crack," said one of the officers who was sitting in the shadow at the other side of the fire.
"He'll make them get a move on, those fellows!" said another, laughing.
Both fell silent, peering out through the darkness at the sound of Dolokhov's and Petya's steps as they advanced to the fire leading their horses.
"Bonjour, messieurs!" * said Dolokhov loudly and clearly.
* "Good day, gentlemen."
There was a stir among the officers in the shadow beyond the fire, and one tall, long-necked officer, walking round the fire, came up to Dolokhov.
"Is that you, Clement?" he asked. "Where the devil...?" But, noticing his mistake, he broke off short and, with a frown, greeted Dolokhov as a stranger, asking what he could do for him.
Dolokhov said that he and his companion were trying to overtake their regiment, and addressing the company in general asked whether they knew anything of the 6th Regiment. None of them knew anything, and Petya thought the officers were beginning to look at him and Dolokhov with hostility and suspicion. For some seconds all were silent.
"If you were counting on the evening soup, you have come too late," said a voice from behind the fire with a repressed laugh.
Dolokhov replied that they were not hungry and must push on farther that night.
He handed the horses over to the soldier who was stirring the pot and squatted down on his heels by the fire beside the officer with the long neck. That officer did not take his eyes from Dolokhov and again asked to what regiment he belonged. Dolokhov, as if he had not heard the question, did not reply, but lighting a short French pipe which he took from his pocket began asking the officer in how far the road before them was safe from Cossacks.
"Those brigands are everywhere," replied an officer from behind the fire.
Dolokhov remarked that the Cossacks were a danger only to stragglers such as his companion and himself, "but probably they would not dare to attack large detachments?" he added inquiringly. No one replied.
"Well, now he'll come away," Petya thought every moment as he stood by the campfire listening to the talk.
But Dolokhov restarted the conversation which had dropped and began putting direct questions as to how many men there were in the battalion, how many battalions, and how many prisoners. Asking about the Russian prisoners with that detachment, Dolokhov said:
"A horrid business dragging these corpses about with one! It would be better to shoot such rabble," and burst into loud laughter, so strange that Petya thought the French would immediately detect their disguise, and involuntarily took a step back from the campfire.
No one replied a word to Dolokhov's laughter, and a French officer whom they could not see (he lay wrapped in a greatcoat) rose and whispered something to a companion. Dolokhov got up and called to the soldier who was holding their horses.
"Will they bring our horses or not?" thought Petya, instinctively drawing nearer to Dolokhov.
The horses were brought.
"Good evening, gentlemen," said Dolokhov.
Petya wished to say "Good night" but could not utter a word. The officers were whispering together. Dolokhov was a long time mounting his horse which would not stand still, then he rode out of the yard at a footpace. Petya rode beside him, longing to look round to see whether or not the French were running after them, but not daring to.
Coming out onto the road Dolokhov did not ride back across the open country, but through the village. At one spot he stopped and listened. "Do you hear?" he asked. Petya recognized the sound of Russian voices and saw the dark figures of Russian prisoners round their campfires. When they had descended to the bridge Petya and Dolokhov rode past the sentinel, who without saying a word paced morosely up and down it, then they descended into the hollow where the Cossacks awaited them.
"Well now, good-by. Tell Denisov, 'at the first shot at daybreak,'" said Dolokhov and was about to ride away, but Petya seized hold of him.
"Really!" he cried, "you are such a hero! Oh, how fine, how splendid! How I love you!"
"All right, all right!" said Dolokhov. But Petya did not let go of him and Dolokhov saw through the gloom that Petya was bending toward him and wanted to kiss him. Dolokhov kissed him, laughed, turned his horse, and vanished into the darkness.
Having returned to the watchman's hut, Petya found Denisov in the passage. He was awaiting Petya's return in a state of agitation, anxiety, and self-reproach for having let him go.
"Thank God!" he exclaimed. "Yes, thank God!" he repeated, listening to Petya's rapturous account. "But, devil take you, I haven't slept because of you! Well, thank God. Now lie down. We can still get a nap before morning."
"But... no," said Petya, "I don't want to sleep yet. Besides I know myself, if I fall asleep it's finished. And then I am used to not sleeping before a battle."
He sat awhile in the hut joyfully recalling the details of his expedition and vividly picturing to himself what would happen next day.
Then, noticing that Denisov was asleep, he rose and went out of doors.
It was still quite dark outside. The rain was over, but drops were still falling from the trees. Near the watchman's hut the black shapes of the Cossacks' shanties and of horses tethered together could be seen. Behind the hut the dark shapes of the two wagons with their horses beside them were discernible, and in the hollow the dying campfire gleamed red. Not all the Cossacks and hussars were asleep; here and there, amid the sounds of falling drops and the munching of the horses near by, could be heard low voices which seemed to be whispering.
Petya came out, peered into the darkness, and went up to the wagons. Someone was snoring under them, and around them stood saddled horses munching their oats. In the dark Petya recognized his own horse, which he called "Karabakh" though it was of Ukranian breed, and went up to it.
"Well, Karabakh! We'll do some service tomorrow," said he, sniffing its nostrils and kissing it.
"Why aren't you asleep, sir?" said a Cossack who was sitting under a wagon.
"No, ah... Likhachev—isn't that your name? Do you know I have only just come back! We've been into the French camp."
And Petya gave the Cossack a detailed account not only of his ride but also of his object, and why he considered it better to risk his life than to act "just anyhow."
"Well, you should get some sleep now," said the Cossack.
"No, I am used to this," said Petya. "I say, aren't the flints in your pistols worn out? I brought some with me. Don't you want any? You can have some."
The Cossack bent forward from under the wagon to get a closer look at Petya.
"Because I am accustomed to doing everything accurately," said Petya. "Some fellows do things just anyhow, without preparation, and then they're sorry for it afterwards. I don't like that."
"Just so," said the Cossack.
"Oh yes, another thing! Please, my dear fellow, will you sharpen my saber for me? It's got bl..." (Petya feared to tell a lie, and the saber never had been sharpened.) "Can you do it?"
"Of course I can."
Likhachev got up, rummaged in his pack, and soon Petya heard the warlike sound of steel on whetstone. He climbed onto the wagon and sat on its edge. The Cossack was sharpening the saber under the wagon.
"I say! Are the lads asleep?" asked Petya.
"Some are, and some aren't—like us."
"Well, and that boy?"
"Vesenny? Oh, he's thrown himself down there in the passage. Fast asleep after his fright. He was that glad!"
After that Petya remained silent for a long time, listening to the sounds. He heard footsteps in the darkness and a black figure appeared.
"What are you sharpening?" asked a man coming up to the wagon.
"Why, this gentleman's saber."
"That's right," said the man, whom Petya took to be an hussar. "Was the cup left here?"
"There, by the wheel!"
The hussar took the cup.
"It must be daylight soon," said he, yawning, and went away.
Petya ought to have known that he was in a forest with Denisov's guerrilla band, less than a mile from the road, sitting on a wagon captured from the French beside which horses were tethered, that under it Likhachev was sitting sharpening a saber for him, that the big dark blotch to the right was the watchman's hut, and the red blotch below to the left was the dying embers of a campfire, that the man who had come for the cup was an hussar who wanted a drink; but he neither knew nor waited to know anything of all this. He was in a fairy kingdom where nothing resembled reality. The big dark blotch might really be the watchman's hut or it might be a cavern leading to the very depths of the earth. Perhaps the red spot was a fire, or it might be the eye of an enormous monster. Perhaps he was really sitting on a wagon, but it might very well be that he was not sitting on a wagon but on a terribly high tower from which, if he fell, he would have to fall for a whole day or a whole month, or go on falling and never reach the bottom. Perhaps it was just the Cossack, Likhachev, who was sitting under the wagon, but it might be the kindest, bravest, most wonderful, most splendid man in the world, whom no one knew of. It might really have been that the hussar came for water and went back into the hollow, but perhaps he had simply vanished—disappeared altogether and dissolved into nothingness.
Nothing Petya could have seen now would have surprised him. He was in a fairy kingdom where everything was possible.
He looked up at the sky. And the sky was a fairy realm like the earth. It was clearing, and over the tops of the trees clouds were swiftly sailing as if unveiling the stars. Sometimes it looked as if the clouds were passing, and a clear black sky appeared. Sometimes it seemed as if the black spaces were clouds. Sometimes the sky seemed to be rising high, high overhead, and then it seemed to sink so low that one could touch it with one's hand.
Petya's eyes began to close and he swayed a little.
The trees were dripping. Quiet talking was heard. The horses neighed and jostled one another. Someone snored.
"Ozheg-zheg, Ozheg-zheg..." hissed the saber against the whetstone, and suddenly Petya heard an harmonious orchestra playing some unknown, sweetly solemn hymn. Petya was as musical as Natasha and more so than Nicholas, but had never learned music or thought about it, and so the melody that unexpectedly came to his mind seemed to him particularly fresh and attractive. The music became more and more audible. The melody grew and passed from one instrument to another. And what was played was a fugue—though Petya had not the least conception of what a fugue is. Each instrument—now resembling a violin and now a horn, but better and clearer than violin or horn—played its own part, and before it had finished the melody merged with another instrument that began almost the same air, and then with a third and a fourth; and they all blended into one and again became separate and again blended, now into solemn church music, now into something dazzlingly brilliant and triumphant.
"Oh—why, that was in a dream!" Petya said to himself, as he lurched forward. "It's in my ears. But perhaps it's music of my own. Well, go on, my music! Now!..."
He closed his eyes, and, from all sides as if from a distance, sounds fluttered, grew into harmonies, separated, blended, and again all mingled into the same sweet and solemn hymn. "Oh, this is delightful! As much as I like and as I like!" said Petya to himself. He tried to conduct that enormous orchestra.
"Now softly, softly die away!" and the sounds obeyed him. "Now fuller, more joyful. Still more and more joyful!" And from an unknown depth rose increasingly triumphant sounds. "Now voices join in!" ordered Petya. And at first from afar he heard men's voices and then women's. The voices grew in harmonious triumphant strength, and Petya listened to their surpassing beauty in awe and joy.
With a solemn triumphal march there mingled a song, the drip from the trees, and the hissing of the saber, "Ozheg-zheg-zheg..." and again the horses jostled one another and neighed, not disturbing the choir but joining in it.
Petya did not know how long this lasted: he enjoyed himself all the time, wondered at his enjoyment and regretted that there was no one to share it. He was awakened by Likhachev's kindly voice.
"It's ready, your honor; you can split a Frenchman in half with it!"
Petya woke up.
"It's getting light, it's really getting light!" he exclaimed.
The horses that had previously been invisible could now be seen to their very tails, and a watery light showed itself through the bare branches. Petya shook himself, jumped up, took a ruble from his pocket and gave it to Likhachev; then he flourished the saber, tested it, and sheathed it. The Cossacks were untying their horses and tightening their saddle girths.
"And here's the commander," said Likhachev.
Denisov came out of the watchman's hut and, having called Petya, gave orders to get ready.
The men rapidly picked out their horses in the semidarkness, tightened their saddle girths, and formed companies. Denisov stood by the watchman's hut giving final orders. The infantry of the detachment passed along the road and quickly disappeared amid the trees in the mist of early dawn, hundreds of feet splashing through the mud. The esaul gave some orders to his men. Petya held his horse by the bridle, impatiently awaiting the order to mount. His face, having been bathed in cold water, was all aglow, and his eyes were particularly brilliant. Cold shivers ran down his spine and his whole body pulsed rhythmically.
"Well, is ev'wything weady?" asked Denisov. "Bwing the horses."
The horses were brought. Denisov was angry with the Cossack because the saddle girths were too slack, reproved him, and mounted. Petya put his foot in the stirrup. His horse by habit made as if to nip his leg, but Petya leaped quickly into the saddle unconscious of his own weight and, turning to look at the hussars starting in the darkness behind him, rode up to Denisov.
"Vasili Dmitrich, entrust me with some commission! Please... for God's sake...!" said he.
Denisov seemed to have forgotten Petya's very existence. He turned to glance at him.
"I ask one thing of you," he said sternly, "to obey me and not shove yourself forward anywhere."
He did not say another word to Petya but rode in silence all the way. When they had come to the edge of the forest it was noticeably growing light over the field. Denisov talked in whispers with the esaul and the Cossacks rode past Petya and Denisov. When they had all ridden by, Denisov touched his horse and rode down the hill. Slipping onto their haunches and sliding, the horses descended with their riders into the ravine. Petya rode beside Denisov, the pulsation of his body constantly increasing. It was getting lighter and lighter, but the mist still hid distant objects. Having reached the valley, Denisov looked back and nodded to a Cossack beside him.
"The signal!" said he.
The Cossack raised his arm and a shot rang out. In an instant the tramp of horses galloping forward was heard, shouts came from various sides, and then more shots.
At the first sound of trampling hoofs and shouting, Petya lashed his horse and loosening his rein galloped forward, not heeding Denisov who shouted at him. It seemed to Petya that at the moment the shot was fired it suddenly became as bright as noon. He galloped to the bridge. Cossacks were galloping along the road in front of him. On the bridge he collided with a Cossack who had fallen behind, but he galloped on. In front of him soldiers, probably Frenchmen, were running from right to left across the road. One of them fell in the mud under his horse's feet.
Cossacks were crowding about a hut, busy with something. From the midst of that crowd terrible screams arose. Petya galloped up, and the first thing he saw was the pale face and trembling jaw of a Frenchman, clutching the handle of a lance that had been aimed at him.
"Hurrah!... Lads!... ours!" shouted Petya, and giving rein to his excited horse he galloped forward along the village street.
He could hear shooting ahead of him. Cossacks, hussars, and ragged Russian prisoners, who had come running from both sides of the road, were shouting something loudly and incoherently. A gallant-looking Frenchman, in a blue overcoat, capless, and with a frowning red face, had been defending himself against the hussars. When Petya galloped up the Frenchman had already fallen. "Too late again!" flashed through Petya's mind and he galloped on to the place from which the rapid firing could be heard. The shots came from the yard of the landowner's house he had visited the night before with Dolokhov. The French were making a stand there behind a wattle fence in a garden thickly overgrown with bushes and were firing at the Cossacks who crowded at the gateway. Through the smoke, as he approached the gate, Petya saw Dolokhov, whose face was of a pale-greenish tint, shouting to his men. "Go round! Wait for the infantry!" he exclaimed as Petya rode up to him.
"Wait?... Hurrah-ah-ah!" shouted Petya, and without pausing a moment galloped to the place whence came the sounds of firing and where the smoke was thickest.
A volley was heard, and some bullets whistled past, while others plashed against something. The Cossacks and Dolokhov galloped after Petya into the gateway of the courtyard. In the dense wavering smoke some of the French threw down their arms and ran out of the bushes to meet the Cossacks, while others ran down the hill toward the pond. Petya was galloping along the courtyard, but instead of holding the reins he waved both his arms about rapidly and strangely, slipping farther and farther to one side in his saddle. His horse, having galloped up to a campfire that was smoldering in the morning light, stopped suddenly, and Petya fell heavily on to the wet ground. The Cossacks saw that his arms and legs jerked rapidly though his head was quite motionless. A bullet had pierced his skull.
After speaking to the senior French officer, who came out of the house with a white handkerchief tied to his sword and announced that they surrendered, Dolokhov dismounted and went up to Petya, who lay motionless with outstretched arms.
"Done for!" he said with a frown, and went to the gate to meet Denisov who was riding toward him.
"Killed?" cried Denisov, recognizing from a distance the unmistakably lifeless attitude—very familiar to him—in which Petya's body was lying.
"Done for!" repeated Dolokhov as if the utterance of these words afforded him pleasure, and he went quickly up to the prisoners, who were surrounded by Cossacks who had hurried up. "We won't take them!" he called out to Denisov.
Denisov did not reply; he rode up to Petya, dismounted, and with trembling hands turned toward himself the bloodstained, mud-bespattered face which had already gone white.
"I am used to something sweet. Raisins, fine ones... take them all!" he recalled Petya's words. And the Cossacks looked round in surprise at the sound, like the yelp of a dog, with which Denisov turned away, walked to the wattle fence, and seized hold of it.
Among the Russian prisoners rescued by Denisov and Dolokhov was Pierre Bezukhov.
During the whole of their march from Moscow no fresh orders had been issued by the French authorities concerning the party of prisoners among whom was Pierre. On the twenty-second of October that party was no longer with the same troops and baggage trains with which it had left Moscow. Half the wagons laden with hardtack that had traveled the first stages with them had been captured by Cossacks, the other half had gone on ahead. Not one of those dismounted cavalrymen who had marched in front of the prisoners was left; they had all disappeared. The artillery the prisoners had seen in front of them during the first days was now replaced by Marshal Junot's enormous baggage train, convoyed by Westphalians. Behind the prisoners came a cavalry baggage train.
From Vyazma onwards the French army, which had till then moved in three columns, went on as a single group. The symptoms of disorder that Pierre had noticed at their first halting place after leaving Moscow had now reached the utmost limit.
The road along which they moved was bordered on both sides by dead horses; ragged men who had fallen behind from various regiments continually changed about, now joining the moving column, now again lagging behind it.
Several times during the march false alarms had been given and the soldiers of the escort had raised their muskets, fired, and run headlong, crushing one another, but had afterwards reassembled and abused each other for their causeless panic.
These three groups traveling together—the cavalry stores, the convoy of prisoners, and Junot's baggage train—still constituted a separate and united whole, though each of the groups was rapidly melting away.
Of the artillery baggage train which had consisted of a hundred and twenty wagons, not more than sixty now remained; the rest had been captured or left behind. Some of Junot's wagons also had been captured or abandoned. Three wagons had been raided and robbed by stragglers from Davout's corps. From the talk of the Germans Pierre learned that a larger guard had been allotted to that baggage train than to the prisoners, and that one of their comrades, a German soldier, had been shot by the marshal's own order because a silver spoon belonging to the marshal had been found in his possession.
The group of prisoners had melted away most of all. Of the three hundred and thirty men who had set out from Moscow fewer than a hundred now remained. The prisoners were more burdensome to the escort than even the cavalry saddles or Junot's baggage. They understood that the saddles and Junot's spoon might be of some use, but that cold and hungry soldiers should have to stand and guard equally cold and hungry Russians who froze and lagged behind on the road (in which case the order was to shoot them) was not merely incomprehensible but revolting. And the escort, as if afraid, in the grievous condition they themselves were in, of giving way to the pity they felt for the prisoners and so rendering their own plight still worse, treated them with particular moroseness and severity.
At Dorogobuzh while the soldiers of the convoy, after locking the prisoners in a stable, had gone off to pillage their own stores, several of the soldier prisoners tunneled under the wall and ran away, but were recaptured by the French and shot.
The arrangement adopted when they started, that the officer prisoners should be kept separate from the rest, had long since been abandoned. All who could walk went together, and after the third stage Pierre had rejoined Karataev and the gray-blue bandy-legged dog that had chosen Karataev for its master.
On the third day after leaving Moscow Karataev again fell ill with the fever he had suffered from in the hospital in Moscow, and as he grew gradually weaker Pierre kept away from him. Pierre did not know why, but since Karataev had begun to grow weaker it had cost him an effort to go near him. When he did so and heard the subdued moaning with which Karataev generally lay down at the halting places, and when he smelled the odor emanating from him which was now stronger than before, Pierre moved farther away and did not think about him.
While imprisoned in the shed Pierre had learned not with his intellect but with his whole being, by life itself, that man is created for happiness, that happiness is within him, in the satisfaction of simple human needs, and that all unhappiness arises not from privation but from superfluity. And now during these last three weeks of the march he had learned still another new, consolatory truth—that nothing in this world is terrible. He had learned that as there is no condition in which man can be happy and entirely free, so there is no condition in which he need be unhappy and lack freedom. He learned that suffering and freedom have their limits and that those limits are very near together; that the person in a bed of roses with one crumpled petal suffered as keenly as he now, sleeping on the bare damp earth with one side growing chilled while the other was warming; and that when he had put on tight dancing shoes he had suffered just as he did now when he walked with bare feet that were covered with sores—his footgear having long since fallen to pieces. He discovered that when he had married his wife—of his own free will as it had seemed to him—he had been no more free than now when they locked him up at night in a stable. Of all that he himself subsequently termed his sufferings, but which at the time he scarcely felt, the worst was the state of his bare, raw, and scab-covered feet. (The horseflesh was appetizing and nourishing, the saltpeter flavor of the gunpowder they used instead of salt was even pleasant; there was no great cold, it was always warm walking in the daytime, and at night there were the campfires; the lice that devoured him warmed his body.) The one thing that was at first hard to bear was his feet.
After the second day's march Pierre, having examined his feet by the campfire, thought it would be impossible to walk on them; but when everybody got up he went along, limping, and, when he had warmed up, walked without feeling the pain, though at night his feet were more terrible to look at than before. However, he did not look at them now, but thought of other things.
Only now did Pierre realize the full strength of life in man and the saving power he has of transferring his attention from one thing to another, which is like the safety valve of a boiler that allows superfluous steam to blow off when the pressure exceeds a certain limit.
He did not see and did not hear how they shot the prisoners who lagged behind, though more than a hundred perished in that way. He did not think of Karataev who grew weaker every day and evidently would soon have to share that fate. Still less did Pierre think about himself. The harder his position became and the more terrible the future, the more independent of that position in which he found himself were the joyful and comforting thoughts, memories, and imaginings that came to him.
At midday on the twenty-second of October Pierre was going uphill along the muddy, slippery road, looking at his feet and at the roughness of the way. Occasionally he glanced at the familiar crowd around him and then again at his feet. The former and the latter were alike familiar and his own. The blue-gray bandy legged dog ran merrily along the side of the road, sometimes in proof of its agility and self-satisfaction lifting one hind leg and hopping along on three, and then again going on all four and rushing to bark at the crows that sat on the carrion. The dog was merrier and sleeker than it had been in Moscow. All around lay the flesh of different animals—from men to horses—in various stages of decomposition; and as the wolves were kept off by the passing men the dog could eat all it wanted.
It had been raining since morning and had seemed as if at any moment it might cease and the sky clear, but after a short break it began raining harder than before. The saturated road no longer absorbed the water, which ran along the ruts in streams.
Pierre walked along, looking from side to side, counting his steps in threes, and reckoning them off on his fingers. Mentally addressing the rain, he repeated: "Now then, now then, go on! Pelt harder!"
It seemed to him that he was thinking of nothing, but far down and deep within him his soul was occupied with something important and comforting. This something was a most subtle spiritual deduction from a conversation with Karataev the day before.
At their yesterday's halting place, feeling chilly by a dying campfire, Pierre had got up and gone to the next one, which was burning better. There Platon Karataev was sitting covered up—head and all—with his greatcoat as if it were a vestment, telling the soldiers in his effective and pleasant though now feeble voice a story Pierre knew. It was already past midnight, the hour when Karataev was usually free of his fever and particularly lively. When Pierre reached the fire and heard Platon's voice enfeebled by illness, and saw his pathetic face brightly lit up by the blaze, he felt a painful prick at his heart. His feeling of pity for this man frightened him and he wished to go away, but there was no other fire, and Pierre sat down, trying not to look at Platon.
"Well, how are you?" he asked.
"How am I? If we grumble at sickness, God won't grant us death," replied Platon, and at once resumed the story he had begun.
"And so, brother," he continued, with a smile on his pale emaciated face and a particularly happy light in his eyes, "you see, brother..."
Pierre had long been familiar with that story. Karataev had told it to him alone some half-dozen times and always with a specially joyful emotion. But well as he knew it, Pierre now listened to that tale as to something new, and the quiet rapture Karataev evidently felt as he told it communicated itself also to Pierre. The story was of an old merchant who lived a good and God-fearing life with his family, and who went once to the Nizhni fair with a companion—a rich merchant.
Having put up at an inn they both went to sleep, and next morning his companion was found robbed and with his throat cut. A bloodstained knife was found under the old merchant's pillow. He was tried, knouted, and his nostrils having been torn off, "all in due form" as Karataev put it, he was sent to hard labor in Siberia.
"And so, brother" (it was at this point that Pierre came up), "ten years or more passed by. The old man was living as a convict, submitting as he should and doing no wrong. Only he prayed to God for death. Well, one night the convicts were gathered just as we are, with the old man among them. And they began telling what each was suffering for, and how they had sinned against God. One told how he had taken a life, another had taken two, a third had set a house on fire, while another had simply been a vagrant and had done nothing. So they asked the old man: 'What are you being punished for, Daddy?'—'I, my dear brothers,' said he, 'am being punished for my own and other men's sins. But I have not killed anyone or taken anything that was not mine, but have only helped my poorer brothers. I was a merchant, my dear brothers, and had much property. 'And he went on to tell them all about it in due order. 'I don't grieve for myself,' he says, 'God, it seems, has chastened me. Only I am sorry for my old wife and the children,' and the old man began to weep. Now it happened that in the group was the very man who had killed the other merchant. 'Where did it happen, Daddy?' he said. 'When, and in what month?' He asked all about it and his heart began to ache. So he comes up to the old man like this, and falls down at his feet! 'You are perishing because of me, Daddy,' he says. 'It's quite true, lads, that this man,' he says, 'is being tortured innocently and for nothing! I,' he says, 'did that deed, and I put the knife under your head while you were asleep. Forgive me, Daddy,' he says, 'for Christ's sake!'"
Karataev paused, smiling joyously as he gazed into the fire, and he drew the logs together.
"And the old man said, 'God will forgive you, we are all sinners in His sight. I suffer for my own sins,' and he wept bitter tears. Well, and what do you think, dear friends?" Karataev continued, his face brightening more and more with a rapturous smile as if what he now had to tell contained the chief charm and the whole meaning of his story: "What do you think, dear fellows? That murderer confessed to the authorities. 'I have taken six lives,' he says (he was a great sinner), 'but what I am most sorry for is this old man. Don't let him suffer because of me.' So he confessed and it was all written down and the papers sent off in due form. The place was a long way off, and while they were judging, what with one thing and another, filling in the papers all in due form—the authorities I mean—time passed. The affair reached the Tsar. After a while the Tsar's decree came: to set the merchant free and give him a compensation that had been awarded. The paper arrived and they began to look for the old man. 'Where is the old man who has been suffering innocently and in vain? A paper has come from the Tsar!' so they began looking for him," here Karataev's lower jaw trembled, "but God had already forgiven him—he was dead! That's how it was, dear fellows!" Karataev concluded and sat for a long time silent, gazing before him with a smile.
And Pierre's soul was dimly but joyfully filled not by the story itself but by its mysterious significance: by the rapturous joy that lit up Karataev's face as he told it, and the mystic significance of that joy.
"A vos places!" * suddenly cried a voice.
* "To your places."
A pleasant feeling of excitement and an expectation of something joyful and solemn was aroused among the soldiers of the convoy and the prisoners. From all sides came shouts of command, and from the left came smartly dressed cavalrymen on good horses, passing the prisoners at a trot. The expression on all faces showed the tension people feel at the approach of those in authority. The prisoners thronged together and were pushed off the road. The convoy formed up.
"The Emperor! The Emperor! The Marshal! The Duke!" and hardly had the sleek cavalry passed, before a carriage drawn by six gray horses rattled by. Pierre caught a glimpse of a man in a three-cornered hat with a tranquil look on his handsome, plump, white face. It was one of the marshals. His eye fell on Pierre's large and striking figure, and in the expression with which he frowned and looked away Pierre thought he detected sympathy and a desire to conceal that sympathy.
The general in charge of the stores galloped after the carriage with a red and frightened face, whipping up his skinny horse. Several officers formed a group and some soldiers crowded round them. Their faces all looked excited and worried.
"What did he say? What did he say?" Pierre heard them ask.
While the marshal was passing, the prisoners had huddled together in a crowd, and Pierre saw Karataev whom he had not yet seen that morning. He sat in his short overcoat leaning against a birch tree. On his face, besides the look of joyful emotion it had worn yesterday while telling the tale of the merchant who suffered innocently, there was now an expression of quiet solemnity.
Karataev looked at Pierre with his kindly round eyes now filled with tears, evidently wishing him to come near that he might say something to him. But Pierre was not sufficiently sure of himself. He made as if he did not notice that look and moved hastily away.
When the prisoners again went forward Pierre looked round. Karataev was still sitting at the side of the road under the birch tree and two Frenchmen were talking over his head. Pierre did not look round again but went limping up the hill.
From behind, where Karataev had been sitting, came the sound of a shot. Pierre heard it plainly, but at that moment he remembered that he had not yet finished reckoning up how many stages still remained to Smolensk—a calculation he had begun before the marshal went by. And he again started reckoning. Two French soldiers ran past Pierre, one of whom carried a lowered and smoking gun. They both looked pale, and in the expression on their faces—one of them glanced timidly at Pierre—there was something resembling what he had seen on the face of the young soldier at the execution. Pierre looked at the soldier and remembered that, two days before, that man had burned his shirt while drying it at the fire and how they had laughed at him.
Behind him, where Karataev had been sitting, the dog began to howl. "What a stupid beast! Why is it howling?" thought Pierre.
His comrades, the prisoner soldiers walking beside him, avoided looking back at the place where the shot had been fired and the dog was howling, just as Pierre did, but there was a set look on all their faces.
The stores, the prisoners, and the marshal's baggage train stopped at the village of Shamshevo. The men crowded together round the campfires. Pierre went up to the fire, ate some roast horseflesh, lay down with his back to the fire, and immediately fell asleep. He again slept as he had done at Mozhaysk after the battle of Borodino.
Again real events mingled with dreams and again someone, he or another, gave expression to his thoughts, and even to the same thoughts that had been expressed in his dream at Mozhaysk.
"Life is everything. Life is God. Everything changes and moves and that movement is God. And while there is life there is joy in consciousness of the divine. To love life is to love God. Harder and more blessed than all else is to love this life in one's sufferings, in innocent sufferings."
"Karataev!" came to Pierre's mind.
And suddenly he saw vividly before him a long-forgotten, kindly old man who had given him geography lessons in Switzerland. "Wait a bit," said the old man, and showed Pierre a globe. This globe was alive—a vibrating ball without fixed dimensions. Its whole surface consisted of drops closely pressed together, and all these drops moved and changed places, sometimes several of them merging into one, sometimes one dividing into many. Each drop tried to spread out and occupy as much space as possible, but others striving to do the same compressed it, sometimes destroyed it, and sometimes merged with it.
"That is life," said the old teacher.
"How simple and clear it is," thought Pierre. "How is it I did not know it before?"
"God is in the midst, and each drop tries to expand so as to reflect Him to the greatest extent. And it grows, merges, disappears from the surface, sinks to the depths, and again emerges. There now, Karataev has spread out and disappeared. Do you understand, my child?" said the teacher.
"Do you understand, damn you?" shouted a voice, and Pierre woke up.
He lifted himself and sat up. A Frenchman who had just pushed a Russian soldier away was squatting by the fire, engaged in roasting a piece of meat stuck on a ramrod. His sleeves were rolled up and his sinewy, hairy, red hands with their short fingers deftly turned the ramrod. His brown morose face with frowning brows was clearly visible by the glow of the charcoal.
"It's all the same to him," he muttered, turning quickly to a soldier who stood behind him. "Brigand! Get away!"
And twisting the ramrod he looked gloomily at Pierre, who turned away and gazed into the darkness. A prisoner, the Russian soldier the Frenchman had pushed away, was sitting near the fire patting something with his hand. Looking more closely Pierre recognized the blue-gray dog, sitting beside the soldier, wagging its tail.
"Ah, he's come?" said Pierre. "And Plat-" he began, but did not finish.
Suddenly and simultaneously a crowd of memories awoke in his fancy—of the look Platon had given him as he sat under the tree, of the shot heard from that spot, of the dog's howl, of the guilty faces of the two Frenchmen as they ran past him, of the lowered and smoking gun, and of Karataev's absence at this halt—and he was on the point of realizing that Karataev had been killed, but just at that instant, he knew not why, the recollection came to his mind of a summer evening he had spent with a beautiful Polish lady on the veranda of his house in Kiev. And without linking up the events of the day or drawing a conclusion from them, Pierre closed his eyes, seeing a vision of the country in summertime mingled with memories of bathing and of the liquid, vibrating globe, and he sank into water so that it closed over his head.
Before sunrise he was awakened by shouts and loud and rapid firing. French soldiers were running past him.
"The Cossacks!" one of them shouted, and a moment later a crowd of Russians surrounded Pierre.
For a long time he could not understand what was happening to him. All around he heard his comrades sobbing with joy.
"Brothers! Dear fellows! Darlings!" old soldiers exclaimed, weeping, as they embraced Cossacks and hussars.
The hussars and Cossacks crowded round the prisoners; one offered them clothes, another boots, and a third bread. Pierre sobbed as he sat among them and could not utter a word. He hugged the first soldier who approached him, and kissed him, weeping.
Dolokhov stood at the gate of the ruined house, letting a crowd of disarmed Frenchmen pass by. The French, excited by all that had happened, were talking loudly among themselves, but as they passed Dolokhov who gently switched his boots with his whip and watched them with cold glassy eyes that boded no good, they became silent. On the opposite side stood Dolokhov's Cossack, counting the prisoners and marking off each hundred with a chalk line on the gate.
"How many?" Dolokhov asked the Cossack.
"The second hundred," replied the Cossack.
"Filez, filez!" * Dolokhov kept saying, having adopted this expression from the French, and when his eyes met those of the prisoners they flashed with a cruel light.
* "Get along, get along!"
Denisov, bareheaded and with a gloomy face, walked behind some Cossacks who were carrying the body of Petya Rostov to a hole that had been dug in the garden.
After the twenty-eighth of October when the frosts began, the flight of the French assumed a still more tragic character, with men freezing, or roasting themselves to death at the campfires, while carriages with people dressed in furs continued to drive past, carrying away the property that had been stolen by the Emperor, kings, and dukes; but the process of the flight and disintegration of the French army went on essentially as before.
From Moscow to Vyazma the French army of seventy-three thousand men not reckoning the Guards (who did nothing during the whole war but pillage) was reduced to thirty-six thousand, though not more than five thousand had fallen in battle. From this beginning the succeeding terms of the progression could be determined mathematically. The French army melted away and perished at the same rate from Moscow to Vyazma, from Vyazma to Smolensk, from Smolensk to the Berezina, and from the Berezina to Vilna—independently of the greater or lesser intensity of the cold, the pursuit, the barring of the way, or any other particular conditions. Beyond Vyazma the French army instead of moving in three columns huddled together into one mass, and so went on to the end. Berthier wrote to his Emperor (we know how far commanding officers allow themselves to diverge from the truth in describing the condition of an army) and this is what he said:
I deem it my duty to report to Your Majesty the condition of the various corps I have had occasion to observe during different stages of the last two or three days' march. They are almost disbanded. Scarcely a quarter of the soldiers remain with the standards of their regiments, the others go off by themselves in different directions hoping to find food and escape discipline. In general they regard Smolensk as the place where they hope to recover. During the last few days many of the men have been seen to throw away their cartridges and their arms. In such a state of affairs, whatever your ultimate plans may be, the interest of Your Majesty's service demands that the army should be rallied at Smolensk and should first of all be freed from ineffectives, such as dismounted cavalry, unnecessary baggage, and artillery material that is no longer in proportion to the present forces. The soldiers, who are worn out with hunger and fatigue, need these supplies as well as a few days' rest. Many have died these last days on the road or at the bivouacs. This state of things is continually becoming worse and makes one fear that unless a prompt remedy is applied the troops will no longer be under control in case of an engagement.
November 9: twenty miles from Smolensk.
After staggering into Smolensk which seemed to them a promised land, the French, searching for food, killed one another, sacked their own stores, and when everything had been plundered fled farther.
They all went without knowing whither or why they were going. Still less did that genius, Napoleon, know it, for no one issued any orders to him. But still he and those about him retained their old habits: wrote commands, letters, reports, and orders of the day; called one another sire, mon cousin, prince d'Eckmuhl, roi de Naples, and so on. But these orders and reports were only on paper, nothing in them was acted upon for they could not be carried out, and though they entitled one another Majesties, Highnesses, or Cousins, they all felt that they were miserable wretches who had done much evil for which they had now to pay. And though they pretended to be concerned about the army, each was thinking only of himself and of how to get away quickly and save himself.
The movements of the Russian and French armies during the campaign from Moscow back to the Niemen were like those in a game of Russian blindman's bluff, in which two players are blindfolded and one of them occasionally rings a little bell to inform the catcher of his whereabouts. First he rings his bell fearlessly, but when he gets into a tight place he runs away as quietly as he can, and often thinking to escape runs straight into his opponent's arms.
At first while they were still moving along the Kaluga road, Napoleon's armies made their presence known, but later when they reached the Smolensk road they ran holding the clapper of their bell tight—and often thinking they were escaping ran right into the Russians.
Owing to the rapidity of the French flight and the Russian pursuit and the consequent exhaustion of the horses, the chief means of approximately ascertaining the enemy's position—by cavalry scouting—was not available. Besides, as a result of the frequent and rapid change of position by each army, even what information was obtained could not be delivered in time. If news was received one day that the enemy had been in a certain position the day before, by the third day when something could have been done, that army was already two days' march farther on and in quite another position.
One army fled and the other pursued. Beyond Smolensk there were several different roads available for the French, and one would have thought that during their stay of four days they might have learned where the enemy was, might have arranged some more advantageous plan and undertaken something new. But after a four days' halt the mob, with no maneuvers or plans, again began running along the beaten track, neither to the right nor to the left but along the old—the worst—road, through Krasnoe and Orsha.
Expecting the enemy from behind and not in front, the French separated in their flight and spread out over a distance of twenty-four hours. In front of them all fled the Emperor, then the kings, then the dukes. The Russian army, expecting Napoleon to take the road to the right beyond the Dnieper—which was the only reasonable thing for him to do—themselves turned to the right and came out onto the highroad at Krasnoe. And here as in a game of blindman's buff the French ran into our vanguard. Seeing their enemy unexpectedly the French fell into confusion and stopped short from the sudden fright, but then they resumed their flight, abandoning their comrades who were farther behind. Then for three days separate portions of the French army—first Murat's (the vice-king's), then Davout's, and then Ney's—ran, as it were, the gauntlet of the Russian army. They abandoned one another, abandoned all their heavy baggage, their artillery, and half their men, and fled, getting past the Russians by night by making semicircles to the right.
Ney, who came last, had been busying himself blowing up the walls of Smolensk which were in nobody's way, because despite the unfortunate plight of the French or because of it, they wished to punish the floor against which they had hurt themselves. Ney, who had had a corps of ten thousand men, reached Napoleon at Orsha with only one thousand men left, having abandoned all the rest and all his cannon, and having crossed the Dnieper at night by stealth at a wooded spot.
From Orsha they fled farther along the road to Vilna, still playing at blindman's buff with the pursuing army. At the Berezina they again became disorganized, many were drowned and many surrendered, but those who got across the river fled farther. Their supreme chief donned a fur coat and, having seated himself in a sleigh, galloped on alone, abandoning his companions. The others who could do so drove away too, leaving those who could not to surrender or die.
This campaign consisted in a flight of the French during which they did all they could to destroy themselves. From the time they turned onto the Kaluga road to the day their leader fled from the army, none of the movements of the crowd had any sense. So one might have thought that regarding this period of the campaign the historians, who attributed the actions of the mass to the will of one man, would have found it impossible to make the story of the retreat fit their theory. But no! Mountains of books have been written by the historians about this campaign, and everywhere are described Napoleon's arrangements, the maneuvers, and his profound plans which guided the army, as well as the military genius shown by his marshals.
The retreat from Malo-Yaroslavets when he had a free road into a well-supplied district and the parallel road was open to him along which Kutuzov afterwards pursued him—this unnecessary retreat along a devastated road—is explained to us as being due to profound considerations. Similarly profound considerations are given for his retreat from Smolensk to Orsha. Then his heroism at Krasnoe is described, where he is reported to have been prepared to accept battle and take personal command, and to have walked about with a birch stick and said:
"J'ai assez fait l'empereur; il est temps de faire le general," * but nevertheless immediately ran away again, abandoning to its fate the scattered fragments of the army he left behind.
* "I have acted the Emperor long enough; it is time to act
Then we are told of the greatness of soul of the marshals, especially of Ney—a greatness of soul consisting in this: that he made his way by night around through the forest and across the Dnieper and escaped to Orsha, abandoning standards, artillery, and nine tenths of his men.
And lastly, the final departure of the great Emperor from his heroic army is presented to us by the historians as something great and characteristic of genius. Even that final running away, described in ordinary language as the lowest depth of baseness which every child is taught to be ashamed of—even that act finds justification in the historians' language.
When it is impossible to stretch the very elastic threads of historical ratiocination any farther, when actions are clearly contrary to all that humanity calls right or even just, the historians produce a saving conception of "greatness." "Greatness," it seems, excludes the standards of right and wrong. For the "great" man nothing is wrong, there is no atrocity for which a "great" man can be blamed.
"C'est grand!" * say the historians, and there no longer exists either good or evil but only "grand" and "not grand." Grand is good, not grand is bad. Grand is the characteristic, in their conception, of some special animals called "heroes." And Napoleon, escaping home in a warm fur coat and leaving to perish those who were not merely his comrades but were (in his opinion) men he had brought there, feels que c'est grand, *(2) and his soul is tranquil.
* "It is great."
* (2) That it is great.
"Du sublime (he saw something sublime in himself) au ridicule il n'y a qu'un pas," * said he. And the whole world for fifty years has been repeating: "Sublime! Grand! Napoleon le Grand!" Du sublime au ridicule il n'y a qu'un pas.
* "From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step."
And it occurs to no one that to admit a greatness not commensurable with the standard of right and wrong is merely to admit one's own nothingness and immeasurable meanness.
For us with the standard of good and evil given us by Christ, no human actions are incommensurable. And there is no greatness where simplicity, goodness, and truth are absent.
What Russian, reading the account of the last part of the campaign of 1812, has not experienced an uncomfortable feeling of regret, dissatisfaction, and perplexity? Who has not asked himself how it is that the French were not all captured or destroyed when our three armies surrounded them in superior numbers, when the disordered French, hungry and freezing, surrendered in crowds, and when (as the historians relate) the aim of the Russians was to stop the French, to cut them off, and capture them all?
How was it that the Russian army, which when numerically weaker than the French had given battle at Borodino, did not achieve its purpose when it had surrounded the French on three sides and when its aim was to capture them? Can the French be so enormously superior to us that when we had surrounded them with superior forces we could not beat them? How could that happen?
History (or what is called by that name) replying to these questions says that this occurred because Kutuzov and Tormasov and Chichagov, and this man and that man, did not execute such and such maneuvers...
But why did they not execute those maneuvers? And why if they were guilty of not carrying out a prearranged plan were they not tried and punished? But even if we admitted that Kutuzov, Chichagov, and others were the cause of the Russian failures, it is still incomprehensible why, the position of the Russian army being what it was at Krasnoe and at the Berezina (in both cases we had superior forces), the French army with its marshals, kings, and Emperor was not captured, if that was what the Russians aimed at.
The explanation of this strange fact given by Russian military historians (to the effect that Kutuzov hindered an attack) is unfounded, for we know that he could not restrain the troops from attacking at Vyazma and Tarutino.
Why was the Russian army—which with inferior forces had withstood the enemy in full strength at Borodino—defeated at Krasnoe and the Berezina by the disorganized crowds of the French when it was numerically superior?
If the aim of the Russians consisted in cutting off and capturing Napoleon and his marshals—and that aim was not merely frustrated but all attempts to attain it were most shamefully baffled—then this last period of the campaign is quite rightly considered by the French to be a series of victories, and quite wrongly considered victorious by Russian historians.
The Russian military historians in so far as they submit to claims of logic must admit that conclusion, and in spite of their lyrical rhapsodies about valor, devotion, and so forth, must reluctantly admit that the French retreat from Moscow was a series of victories for Napoleon and defeats for Kutuzov.
But putting national vanity entirely aside one feels that such a conclusion involves a contradiction, since the series of French victories brought the French complete destruction, while the series of Russian defeats led to the total destruction of their enemy and the liberation of their country.
The source of this contradiction lies in the fact that the historians studying the events from the letters of the sovereigns and the generals, from memoirs, reports, projects, and so forth, have attributed to this last period of the war of 1812 an aim that never existed, namely that of cutting off and capturing Napoleon with his marshals and his army.
There never was or could have been such an aim, for it would have been senseless and its attainment quite impossible.
It would have been senseless, first because Napoleon's disorganized army was flying from Russia with all possible speed, that is to say, was doing just what every Russian desired. So what was the use of performing various operations on the French who were running away as fast as they possibly could?
Secondly, it would have been senseless to block the passage of men whose whole energy was directed to flight.
Thirdly, it would have been senseless to sacrifice one's own troops in order to destroy the French army, which without external interference was destroying itself at such a rate that, though its path was not blocked, it could not carry across the frontier more than it actually did in December, namely a hundredth part of the original army.
Fourthly, it would have been senseless to wish to take captive the Emperor, kings, and dukes—whose capture would have been in the highest degree embarrassing for the Russians, as the most adroit diplomatists of the time (Joseph de Maistre and others) recognized. Still more senseless would have been the wish to capture army corps of the French, when our own army had melted away to half before reaching Krasnoe and a whole division would have been needed to convoy the corps of prisoners, and when our men were not always getting full rations and the prisoners already taken were perishing of hunger.
All the profound plans about cutting off and capturing Napoleon and his army were like the plan of a market gardener who, when driving out of his garden a cow that had trampled down the beds he had planted, should run to the gate and hit the cow on the head. The only thing to be said in excuse of that gardener would be that he was very angry. But not even that could be said for those who drew up this project, for it was not they who had suffered from the trampled beds.
But besides the fact that cutting off Napoleon with his army would have been senseless, it was impossible.
It was impossible first because—as experience shows that a three-mile movement of columns on a battlefield never coincides with the plans—the probability of Chichagov, Kutuzov, and Wittgenstein effecting a junction on time at an appointed place was so remote as to be tantamount to impossibility, as in fact thought Kutuzov, who when he received the plan remarked that diversions planned over great distances do not yield the desired results.
Secondly it was impossible, because to paralyze the momentum with which Napoleon's army was retiring, incomparably greater forces than the Russians possessed would have been required.
Thirdly it was impossible, because the military term "to cut off" has no meaning. One can cut off a slice of bread, but not an army. To cut off an army—to bar its road—is quite impossible, for there is always plenty of room to avoid capture and there is the night when nothing can be seen, as the military scientists might convince themselves by the example of Krasnoe and of the Berezina. It is only possible to capture prisoners if they agree to be captured, just as it is only possible to catch a swallow if it settles on one's hand. Men can only be taken prisoners if they surrender according to the rules of strategy and tactics, as the Germans did. But the French troops quite rightly did not consider that this suited them, since death by hunger and cold awaited them in flight or captivity alike.
Fourthly and chiefly it was impossible, because never since the world began has a war been fought under such conditions as those that obtained in 1812, and the Russian army in its pursuit of the French strained its strength to the utmost and could not have done more without destroying itself.
During the movement of the Russian army from Tarutino to Krasnoe it lost fifty thousand sick or stragglers, that is a number equal to the population of a large provincial town. Half the men fell out of the army without a battle.
And it is of this period of the campaign—when the army lacked boots and sheepskin coats, was short of provisions and without vodka, and was camping out at night for months in the snow with fifteen degrees of frost, when there were only seven or eight hours of daylight and the rest was night in which the influence of discipline cannot be maintained, when men were taken into that region of death where discipline fails, not for a few hours only as in a battle, but for months, where they were every moment fighting death from hunger and cold, when half the army perished in a single month—it is of this period of the campaign that the historians tell us how Miloradovich should have made a flank march to such and such a place, Tormasov to another place, and Chichagov should have crossed (more than knee-deep in snow) to somewhere else, and how so-and-so "routed" and "cut off" the French and so on and so on.
The Russians, half of whom died, did all that could and should have been done to attain an end worthy of the nation, and they are not to blame because other Russians, sitting in warm rooms, proposed that they should do what was impossible.
All that strange contradiction now difficult to understand between the facts and the historical accounts only arises because the historians dealing with the matter have written the history of the beautiful words and sentiments of various generals, and not the history of the events.
To them the words of Miloradovich seem very interesting, and so do their surmises and the rewards this or that general received; but the question of those fifty thousand men who were left in hospitals and in graves does not even interest them, for it does not come within the range of their investigation.
Yet one need only discard the study of the reports and general plans and consider the movement of those hundreds of thousands of men who took a direct part in the events, and all the questions that seemed insoluble easily and simply receive an immediate and certain solution.
The aim of cutting off Napoleon and his army never existed except in the imaginations of a dozen people. It could not exist because it was senseless and unattainable.
The people had a single aim: to free their land from invasion. That aim was attained in the first place of itself, as the French ran away, and so it was only necessary not to stop their flight. Secondly it was attained by the guerrilla warfare which was destroying the French, and thirdly by the fact that a large Russian army was following the French, ready to use its strength in case their movement stopped.
The Russian army had to act like a whip to a running animal. And the experienced driver knew it was better to hold the whip raised as a menace than to strike the running animal on the head.