Book 2 Chapter 6

KUTUZOV fell back to Vienna, destroying behind him the bridges over the river Inn (in Braunau) and the river Traun (in Linz). On the 23rd of October the Russian troops crossed the river Enns. The Russian baggage-waggons and artillery and the columns of troops were in the middle of that day stretching in a long string across the town of Enns on both sides of the bridge. The day was warm, autumnal, and rainy. The wide view that opened out from the heights where the Russian batteries stood guarding the bridge was at times narrowed by the slanting rain that shut it in like a muslin curtain, then again widened out, and in the bright sunlight objects could be distinctly seen in the distance, looking as if covered with a coat of varnish. The little town could be seen below with its white houses and its red roofs, its cathedral and its bridge, on both sides of which streamed masses of Russian troops, crowded together. At the bend of the Danube could be seen ships and the island and a castle with a park, surrounded by the waters formed by the Enns falling into the Danube, and the precipitous left bank of the Danube, covered with pine forest, with a mysterious distance of green tree-tops and bluish gorges. Beyond the pine forest, that looked wild and untouched by the hand of man, rose the turrets of a nunnery; and in the far distance in front, on the hill on the further side of the Enns, could be seen the scouts of the enemy.

Between the cannons on the height stood the general in command of the rear-guard and an officer of the suite scanning the country through a field-glass. A little behind them, there sat on the trunk of a cannon, Nesvitsky, who had been despatched by the commander-in-chief to the rear-guard. The Cossack who accompanied Nesvitsky had handed him over a knapsack and a flask, and Nesvitsky was regaling the officers with pies and real doppel-k?mmel. The officers surrounded him in a delighted circle, some on their knees, some sitting cross-legged, like Turks, on the wet grass.

“Yes, there was some sense in that Austrian prince who built a castle here. It's a magnificent spot. Why aren't you eating, gentlemen?” said Nesvitsky.

“Thank you very much, prince,” answered one of the officers, enjoying the opportunity of talking to a staff-official of such importance. “It's a lovely spot. We marched right by the park; we saw two deer and such a splendid house!”

“Look, prince,” said another, who would dearly have liked to take another pie, but was ashamed to, and therefore affected to be gazing at the countryside; “look, our infantry have just got in there. Over there, near the meadow behind the village, three of them are dragging something. They will clean out that palace nicely,” he said, with evident approval.

“No doubt,” said Nesvitsky. “No; but what I should like,” he added, munching a pie in his moist, handsome mouth, “would be to slip in there.” He pointed to the turreted nunnery that could be seen on the mountainside. He smiled, his eyes narrowing and gleaming. “Yes, that would be first-rate, gentlemen!” The officers laughed.

“One might at least scare the nuns a little. There are Italian girls, they say, among them. Upon my word, I'd give five years of my life for it!”

“They must be bored, too,” said an officer who was rather bolder, laughing.

Meanwhile the officer of the suite, who was standing in front, pointed something out to the general; the general looked through the field-glass.

“Yes, so it is, so it is,” said the general angrily, taking the field-glass away from his eye and shrugging his shoulders; “they are going to fire at them at the crossing of the river. And why do they linger so?”

With the naked eye, looking in that direction, one could discern the enemy and their batteries, from which a milky-white smoke was rising. The smoke was followed by the sound of a shot in the distance, and our troops were unmistakably hurrying to the place of crossing.

Nesvitsky got up puffing and went up to the general, smiling.

“Wouldn't your excellency take some lunch?” he said.

“It's a bad business,” said the general, without answering him; “our men have been too slow.”

“Shouldn't I ride over, your excellency?” said Nesvitsky.

“Yes, ride over, please,” said the general, repeating an order that had already once before been given in detail; “and tell the hussars that they are to cross last and to burn the bridge, as I sent orders, and that they're to overhaul the burning materials on the bridge.”

“Very good,” answered Nesvitsky. He called the Cossack with his horse, told him to pick up the knapsack and flask, and lightly swung his heavy person into the saddle.

“Upon my word, I am going to pay a visit to the nuns,” he said to the officers who were watching him, smiling, and he rode along the winding path down the mountain.

“Now then, captain, try how far it'll carry,” said the general, turning to the artillery officer. “Have a little fun to pass the time.”

“Men, to the guns!” commanded the officer, and in a moment the gunners ran gaily from the camp fires and loaded the big guns.

“One!” they heard the word of command. Number one bounded back nimbly. The cannon boomed with a deafening metallic sound, and whistling over the heads of our men under the mountainside, the grenade flew across, and falling a long way short of the enemy showed by the rising smoke where it had fallen and burst.

The faces of the soldiers and officers lightened up at the sound. Every one got up and busily watched the movements of our troops below, which could be seen as in the hollow of a hand, and the movements of the advancing enemy. At the same instant, the sun came out fully from behind the clouds, and the full note of the solitary shot and the brilliance of the bright sunshine melted into a single inspiriting impression of light-hearted gaiety.