Book 3 Chapter 16

KUTUZOV, accompanied by his adjutants, followed the carabineers at a walking pace.

After going on for half a mile at the tail of the column, he stopped at a solitary, deserted house (probably once an inn), near the branching of two roads. Both roads led downhill, and troops were marching along both.

The fog was beginning to part, and a mile and a half away the enemy's troops could be indistinctly seen on the opposite heights. On the left below, the firing became more distinct. Kutuzov stood still in conversation with an Austrian general. Prince Andrey standing a little behind watched them intently, and turned to an adjutant, meaning to ask him for a field-glass.

“Look, look!” this adjutant said, looking not at the troops in the distance, but down the hill before him. “It's the French!”

The two generals and the adjutant began snatching at the field-glass, pulling it from one another. All their faces suddenly changed, and horror was apparent in them all. They had supposed the French to be over a mile and a half away, and here they were all of a sudden confronting us.

“Is it the enemy? … No. … But, look, it is … for certain.… What does it mean?” voices were heard saying.

With the naked eye Prince Andrey saw to the right, below them, a dense column of French soldiers coming up towards the Apsheron regiment, not over five hundred paces from where Kutuzov was standing.

“Here it is, it is coming, the decisive moment! My moment has come,” thought Prince Andrey, and slashing his horse, he rode up to Kutuzov.

“We must stop the Apsheron regiment,” he shouted, “your most high excellency.”

But at that instant everything was lost in a cloud of smoke, there was a sound of firing close by, and a voice in na?ve terror cried not two paces from Prince Andrey: “Hey, mates, it's all up!” And this voice was like a command. At that voice there was a general rush, crowds, growing larger every moment, ran back in confusion to the spot where five minutes before they had marched by the Emperors. It was not simply difficult to check this rushing crowd, it was impossible not to be carried back with the stream oneself. Bolkonsky tried only not to be left behind by it, and looked about him in bewilderment, unable to grasp what was taking place. Nesvitsky, with an exasperated, crimson face, utterly unlike himself, was shouting to Kutuzov that if he didn't get away at once he'd be taken prisoner to a certainty. Kutuzov was standing in the same place: he was taking out his handkerchief, and did not answer. The blood was flowing from his cheek. Prince Andrey forced his way up to him.

“You are wounded?” he asked, hardly able to control the quivering of his lower jaw.

“The wound's not here, but there, see!” said Kutuzov, pressing the handkerchief to his wounded cheek, and pointing to the running soldiers.

“Stop them!” he shouted, and at the same time convinced that it was impossible to stop them, he lashed his horse and rode to the right. A fresh rush of flying crowds caught him up with it and carried him back.

The troops were running in such a dense multitude, that once getting into the midst of the crowd, it was a hard matter to get out of it. One was shouting: “Get on! what are you lagging for?” Another was turning round to fire in the air; another striking the very horse on which Kutuzov was mounted. Getting out with an immense effort from the stream on the left, Kutuzov, with his suite diminished to a half, rode towards the sounds of cannon close by. Prince Andrey, trying not to be left behind by Kutuzov, saw, as he got out of the racing multitude, a Russian battery still firing in the smoke on the hillside and the French running towards it. A little higher up stood Russian infantry, neither moving forward to the support of the battery, nor back in the same direction as the runaways. A general on horseback detached himself from the infantry and rode towards Kutuzov. Of Kutuzov's suite only four men were left. They were all pale and looking at one another dumbly.

“Stop those wretches!” Kutuzov gasped to the officer in command of the regiment, pointing to the flying soldiers. But at the same instant, as though in revenge for the words, the bullets came whizzing over the regiment and Kutuzov's suite like a flock of birds. The French were attacking the battery, and catching sight of Kutuzov, they were shooting at him. With this volley the general clutched at his leg; several soldiers fell, and the second lieutenant standing with the flag let it drop out of his hands. The flag tottered and was caught on the guns of the nearest soldiers. The soldiers had begun firing without orders.

“Ooogh!” Kutuzov growled with an expression of despair, and he looked round him. “Bolkonsky,” he whispered in a voice shaking with the consciousness of his old age and helplessness. “Bolkonsky,” he whispered, pointing to the routed battalion and the enemy, “what's this?”

But before he had uttered the words, Prince Andrey, feeling the tears of shame and mortification rising in his throat, was jumping off his horse and running to the flag.

“Lads, forward!” he shrieked in a voice of childish shrillness. “Here, it is come!” Prince Andrey thought, seizing the staff of the flag, and hearing with relief the whiz of bullets, unmistakably aimed at him. Several soldiers dropped.

“Hurrah!” shouted Prince Andrey, and hardly able to hold up the heavy flag in both his hands, he ran forward in the unhesitating conviction that the whole battalion would run after him. And in fact it was only for a few steps that he ran alone. One soldier started, then another, and then the whole battalion with a shout of “hurrah!” was running forward and overtaking him. An under-officer of the battalion ran up and took the flag which tottered from its weight in Prince Andrey's hands, but he was at once killed. Prince Andrey snatched up the flag again, and waving it by the staff, ran on with the battalion. In front of him he saw our artillery men, of whom some were fighting, while others had abandoned their cannons and were running towards him. He saw French infantry soldiers, too, seizing the artillery horses and turning the cannons round. Prince Andrey and the battalion were within twenty paces of the cannons. He heard the bullets whizzing over him incessantly, and continually the soldiers moaned and fell to the right and left of him. But he did not look at them; his eyes were fixed on what was going on in front of him—at the battery. He could now see distinctly the figure of the red-haired artilleryman, with a shako crushed on one side, pulling a mop one way, while a French soldier was tugging it the other way. Prince Andrey could see distinctly now the distraught, and at the same time exasperated expression of the faces of the two men, who were obviously quite unconscious of what they were doing.

“What are they about?” wondered Prince Andrey, watching them; “why doesn't the red-haired artilleryman run, since he has no weapon? Why doesn't the Frenchman stab him? He won't have time to run away before the Frenchman will think of his gun, and knock him on the head.” Another Frenchman did, indeed, run up to the combatants with his gun almost overbalancing him, and the fate of the red-haired artilleryman, who still had no conception of what was awaiting him, and was pulling the mop away in triumph, was probably sealed. But Prince Andrey did not see how it ended. It seemed to him as though a hard stick was swung full at him by some soldier near, dealing him a violent blow on the head. It hurt a little, but the worst of it was that the pain distracted his attention, and prevented him from seeing what he was looking at.

“What's this? am I falling? my legs are giving way under me,” he thought, and fell on his back. He opened his eyes, hoping to see how the struggle of the French soldiers with the artilleryman was ending, and eager to know whether the red-haired artilleryman was killed or not, whether the cannons had been taken or saved. But he saw nothing of all that. Above him there was nothing but the sky—the lofty sky, not clear, but still immeasurably lofty, with grey clouds creeping quietly over it. “How quietly, peacefully, and triumphantly, and not like us running, shouting, and fighting, not like the Frenchman and artilleryman dragging the mop from one another with frightened and frantic faces, how differently are those clouds creeping over that lofty, limitless sky. How was it I did not see that lofty sky before? And how happy I am to have found it at last. Yes! all is vanity, all is a cheat, except that infinite sky. There is nothing, nothing but that. But even that is not, there is nothing but peace and stillness. And thank God! …”