Book 3 Chapter 18

NEAR THE VILLAGE of Pratzen Rostov had been told to look for Kutuzov and the Emperor. But there they were not, nor was there a single officer to be found in command, nothing but disorderly crowds of troops of different sorts. He urged on his weary horse to hasten through this rabble, but the further he went the more disorderly the crowds became. The high road along which he rode, was thronged with carriages, with vehicles of all sorts, and Austrian and Russian soldiers of every kind, wounded and unwounded. It was all uproar and confused bustle under the sinister whiz of the flying cannon balls from the French batteries stationed on the heights of Pratzen.

“Where's the Emperor? Where's Kutuzov?” Rostov kept asking of every one he could stop, and from no one could he get an answer.

At last clutching a soldier by the collar, he forced him to answer him.

“Aye! brother! they've all bolted long ago!” the soldier said to Rostov, laughing for some reason as he pulled himself away. Letting go that soldier, who must, he thought, be drunk, Rostov stopped the horse of a groom or postillion of some personage of consequence, and began to cross-question him. The groom informed Rostov that an hour before the Tsar had been driven at full speed in a carriage along this very road, and that the Tsar was dangerously wounded.

“It can't be,” said Rostov; “probably some one else.”

“I saw him myself,” said the groom with a self-satisfied smirk; “it's high time I should know the Emperor, I should think, after the many times I've seen him in Petersburg; I saw him as it might be here. Pale, deadly pale, sitting in the carriage. The way they drove the four raven horses! my goodness, didn't they dash by us! It would be strange, I should think, if I didn't know the Tsar's horses and Ilya Ivanitch; why, Ilya never drives any one else but the Tsar.”

Rostov let go of the horse and would have gone on. A wounded officer passing by addressed him. “Why, who is it you want?” asked the officer, “the commander-in-chief? Oh, he was killed by a cannon ball, struck in the breast before our regiment.”

“Not killed—wounded,” another officer corrected him.

“Who? Kutuzov?” asked Rostov.

“Not Kutuzov, but what's his name—well, it's all the same, there are not many left alive. Go that way, over there to that village, all the commanding officers are there,” said the officer, pointing to the village of Gostieradeck, and he walked on.

Rostov rode on at a walking pace, not knowing to whom and with what object he was going now. The Tsar was wounded, the battle was lost. There was no refusing to believe in it now. Rostov rode in the direction which had been pointed out to him, and saw in the distance turrets and a church. What had he to hasten for now? What was he to say now to the Tsar or to Kutuzov, even if they were alive and not wounded?

“Go along this road, your honour, that way you will be killed in a trice!” a soldier shouted to him. “You'll be killed that way!”

“Oh! what nonsense!” said another. “Where is he to go? That way's nearest.” Rostov pondered, and rode off precisely in the direction in which he had been told he would be killed.

“Now, nothing matters; if the Emperor is wounded, can I try and save myself?” he thought. He rode into the region where more men had been killed than anywhere, in fleeing from Pratzen. The French had not yet taken that region, though the Russians—those who were slightly wounded or unhurt—had long abandoned it. All over the field, like ridges of dung on well-kept plough-land, lay the heaps of dead and wounded, a dozen or fifteen bodies to every three acres. The wounded were crawling two or three together, and their shrieks and groans had a painful and sometimes affected sound, it seemed to Rostov. Rostov put his horse to a trot to avoid the sight of all those suffering people, and he felt afraid. He was afraid of losing not his life, but his pluck, which he needed so much, which he knew would not stand the sight of those luckless wretches. The French had ceased firing at this field that was dotted over with dead and wounded, because there seemed no one living upon it, but seeing an adjutant trotting across it, they turned a cannon upon him and shot off several cannon balls. The sense of those whizzing, fearful sounds, and of the dead bodies all round him melted into a single impression of horror and pity for himself in Rostov's heart. He thought of his mother's last letter. “What would she be feeling now,” he thought, “if she could see me here now on this field with cannons aimed at me?”

In the village of Gostieradeck there were Russian troops, in some confusion indeed, but in far better discipline, who had come from the field of battle. Here they were out of range of the French cannons, and the sounds of firing seemed far away. Here every one saw clearly that the battle was lost, and all were talking of it. No one to whom Rostov applied could tell him where was the Tsar, or where was Kutuzov. Some said that the rumour of the Tsar's wound was correct, others said not, and explained this widely spread false report by the fact that the Ober-Hofmarschall Tolstoy, who had come out with others of the Emperor's suite to the field of battle, had been seen pale and terrified driving back at full gallop in the Tsar's carriage. One officer told Rostov that, behind the village to the left, he had seen some one from headquarters, and Rostov rode off in that direction, with no hope now of finding any one, but simply to satisfy his conscience. After going about two miles and passing the last of the Russian troops, Rostov saw, near a kitchen-garden enclosed by a ditch, two horsemen standing facing the ditch. One with a white plume in his hat seemed somehow a familiar figure to Rostov, the other, a stranger on a splendid chestnut horse (the horse Rostov fancied he had seen before) rode up to the ditch, put spurs to his horse, and lightly leaped over the ditch into the garden. A little earth from the bank crumbled off under his horse's hind hoofs. Turning the horse sharply, he leaped the ditch again and deferentially addressed the horseman in the white plume, apparently urging him to do the same. The rider, whose figure seemed familiar to Rostov had somehow riveted his attention, made a gesture of refusal with his head and his hand, and in that gesture Rostov instantly recognised his lamented, his idolised sovereign.

“But it can't be he, alone, in the middle of this empty field,” thought Rostov. At that moment Alexander turned his head and Rostov saw the beloved features so vividly imprinted on his memory. The Tsar was pale, his cheeks looked sunken, and his eyes hollow, but the charm, the mildness of his face was only the more striking. Rostov felt happy in the certainty that the report of the Emperor's wound was false. He was happy that he was seeing him. He knew that he might, that he ought, indeed, to go straight to him and to give him the message he had been commanded to give by Dolgorukov.

But, as a youth in love trembles and turns faint and dares not utter what he has spent nights in dreaming of, and looks about in terror, seeking aid or a chance of delay or flight, when the moment he has longed for comes and he stands alone at her side, so Rostov, now when he was attaining what he had longed for beyond everything in the world, did not know how to approach the Emperor, and thousands of reasons why it was unsuitable, unseemly, and impossible came into his mind.

“What! it's as though I were glad to take advantage of his being alone and despondent. It may be disagreeable and painful to him, perhaps, to see an unknown face at such a moment of sadness; besides, what can I say to him now, when at the mere sight of him my heart is throbbing and leaping into my mouth?” Not one of the innumerable speeches he had addressed to the Tsar in his imagination recurred to his mind now. These speeches for the most part were appropriate to quite other circumstances; they had been uttered for the most part at moments of victory and triumph, and principally on his deathbed when, as he lay dying of his wounds, the Emperor thanked him for his heroic exploits, and he gave expression as he died to the love he had proved in deeds. “And then, how am I to ask the Emperor for his instructions to the right flank when it's four o'clock in the afternoon and the battle is lost? No, certainly I ought not to ride up to him, I ought not to break in on his sorrow. Better die a thousand deaths than that he should give me a glance, a thought of disapproval,” Rostov decided, and with grief and despair in his heart he rode away, continually looking back at the Tsar, who still stood in the attitude of indecision.

While Rostov was making these reflections and riding mournfully away from the Tsar, Captain Von Toll happened to ride up to the same spot, and seeing the Emperor, went straight up to him, offered him his services, and assisted him to cross the ditch on foot. The Tsar, feeling unwell and in need of rest, sat down under an apple-tree, and Von Toll remained standing by his side. Rostov from a distance saw with envy and remorse how Von Toll talked a long while warmly to the Emperor, how the Emperor, apparently weeping, hid his face in his hand, and pressed Von Toll's hand.

“And it might have been I in his place?” Rostov thought, and hardly restraining his tears of sympathy for the Tsar, he rode away in utter despair, not knowing where and with what object he was going now.

His despair was all the greater from feeling that it was his own weakness that was the cause of his regret.

He might…not only might, but ought to have gone up to the Emperor. And it was a unique chance of showing his devotion to the Emperor. And he had not made use of it.… “What have I done?” he thought. And he turned his horse and galloped back to the spot where he had seen the Emperor; but there was no one now beyond the ditch. There were only transport waggons and carriages going by. From one carrier Rostov learned that Kutuzov's staff were not far off in the village towards which the transport waggons were going. Rostov followed them.

In front of him was Kutuzov's postillion leading horses in horse-cloths. A baggage waggon followed the postillion, and behind the waggon walked an old bandy-legged servant in a cap and a cape.

“Tit, hey. Tit!” said the postillion.

“Eh,” responded the old man absent-mindedly.

“Tit! Stupay molotit!” (“Tit, go a-thrashing!”)

“Ugh, the fool, pugh!” said the old man, spitting angrily. A short interval of silence followed, and then the same joke was repeated.

By five o'clock in the evening the battle had been lost at every point. More than a hundred cannons were in the possession of the French. Przhebyshevsky and his corps had surrendered. The other columns had retreated, with the loss of half their men, in confused, disorderly masses. All that were left of Langeron's and Dohturov's forces were crowded together in hopeless confusion on the dikes and banks of the ponds near the village of Augest.

At six o'clock the only firing still to be heard was a heavy cannonade on the French side from numerous batteries ranged on the slope of the table-land of Pratzen, and directed at our retreating troops.

In the rearguard Dohturov and the rest, rallying their battalions, had been firing at the French cavalry who were pursuing them. It was begining to get dark. On the narrow dam of Augest, where the old miller in his peaked cap had sat for so many years with his fishing tackle, while his grandson, with tucked-up shirt-sleeves, turned over the silvery, floundering fish in the net; on that dam where the Moravians, in their shaggy caps and blue jackets, had for so many years peacefully driven their horses and waggons, loaded with wheat, to the mill and driven back over the same dam, dusty with flour that whitened their waggons—on that narrow dam men, made hideous by the terror of death, now crowded together, amid army waggons and cannons, under horses' feet and between carriage-wheels, crushing each other, dying, stepping over the dying, and killing each other, only to be killed in the same way a few steps further on.

Every ten seconds a cannon ball flew lashing the air and thumped down, or a grenade burst in the midst of that dense crowd, slaying men and splashing blood on those who stood near. Dolohov, wounded in the hand, with some dozen soldiers of his company on foot (he was already an officer) and his general on horseback, were the sole representatives of a whole regiment. Carried along by the crowd, they were squeezed in the approach to the dam and stood still, jammed in on all sides because a horse with a cannon had fallen, and the crowd were dragging it away. A cannon ball killed some one behind them, another fell in front of them and spurted the blood upon Dolohov. The crowd moved forward desperately, was jammed, moved a few steps and was stopped again. “Only to get over these hundred steps and certain safety: stay here two minutes and death to a certainty,” each man was thinking.

Dolohov standing in the centre of the crowd, forced his way to the edge of the dam, knocking down two soldiers, and ran on to the slippery ice that covered the millpond.

“Turn this way!” he shouted, bounding over the ice, which cracked under him. “Turn this way!” he kept shouting to the cannon. “It bears!…” The ice bore him, but swayed and cracked, and it was evident that, not to speak of a cannon or a crowd of people, it would give way in a moment under him alone. Men gazed at him and pressed to the bank, unable to bring themselves to step on to the ice. The general of his regiment on horseback at the end of the dam lifted his hand and opened his mouth to speak to Dolohov. Suddenly one of the cannon balls flew so low over the heads of the crowd that all ducked. There was a wet splash, as the general fell from his horse into a pool of blood. No one glanced at the general, no one thought of picking him up.

“On to the ice! Get on the ice! Get on! turn! don't you hear! Get on!” innumerable voices fell to shouting immediately after the ball had struck the general, not knowing themselves what and why they were shouting.

One of the hindmost cannons that had been got on to the dam was turned off upon the ice. Crowds of soldiers began running from the dam on to the frozen pond. The ice cracked under one of the foremost soldiers, and one leg slipped into the water. He tried to right himself and floundered up to his waist. The soldiers nearest tried to draw back, the driver of the cannon pulled up his horse, but still the shouts were heard from behind: “Get on to the ice, why are you stopping? go on! go on!” And screams of terror were heard in the crowd. The soldiers near the cannon waved at the horses, and lashed them to make them turn and go on. The horses moved from the dam's edge. The ice that had held under the foot-soldiers broke in a huge piece, and some forty men who were on it dashed, some forwards, some backwards, drowning one another.

Still the cannon balls whizzed as regularly and thumped on to the ice, into the water, and most often into the crowd that covered the dam, the pond and the bank.