Book 13 Chapter 13

ON THE NIGHT of the 6th of October, the march of the retreating French army began: kitchens and shanties were broken up, waggons were packed, and troops and trains of baggage began moving.

At seven o'clock in the morning an escort of French soldiers in marching order, in shakoes, with guns, knapsacks, and huge sacks, stood before the sheds and a running fire of eager French talk, interspersed with oaths, was kept up all along the line.

In the shed they were ready, dressed and belted and shod, only waiting for the word of command to come out. The sick soldier, Sokolov, pale and thin, with blue rings round his eyes, sat alone in his place, without boots or out-of-door clothes on. His eyes, that looked prominent from the thinness of his face, gazed inquiringly at his companions, who took no notice of him, and he uttered low groans at regular intervals. It was evidently not so much his sufferings—he was ill with dysentery—as the dread and grief of being left alone that made him groan.

Pierre was shod with a pair of slippers that Karataev had made for him out of the leather cover of a tea-chest, brought him by a Frenchman for soling his boots. With a cord tied round for a belt, he went up to the sick man, and squatted on his heels beside him.

“Come, Sokolov, they are not going away altogether, you know. They have a hospital here. Very likely you will be better off than we others,” said Pierre.

“O Lord! it will be the death of me! O Lord!” the soldier groaned more loudly.

“Well, I will ask them again in a minute,” said Pierre, and getting up, he went to the door of the shed. While Pierre was going to the door, the same corporal, who had on the previous day offered Pierre a pipe, came in from outside, accompanied by two soldiers. Both the corporal and the soldiers were in marching order, with knapsacks on and shakoes, with straps buttoned, that changed their familiar faces.

The corporal had come to the door so as to shut it in accordance with the orders given him. Before getting them out, he had to count over the prisoners.

“Corporal, what is to be done with the sick man?” Pierre was beginning, but at the very moment that he spoke the words he doubted whether it were the corporal he knew or some stranger—the corporal was so unlike himself at that moment. Moreover, at the moment Pierre was speaking, the roll of drums was suddenly heard on both sides. The corporal scowled at Pierre's words, and uttering a meaningless oath, he slammed the door. It was half-dark now in the shed; the drums beat a sharp tattoo on both sides, drowning the sick man's groans.

“Here it is!…Here it is again!” Pierre said to himself, and an involuntary shudder ran down his back. In the changed face of the corporal, in the sound of his voice, in the stimulating and deafening din of the drums, Pierre recognised that mysterious, unsympathetic force which drove men, against their will, to do their fellow-creatures to death; that force, the effect of which he had seen at the execution. To be afraid, to try and avoid that force, to appeal with entreaties or with exhortations to the men who were serving as its instruments, was useless. That Pierre knew now. One could but wait and be patient. Pierre did not go near the sick man again, and did not look round at him. He stood at the door of the shed in silence, scowling.

When the doors of the shed were opened, and the prisoners, huddling against one another like a flock of sheep, crowded in the entry, Pierre pushed in front of them, and went up to the very captain who was, so the corporal had declared, ready to do anything for him. The captain was in marching trim, and from his face, too, there looked out the same “it” Pierre had recognised in the corporal's words and in the roll of the drums.

“Filez, filez!” the captain was saying, frowning sternly, and looking at the prisoners crowding by him.

Pierre knew his effort would be in vain, yet he went up to him.

“Well, what is it?” said the officer, scanning him coldly, as though he did not recognise him. Pierre spoke of the sick prisoner.

“He can walk, damn him!” said the captain.

“Filez, filez!” he went on, without looking at Pierre.

“Well, no, he is in agony…!” Pierre was beginning.

“Voulez-vous bien?”…shouted the captain, scowling malignantly.

“Dram-da-da-dam, dam-dam,” rattled the drums, and Pierre knew that the mysterious force had already complete possession of those men, and that to say anything more now was useless.

The officers among the prisoners were separated from the soldiers and ordered to march in front.

The officers, among whom was Pierre, were thirty in number; the soldiers three hundred.

These officers, who had come out of other sheds, were all strangers to Pierre, and much better dressed than he was. They looked at him in his queer foot-gear with aloof and mistrustful eyes. Not far from Pierre walked a stout major, with a fat, sallow, irascible countenance. He was dressed in a Kazan gown, girt with a linen band, and obviously enjoyed the general respect of his companion prisoners. He held his tobacco-pouch in one hand thrust into his bosom; with the other he pressed the stem of his pipe. This major, panting and puffing, grumbled angrily at every one for pushing against him, as he fancied, and for hurrying when there was no need of hurry, and for wondering when there was nothing to wonder at. Another, a thin, little officer, addressed remarks to every one, making conjectures where they were being taken now, and how far they would go that day. An official, in felt high boots and a commissariat uniform, ran from side to side to get a good view of the results of the fire in Moscow, making loud observations on what was burnt, and saying what this or that district of the town was as it came into view. A third officer, of Polish extraction by his accent, was arguing with the commissariat official, trying to prove to him that he was mistaken in his identification of the various quarters of Moscow.

“Why dispute?” said the major angrily. “Whether it's St. Nikola or St. Vlas, it's no matter. You see that it's all burnt, and that's all about it. …Why are you pushing, isn't the road wide enough?” he said, angrily addressing a man who had passed behind him and had not pushed against him at all.

“Aie, aie, aie, what have they been doing?” the voices of the prisoners could be heard crying on one side and on another as they looked at the burnt districts. “Zamoskvoryetche, too, and Zubovo, and in the Kremlin.…Look, there's not half left. Why, didn't I tell you all Zamoskvoryetche was gone, and so it is.”

“Well, you know it is burnt, well, why argue about it?” said the major.

Passing through Hamovniky (one of the few quarters of Moscow that had not been burnt) by the church, the whole crowd of prisoners huddled suddenly on one side, and exclamations of horror and aversion were heard.

“The wretches! The heathens! Yes; a dead man; a dead man; it is…They have smeared it with something.”

Pierre, too, drew near the church, where was the object that had called forth these exclamations, and he dimly discerned something leaning against the fence of the church enclosure. From the words of his companions, who saw better than he did, he learnt that it was the dead body of a man, propped up in a standing posture by the fence, with the face smeared with soot.

“Move on, damn you! Go on, thirty thousand devils!”…They heard the escort swearing, and the French soldiers, with fresh vindictiveness, used the flat sides of their swords to drive on the prisoners, who had lingered to look at the dead man.