Book 14 Chapter 10

ON REACHING the hut in the wood, Petya found Denisov in the porch. He was waiting for Petya's return in great uneasiness, anxiety, and vexation with himself for having let him go.

“Thank God!” he cried. “Well, thank God!” he repeated, hearing Petya's ecstatic account. “And, damn you, you have prevented my sleeping!” he added. “Well, thank God; now, go to bed. We can still get a nap before morning.”

“Yes … no,” said Petya. “I'm not sleepy yet. Besides, I know what I am; if once I go to sleep, it will be all up with me. And besides, it's not my habit to sleep before a battle.”

Petya sat for a long while in the hut, joyfully recalling the details of his adventure, and vividly imagining what was coming next day. Then, noticing that Denisov had fallen asleep, he got up and went out of doors.

It was still quite dark outside. The rain was over, but the trees were still dripping. Close by the hut could be seen the black outlines of the Cossacks' shanties and the horses tied together. Behind the hut there was a dark blur where two waggons stood with the horses near by, and in the hollow there was a red glow from the dying fire. The Cossacks and the hussars were not all asleep; there mingled with the sound of the falling drops and the munching of the horses, the sound of low voices, that seemed to be whispering.

Petya came out of the porch, looked about him in the darkness, and went up to the waggons. Some one was snoring under the waggons, and saddled horses were standing round them munching oats. In the dark Petya recognised and approached his own mare, whom he called Karabach, though she was in fact of a Little Russian breed.

“Well, Karabach, to-morrow we shall do good service,” he said, sniffing her nostrils and kissing her.

“Why, aren't you asleep, sir?” said a Cossack, sitting under the waggon.

“No; but … Lihatchev—I believe that's your name, eh? You know I have only just come back. We have been calling on the French.” And Petya gave the Cossack a detailed account, not only of his adventure, but also of his reasons for going, and why he thought it better to risk his life than to do things in a haphazard way.

“Well, you must be sleepy; get a little sleep,” said the Cossack.

“No, I am used to it,” answered Petya. “And how are the flints in our pistols—not worn out? I brought some with me. Don't you want any? Do take some.”

The Cossack popped out from under the waggon to take a closer look at Petya.

“For, you see, I like to do everything carefully,” said Petya. “Some men, you know, leave things to chance, and don't have things ready, and then they regret it. I don't like that.”

“No, to be sure,” said the Cossack.

“Oh, and another thing, please, my dear fellow, sharpen my sabre for me; I have blunt …” (but Petya could not bring out a lie) … “it has never been sharpened. Can you do that?”

“To be sure I can.”

Lihatchev stood up, and rummaged in the baggage, and Petya stood and heard the martial sound of steel and whetstone. He clambered on to the waggon, and sat on the edge of it. The Cossack sharpened the sabre below.

“Are the other brave fellows asleep?” said Petya.

“Some are asleep, and some are awake, like us.”

“And what about the boy?”

“Vesenny? He's lying yonder in the hay. He's sleeping well after his fright. He was so pleased.”

For a long while after that Petya sat quiet, listening to the sounds. There was a sound of footsteps in the darkness, and a dark figure appeared.

“What are you sharpening?” asked a man coming up to the waggon.

“A sabre for the gentleman here.”

“That's a good thing,” said the man, who seemed to Petya to be an hussar. “Was the cup left with you here?”

“It's yonder by the wheel.” The hussar took the cup. “It will soon be daylight,” he added, yawning, as he walked off.

Petya must, one would suppose, have known that he was in a wood, with Denisov's band of irregulars, a verst from the road; that he was sitting on a waggon captured from the French; that there were horses fastened to it; that under it was sitting the Cossack Lihatchev sharpening his sabre; that the big, black blur on the right was the hut, and the red, bright glow below on the left the dying camp-fire; that the man who had come for the cup was an hussar who was thirsty. But Petya knew nothing of all that, and refused to know it. He was in a fairyland, in which nothing was like the reality. The big patch of shadow might be a hut certainly, but it might be a cave leading down into the very depths of the earth. The red patch might be a fire, but it might be the eye of a huge monster. Perhaps he really was sitting now on a waggon, but very likely he was sitting not on a waggon, but on a fearfully high tower, and if he fell off, he would go on flying to the earth for a whole day, for a whole month—fly and fly for ever and never reach it. Perhaps it was simply the Cossack Lihatchev sitting under the waggon; but very likely it was the kindest, bravest, most wonderful and splendid man in the world whom no one knew of. Perhaps it really was an hussar who had come for water and gone into the hollow; but perhaps he had just vanished, vanished altogether and was no more.

Whatever Petya had seen now, it would not have surprised him. He was in a land of fairies, where everything was possible.

He gazed at the sky. The sky too was an enchanted realm like the earth. It had begun to clear, and the clouds were scudding over the tree-tops, as though unveiling the stars. At times it seemed as though they were swept away, and there were glimpses of clear, black sky between them. At times these black patches looked like storm-clouds. At times the sky seemed to rise high, high overhead, and then again to be dropping down so that one could reach it with the hand.

Petya closed his eyes and began to nod. The branches dripped. There was a low hum of talk and the sound of some one snoring. The horses neighed and scuffled.

“Ozheeg, zheeg, ozheeg, zheeg…” hissed the sabre on the whetstone; and all at once Petya seemed to hear harmonious music, an orchestra playing some unfamiliar, solemnly sweet hymn. Petya was as musical by nature as Natasha, and far more so than Nikolay; but he had had no musical training, and never thought about music, so that the melody that came unexpectedly into his mind had a special freshness and charm for him. The music became more and more distinct. The melody grew and passed from one instrument to another. There was being played what is called a fugue, though Petya had not the slightest idea of what was meant by a fugue. Each instrument—one like a violin, others like flutes, but fuller and more melodious than violins and flutes—played its part, and before it had finished the air, melted in with another, beginning almost the same air, and with a third and a fourth; and all mingled into one harmony, and parted again, and again mingled into solemn church music, and then into some brilliant and triumphant song of victory.

“Oh yes, of course I am dreaming,” Petya said to himself, nodding forward. “It is only in my ears. Perhaps, though, it's my own music. Come, again. Strike up, my music! Come!…”

He closed his eyes. And from various directions the sounds began vibrating as though from a distance, began to strike up, to part, and to mingle again, all joined in the same sweet and solemn hymn. “Ah how exquisite! As much as I want, and as I like it!” Petya said to himself. He tried to conduct this immense orchestra.

“Come, softly, softly, now!” And the sounds obeyed him. “Come, now fuller, livelier! More and more joyful!” And from unknown depths rose the swelling, triumphant sounds. “Now, voices, join in!” Petya commanded. And at first in the distance he heard men's voices, then women's. The voices swelled into rhythmic, triumphant fulness. Petya felt awe and joy as he drank in their marvellous beauty.

With the triumphant march of victory mingled the song of voices, and the drip of the branches and the zheeg, zheeg, zheeg of the sabre on the whetstone; and again the horses neighed and scuffled, not disturbing the harmony, but blending into it. How long it lasted, Petya could not tell; he was enjoying it, and wondering all the while at his own enjoyment, and regretting he had no one to share it with. He was waked by the friendly voice of Lihatchev.

“It's ready, your honour, you can cut the Frenchman in two now.”

Petya waked up.

“Why, it's light already; it's really getting light,” he cried. The horses, unseen before, were visible to the tails now, and through the leafless boughs there could be seen a watery light. Petya shook himself, jumped up, took a rouble out of his pocket, and gave it to Lihatchev, brandished his sabre to try it, and thrust it into the scabbard. The Cossacks were untying the horses and fastening the saddlegirths.

“And here is the commander,” said Lihatchev.

Denisov came out of the hut, and calling to Petya, bade him get ready.