Book 15 Chapter 6

THE 5TH of November was the first day of the so-called battle of Krasnoe.

Many had been the blunders and disputes among the generals, who had not reached their proper places, many the contradictory orders carried to them by adjutants, but towards evening it was clear that the enemy were everywhere in flight, and that there would not and could not be a battle. In the evening Kutuzov set out from Krasnoe towards Dobroe, to which place the headquarters had that day been removed.

It had been a clear, frosty day. Kutuzov, mounted on his fat, white little horse, was riding towards Dobroe, followed by an immense suite of generals, whispering their dissatisfaction behind his back. Seven thousand French prisoners had been taken that day, and all along the road they met parties of them, crowding to warm themselves round the camp-fires. Not far from Dobroe they heard a loud hum of talk from an immense crowd of tattered prisoners, bandaged and wrapped up in rags of all sorts, standing in the road near a long row of unharnessed French cannons. At the approach of the commander-in-chief the buzz of talk died away, and all eyes were fixed upon Kutuzov, who moved slowly along the road, wearing a white cap with a red band, and a wadded overcoat, that set in a hunch on his round shoulders. One of the generals began explaining to Kutuzov where the prisoners and the guns had been taken.

Kutuzov seemed absorbed in anxious thought, and did not hear the general's words. He screwed up his eyes with an air of displeasure, and gazed intently at the figures of the prisoners, who presented a particularly pitiable appearance. The majority of the French soldiers were disfigured by frost-bitten cheeks and noses, and almost all of them had red, swollen, and streaming eyes.

One group of Frenchmen was standing close by the road, and two soldiers, one with his face covered with sores, were tearing at a piece of raw meat with their hands. There was something bestial and horrible in the cursory glance they cast on the approaching generals, and the frenzied expression with which the soldier with the sore face, after a glance at Kutuzov, turned away and went on with what he was doing.

Kutuzov looked a long while intently at these two soldiers; frowning more than before, he half-closed his eyelids, and shook his head thoughtfully. Further on, he noticed a Russian soldier, who was saying something friendly to a French prisoner, laughing and clapping him on the shoulder. Kutuzov shook his head again with the same expression.

“What do you say?” he asked the general, who was trying to draw the commander-in-chief's attention to the French flags, that were set up in front of the Preobrazhensky regiment.

“Ah, the flags!” said Kutuzov, rousing himself with evident difficulty from the subject absorbing his thoughts. He looked about him absently. Thousands of eyes were gazing at him from all sides, waiting for his words.

He came to a standstill before the Preobrazhensky regiment, sighed heavily and closed his eyes. One of the suite beckoned to the soldiers holding the flags to come up and set up the flagstaffs around the commander-in-chief. Kutuzov was silent for a few seconds. Then with obvious reluctance, yielding to the obligations of his position, he raised his head and began to speak. Crowds of officers gathered round him. He scanned the circle of officers with an attentive eye, recognising some of them.

“I thank you all!” he said, addressing the soldiers, and then again turning to the officers. In the deep stillness that prevailed all round him, his slowly articulated words were distinctly audible: “I thank you all for your hard and faithful service. The victory is complete, and Russia will not forget you. Your glory will be for ever!” He paused, looking about him.

“Lower; bow his head lower,” he said to the soldier, who was holding the French eagle, and had accidentally lowered it before the Preobrazhensky standard.

“Lower, lower, that's it. Hurrah, lads!” he said, his chin moving quickly as he turned to the soldiers.

“Hurrah-rah-rah!” thousands of voices roared.

While the soldiers were shouting, Kutuzov, bending forward in his saddle, bowed his head, and his eyes gleamed with a mild and, as it were, ironical light.

“And now, brothers …” he said, when the shouts had died away.

And all at once his face and expression changed: it was not the commander-in-chief speaking now, but a simple, aged man, who plainly wanted to say something most important now to his comrades.

“And now, brothers. I know it's hard for you, but there's no help for it! Have a little patience; it won't last much longer. We will see our visitors off, and then we will rest. The Tsar won't forget your services. It's hard for you, but still you are at home; while they—you see what they have come to,” he said, pointing to the prisoners. “Worse than the lowest beggars. While they were strong, we did not spare ourselves, but now we can even spare them. They too are men. Eh, lads?”

He looked about him. And in the unflinching, respectfully wondering eyes staring persistently at him, he read sympathy with his words. His face grew brighter and brighter with the gentle smile of old age, that brought clusters of wrinkles at the corners of his mouth and his eyes. He paused and dropped his head, as though in doubt.

“But after all is said and done, who asked them to come here? It serves them right, the b— b—” he said suddenly, lifting his head. And swinging his riding-whip, he rode off at a gallop, accompanied for the first time during the whole campaign by gleeful guffaws and roars of hurrah from the men as they moved out of rank.

The words uttered by Kutuzov were hardly understood by the soldiers. No one could have repeated the field-marshal's speech at first of such solemnity, and towards the end of such homely simplicity. But the meaning at the bottom of his words, they understood very well, and the same feeling of solemn triumph in their victory, together with pity for the enemy and the sense of the justice of their cause—expressed, too, with precisely the same homely coarseness—lay at the bottom of every soldier's heart, and found a vent in delighted shouts, that did not cease for a long while. When one of the generals addressed the commander-in-chief after this, asking whether he desired his carriage, Kutuzov broke into a sudden sob in replying. He was evidently deeply moved.