IN THE OCTOBER OF 1805 the Russian troops were occupying the towns and villages of the Austrian archduchy, and fresh regiments kept arriving from Russia and encamping about the fortress of Braunau, burdening the inhabitants on whom they were billeted. Braunau was the chief headquarters of the commander-in-chief, Kutuzov.
On the 11th of October 1805, one of the infantry regiments that had just reached Braunau had halted half a mile from the town, awaiting the inspection of the commander-in-chief. In spite of the un-Russian character of the country and the environment (the fruit gardens, the stone walls, the tiled roofs, the mountains in the distance, the foreign peasants, who looked with curiosity at the Russian soldiers), the regiment looked exactly as every Russian regiment always looks when it is getting ready for inspection anywhere in the heart of Russia. In the evening, on the last stage of the march, the order had been received that the commander-in-chief would inspect the regiment on the march. Though the wording of the order did not seem quite clear to the general in command of the regiment, and the question arose whether they were to take it to mean, in marching order or not, it was decided on a consultation between the majors to present the regiment in parade order on the ground, since, as the saying is, it is better to bow too low than not to bow low enough. And the soldiers after a twenty-five mile march had not closed their eyes, but had spent the night mending and cleaning, while the adjutants and officers had been reckoning up and calculating. And by the morning the regiment, instead of the straggling, disorderly crowd it had been on the last march, the previous evening, presented the spectacle of an organised mass of two thousand men, of whom every one knew his part and his duty, and had every button and every strap in its proper position, and shining with cleanliness. It was not only the outside that was in good order; if the commander-in-chief should think fit to peep below the uniform, he would see on every man alike a clean shirt, and in every knapsack he would find the regulation number of articles. There was only one circumstance which no one could feel comfortable about. That was their foot-gear. More than half the soldiers had holes in their boots. But this deficiency was not due to any shortcoming on the part of their commanding officer, since in spite of his repeated demands the boots had not yet been granted him by the Austrian authorities, and the regiment had marched nearly a thousand miles.
The commander of the regiment was a sanguine-looking general past middle age, with grey whiskers and eyebrows, broad and thick-set, and thicker through from the chest to the back than across the shoulders. He wore a brand-new uniform with the creases still in it where it had been folded, and rich gold epaulettes, which seemed to stand up instead of lying down on his thick shoulders. The general had the air of a man who has successfully performed one of the most solemn duties of his life. He walked about in front of the line, and quivered as he walked, with a slight jerk of his back at each step. The general was unmistakably admiring his regiment, and happy in it, and it was evident that his whole brain was engrossed by the regiment. But for all that, his quivering strut seemed to say that, apart from his military interests, he had plenty of warmth in his heart for the attractions of social life and the fair sex.
“Well, Mihail Mitritch, sir,” he said, addressing a major (the major came forward smiling; they were evidently in excellent spirits).
“We have had our hands full all night…But it'll do, I fancy; the regiment's not so bad as some…eh?”
The major understood this good-humoured irony and laughed.
“Even on the Tsaritsyn review ground they wouldn't be turned off.”
“Eh?” said the commander.
At that moment two figures on horseback came into sight on the road from the town, where sentinels had been posted to give the signal. They were an adjutant, and a Cossack riding behind him.
The adjutant had been sent by the commander-in-chief to confirm to the commander what had not been clearly stated in the previous order, namely, that the commander-in-chief wished to inspect the regiment exactly in the order in which it had arrived—wearing their overcoats, and carrying their baggage, and without any sort of preparation.
A member of the Hofkriegsrath from Vienna had been with Kutuzov the previous day, proposing and demanding that he should move on as quickly as possible to effect a junction with the army of Archduke Ferdinand and Mack; and Kutuzov, not considering this combination advisable, had intended, among other arguments in support of his view, to point out to the Austrian general the pitiable condition in which were the troops that had arrived from Russia. It was with this object, indeed, that he had meant to meet the regiment, so that the worse the condition of the regiment, the better pleased the commander-in-chief would be with it. Though the adjutant did not know these details, he gave the general in command of the regiment the message that the commander-in-chief absolutely insisted on the men being in their overcoats and marching order, and that, if the contrary were the case, the commander-in-chief would be displeased.
On hearing this the general's head sank; he shrugged his shoulders, and flung up his hands with a choleric gesture.
“Here's a mess we've made of it,” he said. “Why, didn't I tell you, Mihail Mitritch, that on the march meant in their overcoats,” he said reproachfully to the major. “Ah, my God!” he added, and stepped resolutely forward. “Captains of the companies!” he shouted in a voice used to command. “Sergeants!… Will his excellency be coming soon?” he said, turning to the adjutant with an expression of respectful deference, that related obviously only to the person he was speaking of.
“In an hour's time, I believe.”
“Have we time to change clothes?”
“I can't say, general.…”
The general, going himself among the ranks, gave orders for the men to change back to their overcoats. The captains ran about among the companies, the sergeants bustled to and fro (the overcoats were not quite up to the mark), and instantaneously the squadrons, that had been in regular order and silent, were heaving to and fro, straggling apart and humming with talk. The soldiers ran backwards and forwards in all directions, stooping with their shoulders thrown back, drawing their knapsacks off over their heads, taking out their overcoats and lifting their arms up to thrust them into the sleeves.
Half an hour later everything was in its former good order again, only the squadrons were now grey instead of black. The general walked in front of the regiment again with his quivering strut, and scanned it from some distance.
“What next? what's this!” he shouted, stopping short. “Captain of the third company!”
“The captain of the third company to the general! The captain to the general of the third company to the captain!” … voices were heard along the ranks, and an adjutant ran to look for the tardy officer. When the sound of the officious voices, varying the command, and, by now, crying, “the general to the third company,” reached their destination, the officer called for emerged from behind his company, and, though he was an elderly man and not accustomed to running, he moved at a quick trot towards the general, stumbling awkwardly over the toes of his boots. The captain's face showed the uneasiness of a schoolboy who is called up to repeat an unlearnt lesson. Patches came out on his red nose (unmistakably due to intemperance), and he did not know how to keep his mouth steady. The general looked the captain up and down as he ran panting up, slackening his pace as he drew nearer.
“You'll soon be dressing your men in petticoats! What's the meaning of it?” shouted the general, thrusting out his lower jaw and pointing in the ranks of the third division to a soldier in an overcoat of a colour different from the rest. “Where have you been yourself? The commander-in-chief is expected, and you're not in your place? Eh? … I'll teach you to rig your men out in dressing-gowns for inspection! … Eh?”
The captain, never taking his eyes off his superior officer, pressed the peak of his cap more and more tightly with his two fingers, as though he saw in this compression his only hope of safety.
“Well, why don't you speak? Who's that dressed up like a Hungarian?” the general jested bitterly.
“Your excellency …”
“Well, what's your excellency? Your excellency! Your excellency! But what that means, your excellency, nobody knows.”
“Your excellency, that's Dolohov, the degraded officer,” the captain said softly.
“Well, is he degraded to be a field-marshal, or a common soldier? If he's a soldier, then he must be dressed like all the rest, according to regulation.”
“Your excellency, you gave him leave yourself on the march.”
“Gave him leave? There, you're always like that, you young men,” said the general, softening a little. “Gave him leave? If one says a word to you, you go and …” The general paused. “One says a word to you, and you go and…Eh?” he said with renewed irritation. “Be so good as to clothe your men decently.…”
And the general, looking round at the adjutant, walked with his quivering strut towards the regiment. It was obvious that he was pleased with his own display of anger, and that, walking through the regiment, he was trying to find a pretext for wrath. Falling foul of one officer for an unpolished ensign, of another for the unevenness of the rank, he approached the third company.
“How are you standing? Where is your leg? Where is your leg?” the general shouted with a note of anguish in his voice, stopping five men off Dolohov, who was wearing his blue overcoat. Dolohov slowly straightened his bent leg, and looked with his clear, insolent eyes straight in the general's face.
“Why are you in a blue coat? Off with it!…Sergeant! change his coat…the dir…” Before he had time to finish the word—
“General, I am bound to obey orders, but I am not bound to put up with…” Dolohov hastened to say.
“No talking in the ranks! … No talking, no talking!”
“Not bound to put up with insults,” Dolohov went on, loudly and clearly. The eyes of the general and the soldier met. The general paused, angrily pulling down his stiff scarf.
“Change your coat, if you please,” he said as he walked away.