OVER THE BRIDGE two of the enemy's shots had already flown and there was a crush on the bridge. In the middle of the bridge stood Nesvitsky. He had dismounted and stood with his stout person jammed against the railings. He looked laughingly back at his Cossack, who was standing several paces behind him holding the two horses by their bridles. Every time Nesvitsky tried to move on, the advancing soldiers and waggons bore down upon him and shoved him back against the railings. There was nothing for him to do but to smile.
“Hi there, my lad,” said the Cossack to a soldier in charge of a waggon-load who was forcing his way through the foot-soldiers that pressed right up to his wheels and his horses; “what are you about? No, you wait a bit; you see the general wants to pass.”
But the convoy soldier, taking no notice of the allusion to the general, bawled to the soldiers who blocked the way: “Hi! fellows, keep to the left! wait a bit!” But the fellows, shoulder to shoulder, with their bayonets interlocked, moved over the bridge in one compact mass. Looking down over the rails, Prince Nesvitsky saw the noisy, rapid, but not high waves of the Enns, which, swirling in eddies round the piles of the bridge, chased one another down stream. Looking on the bridge he saw the living waves of the soldiers, all alike as they streamed by: shakoes with covers on them, knapsacks, bayonets, long rifles, and under the shakoes broad-jawed faces, sunken cheeks, and looks of listless weariness, and legs moving over the boards of the bridge, that were coated with sticky mud. Sometimes among the monotonous streams of soldiers, like a crest of white foam on the waves of the Enns, an officer forced his way through, in a cloak, with a face of a different type from the soldiers. Sometimes, like a chip whirling on the river, there passed over the bridge among the waves of infantry a dismounted hussar, an orderly, or an inhabitant of the town. Sometimes, like a log floating down the river, there moved over the bridge, hemmed in on all sides, a baggage-waggon, piled up high and covered with leather covers.
“Why, they're like a river bursting its banks,” said the Cossack, stopping hopelessly. “Are there many more over there?”
“A million, all but one!” said a cheerful soldier in a torn coat, winking, as he passed out of sight; after him came another soldier, an older man.
“If he” (he meant the enemy) “starts popping at the bridge just now,” said the old soldier dismally, addressing his companion, “you'll forget to scratch yourself.” And he passed on. After him came another soldier riding on a waggon.
“Where the devil did you put the leg-wrappers?” said an orderly, running after the waggon and fumbling in the back part of it. And he too passed on with the waggon.
Then came some hilarious soldiers, who had unmistakably been drinking.
“And didn't he up with the butt end of his gun and give him one right in the teeth,” one soldier was saying gleefully with a wide sweep of his arm.
“It just was a delicious ham,” answered the other with a chuckle. And they passed on, so that Nesvitsky never knew who had received the blow in his teeth, and what the ham had to do with it.
“Yes, they're in a hurry now! When he let fly a bit of cold lead, one would have thought they were all being killed,” said an under officer, angrily and reproachfully.
“When it whizzed by me, uncle, the bullet,” said a young soldier with a huge mouth, scarcely able to keep from laughing, “I turned fairly numb. Upon my soul, wasn't I in a fright, to be sure!” said the soldier, making a sort of boast of his terror.
He, too, passed on. After him came a waggon unlike all that had passed over before. It was a German Vorspann with two horses, loaded, it seemed, with the goods of a whole household. The horses were led by a German, and behind was fastened a handsome, brindled cow with an immense udder. On piled-up feather-beds sat a woman with a small baby, an old woman, and a good-looking, rosy-cheeked German girl. They were evidently country people, moving, who had been allowed through by special permit. The eyes of all the soldiers were turned upon the women, and, while the waggon moved by, a step at a time, all the soldiers' remarks related to the two women. Every face wore almost the same smile, reflecting indecent ideas about the women.
“Hey, the sausage, he's moving away!”
“Sell us your missis,” said another soldier, addressing the German, who strode along with downcast eyes, looking wrathful and alarmed.
“See how she's dressed herself up! Ah, you devils!”
“I say, wouldn't you like to be billeted on them, Fedotov!”
“I know a thing or two, mate!”
“Where are you going?” asked the infantry officer, who was eating an apple. He too was half smiling and staring at the handsome girl. The German, shutting his eyes, signified that he did not understand.
“Take it, if you like,” said the officer, giving the girl an apple. The girl smiled and took it. Nesvitsky, like all the men on the bridge, never took his eyes off the women till they had passed by. When they had passed by, again there moved by the same soldiers, with the same talk, and at last all came to a standstill. As often happens, the horses in a convoy-waggon became unmanageable at the end of the bridge, and the whole crowd had to wait.
“What are they standing still for? There's no order kept!” said the soldiers. “Where are you shoving?” “Damn it!” “Can't you wait a little?” “It'll be a bad look-out if he sets light to the bridge.”
“Look, there's an officer jammed in too,” the soldiers said in different parts of the stationary crowd, as they looked about them and kept pressing forward to the end of the bridge. Looking round at the waters of the Enns under the bridge, Nesvitsky suddenly heard a sound new to him, the sound of something rapidly coming nearer … something big, and then a splash in the water.
“Look where it reaches to!” a soldier standing near said sternly, looking round at the sound.
“He's encouraging us to get on quicker,” said another uneasily. The crowd moved again. Nesvitsky grasped that it was a cannon ball.
“Hey, Cossack, give me my horse!” he said. “Now then, stand aside! stand aside! make way!”
With a mighty effort he succeeded in getting to his horse. Shouting continually, he moved forward. The soldiers pressed together to make way for him, but jammed upon him again, so that they squeezed his leg, and those nearest him were not to blame, for they were pressed forward even more violently from behind.
“Nesvitsky! Nesvitsky! You, old chap!” he heard a husky voice shouting from behind at that instant.
Nesvitsky looked round and saw, fifteen paces away, separated from him by a living mass of moving infantry, the red and black and tousled face of Vaska Denisov with a forage-cap on the back of his head, and a pelisse swung jauntily over his shoulder.
“Tell them to make way, the damned devils!” roared Denisov, who was evidently in a great state of excitement. He rolled his flashing, coal-black eyes, showing the bloodshot whites, and waved a sheathed sword, which he held in a bare hand as red as his face.
“Eh! Vaska!” Nesvitsky responded joyfully. “But what are you about?”
“The squadron can't advance!” roared Vaska Denisov, viciously showing his white teeth, and spurring his handsome, raven thoroughbred “Bedouin,” which, twitching its ears at the bayonets against which it pricked itself, snorting and shooting froth from its bit, tramped with metallic clang on the boards of the bridge, and seemed ready to leap over the railings, if its rider would let it.
“What next! like sheep! for all the world like sheep; back … make way! … Stand there! go to the devil with the waggon! I'll cut you down with my sword!” he roared, actually drawing his sword out of the sheath and beginning to brandish it.
The soldiers, with terrified faces, squeezed together, and Denisov joined Nesvitsky.
“How is it you're not drunk to-day?” said Nesvitsky, when he came up.
“They don't even give us time to drink!” answered Vaska Denisov. “They've been dragging the regiment to and fro the whole day. Fighting's all very well, but who the devil's to know what this is!”
“How smart you are to-day!” said Nesvitsky, looking at his new pelisse and fur saddle-cloth.
Denisov smiled, pulled out of his sabretache a handkerchief that diffused a smell of scent, and put it to Nesvitsky's nose.
“To be sure, I'm going into action! I've shaved, and cleaned my teeth and scented myself!”
Nesvitsky's imposing figure, accompanied by his Cossack, and the determination of Denisov, waving his sword and shouting desperately, produced so much effect that they stopped the infantry and got to the other end of the bridge. Nesvitsky found at the entry the colonel, to whom he had to deliver the command, and having executed his commission he rode back.
Having cleared the way for him, Denisov stopped at the entrance of the bridge. Carelessly holding in his horse, who neighed to get to his companions, and stamped with its foot, he looked at the squadron moving towards him. The clang of the hoofs on the boards of the bridge sounded as though several horses were galloping, and the squadron, with the officers in front, drew out four men abreast across the bridge and began emerging on the other side.
The infantry soldiers, who had been forced to stop, crowding in the trampled mud of the bridge, looked at the clean, smart hussars, passing them in good order, with that special feeling of aloofness and irony with which different branches of the service usually meet.
“They're a smart lot! They ought to be on the Podnovinsky!”
“They're a great deal of use! They're only for show!” said another.
“Infantry, don't you kick up a dust!” jested a hussar, whose horse, prancing, sent a spurt of mud on an infantry soldier.
“I should like to see you after two long marches with the knapsack on your shoulder. Your frogs would be a bit shabby,” said the foot-soldier, rubbing the mud off his face with his sleeve; “perched up there you're more like a bird than a man!”
“Wouldn't you like to be popped on a horse, Zikin; you'd make an elegant rider,” jested a corporal at a thin soldier, bowed down by the weight of his knapsack.
“Put a stick between your legs and you'd have a horse to suit you,” responded the hussar.