PURSUED by the French army of a hundred thousand men under the command of Bonaparte, received with hostility by the inhabitants, losing confidence in their allies, suffering from shortness of supplies, and forced to act under circumstances unlike anything that had been foreseen, the Russian army of thirty-five thousand men, under the command of Kutuzov, beat a hasty retreat to the lower ground about the Danube. There they halted, and were overtaken by the enemy, and fought a few rear-guard skirmishes, avoiding an engagement, except in so far as it was necessary to secure a retreat without the loss of their baggage and guns. There were actions at Lambach, at Amsteten, and at Melk; but in spite of the courage and stubbornness—acknowledged even by the enemy—with which the Russians fought, the only consequence of these engagements was a still more rapid retreat. The Austrian troops that had escaped being taken at Ulm, and had joined Kutuzov's forces at Braunau, now parted from the Russian army, and Kutuzov was left unsupported with his weak and exhausted forces. The defence of Vienna could no longer be dreamed of. Instead of the elaborately planned campaign of attack, in accordance with the principles of the modern science of strategy, the plan of which had been communicated to Kutuzov during his sojourn in Vienna by the Austrian Hofkriegsrath, the sole aim—almost a hopeless one—that remained now for Kutuzov was to avoid losing his army, like Mack at Ulm, and to effect a junction with the fresh troops marching from Russia.
On the 28th of October, Kutuzov took his army across to the left bank of the Danube, and then for the first time halted, leaving the Danube between his army and the greater part of the enemy's forces. On the 30th he attacked Mortier's division, which was on the left bank of the Danube, and defeated it. In this action for the first time trophies were taken—a flag, cannons, and two of the enemy's generals. For the first time, after retreating for a fortnight, the Russian troops had halted, and after fighting had not merely kept the field of battle, but had driven the French off it. Although the troops were without clothing and exhausted, and had lost a third of their strength in wounded, killed, and missing; although they had left their sick and wounded behind on the other side of the Danube, with a letter from Kutuzov commending them to the humanity of the enemy; although the great hospitals and houses in Krems could not contain all the sick and wounded,—in spite of all that, the halt before Krems and the victory over Mortier had greatly raised the spirits of the troops. Throughout the whole army, and also at headquarters, there were the most cheerful but groundless rumours of the near approach of the columns from Russia, of some victory gained by the Austrians, and of the retreat of Bonaparte panic-stricken.
Prince Andrey had been during the engagement in attendance on the Austrian general Schmidt, who was killed in the battle. His horse had been wounded under him, and he had himself received a slight wound on his arm from a bullet. As a mark of special favour on the part of the commander-in-chief, he was sent with the news of this victory to the Austrian court, now at Brünn, as Vienna was threatened by the French. On the night of the battle, excited, but not weary (though Prince Andrey did not look robustly built, he could bear fatigue better than very strong men), he had ridden with a despatch from Dohturov to Krems to Kutuzov. The same night he had been sent on with a special despatch to Brünn. This commission, apart from its reward, meant an important step in promotion.
The night was dark and starlit; the road looked black in the white snow that had fallen on the day of the battle. With his mind filled with impressions of the battle, joyful anticipations of the effect that would be produced by the news of the victory, and recollections of the farewells of the commander-in-chief and his comrades, Prince Andrey trotted along in a light posting cart, with the sensations of a man who, after long waiting, has at last attained the first instalment of some coveted happiness. As soon as he closed his eyes, the firing of guns and cannons was echoing in his ears, and that sound blended with the rattle of the wheels and the sensation of victory. At one moment he would begin to dream that the Russians were flying, that he was himself slain; but he waked up in haste, and with fresh happiness realised anew that that was all unreal, and that it was the French, on the contrary, who were put to flight. He recalled again all the details of the victory, his own calm manliness during the battle, and, reassured, he began to doze.… The dark, starlit night was followed by a bright and sunny morning. The snow was thawing in the sun, the horses galloped quickly, and new and different-looking forests, fields, and trees flew by on both sides of the road alike.
At one of the stations he overtook a convoy of Russian wounded. The Russian officer in charge of the transport lay lolling back in the foremost cart, and was shouting coarse abuse at a soldier. In each of the long German Vorspanns six or more pale, bandaged, and dirty wounded men were being jolted over the stony roads. Some of them were talking (he caught the sound of Russian words), others were eating bread; the most severely wounded gazed dumbly at the posting cart trotting by, with the languid interest of sick children.
Prince Andrey told the driver to stop, and asked a soldier in what battle they had been wounded.
“The day before yesterday on the Danube,” answered the soldier. Prince Andrey took out his purse and gave the soldier three gold pieces.
“For all,” he added, addressing the officer as he came up. “Get well, lads,” he said to the soldiers, “there's a lot to do yet.”
“What news?” asked the officer, evidently anxious to get into conversation.
“Good news! Forward!” he called to the driver, and galloped on.
It was quite dark when Prince Andrey rode into Bränn, and saw himself surrounded by high houses, lighted shops, the lighted windows of houses, and street lamps, handsome carriages noisily rolling over the pavement, and all that atmosphere of a great town full of life, which is so attractive to a soldier after camp. In spite of the rapid drive and sleepless night, Prince Andrey felt even more alert, as he drove up to the palace, than he had on the previous evening. Only his eyes glittered with a feverish brilliance, and his ideas followed one another with extreme rapidity and clearness. He vividly pictured again all the details of the battle, not in confusion, but definitely, in condensed shape, as he meant to present them to the Emperor Francis. He vividly imagined the casual questions that might be put to him and the answers he would make to them. He imagined that he would be at once presented to the Emperor. But at the chief entrance of the palace an official ran out to meet him, and learning that he was a special messenger, led him to another entrance.
“Turning to the right out of the corridor, Euer Hochgeboren, you will find the adjutant on duty,” the official said to him. “He will conduct you to the minister of war.”
The adjutant on duty, meeting Prince Andrey, asked him to wait, and went into the war minister. Five minutes later the adjutant returned, and with marked courtesy, bowing and ushering Prince Andrey before him, he led him across the corridor to the private room of the war minister. The adjutant, by his elaborately formal courtesy, seemed to wish to guard himself from any attempt at familiarity on the part of the Russian adjutant. The joyous feeling of Prince Andrey was considerably damped as he approached the door of the minister's room. He felt slighted, and the feeling of being slighted passed instantaneously without his being aware of it himself—into a feeling of disdain, which was quite uncalled for. His subtle brain at the same instant supplied him with the point of view from which he had the right to feel disdain both of the adjutant and the minister of war. “No doubt it seems to them a very simple matter to win victories, never having smelt powder!” he thought. His eyelids drooped disdainfully; he walked with peculiar deliberateness into the war minister's room. This feeling was intensified when he saw the minister of war sitting at a big table, and for the first two minutes taking no notice of his entrance. The minister of war had his bald head, with grey curls on the temple, held low between two wax candles; he was reading some papers, and marking them with a pencil. He went on reading to the end, without raising his eyes at the opening of the door and the sound of footsteps.
“Take this and give it him,” said the minister of war to his adjutant, handing him the papers, and taking no notice of the Russian attaché.
Prince Andrey felt that either the minister of war took less interest in the doings of Kutuzov's army than in any other subject demanding his attention, or that he wanted to make the Russian attaché feel this. “But that's a matter of complete indifference to me,” thought he. The minister of war put the other remaining papers together, making their edges level, and lifted his head. He had an intellectual and characteristic head. But the instant he turned to Prince Andrey, the shrewd and determined expression of the war minister's face changed in a manner evidently conscious and habitual. On his face was left the stupid smile—hypocritical, and not disguising its hypocrisy—of a man who receives many petitioners, one after another.
“From General—Field Marshal Kutuzov?” he queried. “Good news, I hope? Has there been an engagement with Mortier? A victory? It was high time!”
He took the despatch, which was addressed to him, and began to read it with a mournful expression.
“Ah! My God! my God! Schmidt!” he said in German. “What a calamity! what a calamity!” Skimming through the despatch, he laid it on the table and glanced at Prince Andrey, visibly meditating on something.
“Ah, what a calamity! So the action, you say, was a decisive one?” (“Mortier was not taken, however,” he reflected.) “Very glad you have brought good news, though the death of Schmidt is a costly price for the victory. His majesty will certainly wish to see you, but not to-day. I thank you; you must need repose. To-morrow, be at the levée after the review. But I will let you know.”
The stupid smile, which had disappeared while he was talking, reappeared on the war minister's face.
“Au revoir, I thank you indeed. His majesty the Emperor will most likely wish to see you,” he repeated, and he bowed his head.
As Prince Andrey left the palace, he felt that all the interest and happiness that had been given him by this victory had been left behind by him now in the indifferent hands of the minister and the formal adjutant. The whole tenor of his thoughts had instantaneously changed. The battle figured in his mind as a remote, far-away memory.