War And Peace

CHAPTER XVI

Chinese

AFTER MAKING A CIRCUIT round the whole line of the army, from the right flank to the left, Prince Andrey rode up to that battery from which the staff-officer told him that the whole field could be seen. Here he dismounted and stood by the end of one of the four cannons, which had been taken off their platforms. An artilleryman on sentinel duty in front of the cannons was just confronting the officer, but at a sign being made to him, he renewed his regular, monotonous pacing. Behind the cannons stood their platforms, and still further behind, the picket-ropes and camp-fires of the artillerymen. To the left, not far from the end cannon, was a little newly rigged-up shanty, from which came the sounds of offices' voices in eager conversation. From the battery there was in fact a view of almost the whole disposition of the Russian forces, and the greater part of the enemy's. Directly facing the battery on the skyline of the opposite hill could be seen the village of Schöngraben; to the left and to the right could be discerned in three places through the smoke of the camp-fires masses of the French troops, of which the greater number were undoubtedly in the village itself and behind the hill. To the left of the village there was something in the smoke that looked like a battery, but it could not be made out clearly by the naked eye. Our right flank was stationed on a rather steep eminence, which dominated the French position. About it were disposed our infantry regiments, and on the very ridge could be seen dragoons. In the centre, where was placed Tushin's battery, from which Prince Andrey was surveying the position, there was the most sloping and direct descent to the stream that separated us from Schöngraben. On the left our troops were close to a copse, where there was the smoke of the camp-fires of our infantry, chopping wood in it. The French line was wider than ours, and it was obviously easy for the French to outflank us on both sides. Behind our position was a precipitous and deep ravine, down which it would be difficult to retreat with artillery and cavalry. Prince Andrey leaned his elbow on the cannon, and taking out a note-book, sketched for himself a plan of the disposition of the troops. In two places he made notes with a pencil, intending to speak on the points to Bagration. He meant to suggest first concentrating all the artillery in the centre, and secondly drawing the cavalry back to the further side of the ravine. Prince Andrey, who was constantly in attendance on the commander-in-chief, watching the movements of masses of men and manœuvring of troops, and also continually studying the historical accounts of battles, could not help viewing the course of the military operations that were to come only in their general features. His imagination dwelt on the broad possibilities, such as the following: “If the enemy makes the right flank the point of attack,” he said to himself, “the Kiev grenadiers and Podolosky Chasseurs will have to defend their position, till the reserves from the centre come to their support. In that case the dragoons can get them in the flank and drive them back. In case of an attack on the centre, we station on this height the central battery, and under its cover we draw off the left flank and retreat to the ravine by platoons,” he reasoned. … All the while he was on the cannon, he heard, as one often does, the sounds of the voices of the officers talking in the shanty, but he did not take in a single word of what they were saying. Suddenly a voice from the shanty impressed him by a tone of such earnestness that he could not help listening.

“No, my dear fellow,” said a pleasant voice that seemed somehow familiar to Prince Andrey. “I say that if one could know what will happen after death, then not one of us would be afraid of death. That's so, my dear fellow.”

Another younger voice interrupted him: “But afraid or not afraid, there's no escaping it.”

‘Why, you're always in fear! Fie on you learned fellows,” said a third, a manly voice, interrupting both. “To be sure, you artillerymen are clever fellows, because you can carry everything with you to eat and to drink.”

And the owner of the manly voice, apparently an infantry officer, laughed.

“Still one is in fear,” pursued the first voice, the one Prince Andrey knew. “One's afraid of the unknown, that's what it is. It's all very well to say the soul goes to heaven … but this we do know, that there is no heaven, but only atmosphere.”

Again the manly voice interrupted.

“Come, give us a drop of your herb-brandy, Tushin,” it said.

“Oh, it's the captain, who had his boots off in the booth,” thought Prince Andrey, recognising with pleasure the agreeable philosophising voice.

“Herb-brandy by all means,” said Tushin; “but still to conceive of a future life …” He did not finish his sentence.

At that moment there was a whiz heard in the air: nearer, nearer, faster and more distinctly, and faster it came; and the cannon-ball, as though not uttering all it had to say, thudded into the earth not far from the shanty, tearing up the soil with superhuman force. The earth seemed to moan at the terrible blow. At the same instant there dashed out of the shanty, before any of the rest, little Tushin with his short pipe in his mouth; his shrewd, good-humoured face was rather pale. After him emerged the owner of the manly voice, a stalwart infantry officer, who ran off to his company, buttoning his coat as he ran.

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