AT DAWN on the 16th, Denisov's squadron, in which Nikolay Rostov was serving, and which formed part of Prince Bagration's detachment, moved on from its halting place for the night—to advance into action, as was said. After about a mile's march, in the rear of other columns, it was brought to a standstill on the high-road. Rostov saw the Cossacks, the first and second squadrons of hussars, and the infantry battalions with the artillery pass him and march on ahead; he also saw the Generals Bagration and Dolgorukov ride by with their adjutants. All the panic he had felt, as before, at the prospect of battle, all the inner conflict by means of which he had overcome that panic, all his dreams of distinguishing himself in true hussar style in this battle—all were for nothing. His squadron was held back in reserve, and Nikolay Rostov spent a tedious and wretched day. About nine o'clock in the morning he heard firing ahead of him, and shouts of hurrah, saw the wounded being brought back (there were not many of them), and finally saw a whole detachment of French cavalry being brought away in the midst of a company of Cossacks. Obviously the action was over, and the action had, obviously, been a small one, but successful. The soldiers and officers as they came back were talking of a brilliant victory, of the taking of the town of Vishau, and a whole French squadron taken prisoners. The day was bright and sunny after a sharp frost at night, and the cheerful brightness of the autumn day was in keeping with the news of victory, which was told not only by the accounts of those who had taken part in it, but by the joyful expression of soldiers, officers, generals, and adjutants, who rode to and fro by Rostov. All the greater was the pang in Nikolay's heart that he should have suffered the dread that goes before the battle for nothing, and have spent that happy day in inactivity.
“Rostov, come here, let's drink ‘begone, dull care!' ” shouted Denisov, sitting at the roadside before a bottle and some edibles. The officers gathered in a ring, eating and talking, round Denisov's wine-case.
“Here they're bringing another!” said one of the officers, pointing to a French prisoner, a dragoon, who was being led on foot by two Cossacks. One of them was leading by the bridle the prisoner's horse, a tall and beautiful French beast.
“Sell the horse?” Denisov called to the Cossacks.
“If you will, your honour.”
The officers got up and stood round the Cossacks and the prisoner. The French dragoon was a young fellow, an Alsatian who spoke French with a German accent. He was breathless with excitement, his face was red, and hearing French spoken he began quickly speaking to the officers, turning from one to another. He said that they wouldn't have taken him, that it wasn't his fault he was taken, but the fault of the corporal, who had sent him to get the horsecloths, that he had told him the Russians were there. And at every word he added: “But don't let anybody hurt my little horse,” and stroked his horse. It was evident that he did not quite grasp where he was. At one moment he was excusing himself for having been taken prisoner, at the next, imagining himself before his superior officers, he was trying to prove his soldierly discipline and zeal for the service. He brought with him in all its freshness into our rearguard the atmosphere of the French army, so alien to us.
The Cossacks sold the horse for two gold pieces, and Rostov, being the richest of the officers since he had received money from home, bought it.
“Be good to the little horse!” the Alsatian said with simple-hearted good-nature to Rostov, when the horse was handed to the hussar.
Rostov smiling, soothed the dragoon, and gave him money.
“Alley! Alley!” said the Cossack, touching the prisoner's arm to make him go on.
“The Emperor! the Emperor!” was suddenly heard among the hussars. Everything was bustle and hurry, and Rostov saw behind them on the road several horsemen riding up with white plumes in their hats. In a single moment all were in their places and eagerly expectant.
Rostov had no memory and no consciousness of how he ran to his post and got on his horse. Instantly his regret at not taking part in the battle, his humdrum mood among the men he saw every day—all was gone; instantly all thought of self had vanished. He was entirely absorbed in the feeling of happiness at the Tsar's being near. His nearness alone made up to him by itself, he felt, for the loss of the whole day. He was happy, as a lover is happy when the moment of the longed-for meeting has come. Not daring to look round from the front line, by an ecstatic instinct without looking round, he felt his approach. And he felt it not only from the sound of the tramping hoofs of the approaching cavalcade, he felt it because as the Tsar came nearer everything grew brighter, more joyful and significant, and more festive. Nearer and nearer moved this sun, as he seemed to Rostov, shedding around him rays of mild and majestic light, and now he felt himself enfolded in that radiance, he heard his voice—that voice caressing, calm, majestic, and yet so simple. A deathlike silence had come—as seemed to Rostov fitting—and in that silence he heard the sound of the Tsar's voice.
“The Pavlograd hussars?” he was saying interrogatively
“The reserve, sire,” replied a voice—such a human voice, after the superhuman voice that had said: “Les hussards de Pavlograd?”
The Tsar was on a level with Rostov, and he stood still there. Alexander's face was even handsomer than it had been at the review three days before. It beamed with such gaiety and youth, such innocent youthfulness, that suggested the playfulness of a boy of fourteen, and yet it was still the face of the majestic Emperor. Glancing casually along the squadron, the Tsar's eyes met the eyes of Rostov, and for not more than two seconds rested on them. Whether it was that the Tsar saw what was passing in Rostov's soul (it seemed to Rostov that he saw everything), any way he looked for two seconds with his blue eyes into Rostov's face. (A soft, mild radiance beamed from them.) Then all at once he raised his eyebrows, struck his left foot sharply against his horse, and galloped on.
The young Emperor could not restrain his desire to be present at the battle, and in spite of the expostulations of his courtiers, at twelve o'clock, escaping from the third column which he had been following, he galloped to the vanguard. Before he reached the hussars, several adjutants met him with news of the successful issue of the engagement.
The action, which had simply consisted in the capture of a squadron of the French, was magnified into a brilliant victory over the enemy, and so the Tsar and the whole army believed, especially while the smoke still hung over the field of battle, that the French had been defeated, and had been forced to retreat against their will. A few minutes after the Tsar had galloped on, the division of the Pavlograd hussars received orders to move forward. In Vishau itself, a little German town, Rostov saw the Tsar once more. In the market-place of the town where there had been rather a heavy firing before the Tsar's arrival, lay several dead and wounded soldiers, whom there had not been time to pick up. The Tsar, surrounded by his suite of officers and courtiers, was mounted on a different horse from the one he had ridden at the review, a chestnut English thoroughbred. Bending on one side with a graceful gesture, holding a gold field-glass to his eyes, he was looking at a soldier lying on his face with a blood-stained and uncovered head. The wounded soldier was an object so impure, so grim, and so revolting, that Rostov was shocked at his being near the Emperor. Rostov saw how the Tsar's stooping shoulders shuddered, as though a cold shiver had passed over them, how his left foot convulsively pressed the spur into the horse's side, and how the trained horse looked round indifferently and did not stir. An adjutant dismounting lifted the soldier up under his arms, and began laying him on a stretcher that came up. The soldier groaned.
“Gently, gently, can't you do it more gently?” said the Tsar, apparently suffering more than the dying soldier, and he rode away.
Rostov saw the tears in the Tsar's eyes, and heard him say in French to Tchartorizhsky, as he rode off: “What an awful thing war is, what an awful thing!”
The forces of the vanguard were posted before Vishau in sight of the enemy's line, which had been all day retreating before us at the slightest exchange of shots. The Tsar's thanks were conveyed to the vanguard, rewards were promised, and a double allowance of vodka was served out to the men. Even more gaily than on the previous night the bivouac fires crackled, and the soldiers sang their songs. Denisov on that night celebrated his promotion to major, and, towards the end of the carousal, after a good deal of drinking, Rostov proposed a toast to the health of the Emperor, but “not our Sovereign the Emperor, as they say at official dinners,” said he, “but to the health of the Emperor, the good, enchanting, great man, let us drink to his health, and to a decisive victory over the French!”
“If we fought before,” said he, “and would not yield an inch before the French, as at Schöngraben, what will it be now when he is at our head? We will all die, we will gladly die for him. Eh, gentlemen? Perhaps I'm not saying it right. I've drunk a good deal, but that's how I feel, and you do too. To the health of Alexander the First! Hurrah!”
“Hurrah!” rang out the cheery voices of the officers. And the old captain Kirsten shouted no less heartily and sincerely than Rostov, the boy of twenty.
When the officers had drunk the toast and smashed their glasses, Kirsten filled some fresh ones, and in his shirt-sleeves and riding-breeches went out to the soldiers' camp-fires, glass in hand, and waving his hand in the air stood in a majestic pose, with his long grey whiskers and his white chest visible through the open shirt in the light of the camp-fire.
“Lads, to the health of our Sovereign the Emperor, to victory over our enemies, hurrah!” he roared in his stalwart old soldier's baritone. The hussars thronged about him and responded by a loud shout in unison.
Late at night, when they had all separated, Denisov clapped his short hand on the shoulder of his favourite Rostov. “To be sure he'd no one to fall in love with in the field, so he's fallen in love with the Tsar,” he said.
“Denisov, don't joke about that,” cried Rostov, “it's such a lofty, such a sublime feeling, so…”
“I believe you, I believe you, my dear, and I share the feeling and approve…”
“No, you don't understand!” And Rostov got up and went out to wander about among the camp-fires, dreaming of what happiness it would be to die—not saving the Emperor's life—(of that he did not even dare to dream), but simply to die before the Emperor's eyes. He really was in love with the Tsar and the glory of the Russian arms and the hope of coming victory. And he was not the only man who felt thus in those memorable days that preceded the battle of Austerlitz: nine-tenths of the men in the Russian army were at that moment in love, though less ecstatically, with their Tsar and the glory of the Russian arms.