War And Peace



THE FOLLOWING DAY the Tsar stayed in Vishau. His medical attendant, Villier, was several times summoned to him. At headquarters and among the troops that were nearer, the news circulated that the Tsar was unwell. He was eating nothing and had slept badly that night, so those about him reported. The cause of this indisposition was the too violent shock given to the sensitive soul of the Tsar by the sight of the killed and wounded.

At dawn on the 17th, a French officer was conducted from our outposts into Vishau. He came under a flag of truce to ask for an interview with the Russian Emperor. This officer was Savary. The Tsar had only just fallen asleep, and so Savary had to wait. At midday he was admitted to the Emperor, and an hour later he rode away accompanied by Prince Dolgorukov to the outposts of the French army. Savary's mission was, so it was rumoured, to propose a meeting between Alexander and Napolean. A personal interview was, to the pride and rejoicing of the whole army, refused, and instead of the Tsar, Prince Dolgorukov, the general victorious in the action at Vishau, was despatched with Savary to undertake negotiations with Napoleon, if these negotiations—contrary to expectation—were founded on a real desire for peace. In the evening Dolgorukov came back, went straight to the Tsar and remained a long while alone with him.

On the 18th and 19th the troops moved forward two days' march, and the enemy's outposts, after a brief interchange of shots, retired. In the higher departments of the army an intense, bustling excitement and activity prevailed from midday of the 19th till the morning of the following day, the 20th of November, on which was fought the memorable battle of Austerlitz. Up to midday of the 19th the activity, the eager talk, the bustle, and the despatching of adjutants was confined to the headquarters of the Emperors; after midday the activity had reached the headquarters of Kutuzov and the staff of the commanding officers of the columns. By evening this activity had been carried by the adjutants in all directions into every part of the army, and in the night of the 19th the multitude of the eighty thousands of the allied army rose from its halting-place, and with a hum of talk moved on, a heaving mass nine versts long.

The intense activity that had begun in the morning in the headquarters of the Emperors, and had given the impetus to all the activity in remoter parts, was like the first action in the centre wheel of a great tower clock. Slowly one wheel began moving, another began turning, and a third, and more and more rapidly, levers, wheels, and blocks began to revolve, chimes began playing, figures began to pop out, and the hands began moving rhythmically, as a result of that activity.

Just as in the mechanism of the clock, in the mechanism of the military machine too, once the impetus was given, it was carried on to the last results, and just as unsympathetically stationary were the parts of the machinery which the impulse had not yet reached. Wheels creak on their axles, and teeth bite into cogs, and blocks whir in rapid motion, while the next wheel stands as apathetic and motionless as though it were ready to stand so for a hundred years. But the momentum reaches it—the lever catches, and the wheel, obeying the impulse, creaks and takes its share in the common movement, the result and aim of which are beyond its ken.

Just as in the clock, the result of the complex action of countless different wheels and blocks is only the slow, regular movement of the hand marking the time, so the result of all the complex human movement of those 160,000 Russians and Frenchmen—of all the passions, hopes, regrets, humiliations, sufferings, impulses of pride, of fear, and of enthusiasm of those men—was only the loss of the battle of Austerlitz, the so-called battle of the three Emperors, that is, the slow shifting of the registering hand on the dial of the history of mankind.

Prince Andrey was on duty that day, and in close attendance on the commander-in-chief. At six o'clock in the evening Kutuzov visited the headquarters of the Emperors, and after a brief interview with the Tsar, went in to see the Ober-Hofmarschall Count Tolstoy.

Bolkonsky took advantage of this interval to go in to Dolgorukov to try and learn details about the coming action. Prince Andrey felt that Kutuzov was disturbed and displeased about something, and that they were displeased with him at headquarters, and that all the persons at the Emperor's headquarters took the tone with him of people who knew something other people are not aware of; and for that reason he wanted to have some talk with Dolgorukov.

“Oh, good evening, my dear boy,” said Dolgorukov, who was sitting at tea with Bilibin. “The fête's for to-morrow. How's your old fellow? out of humour?”

“I won't say he's out of humour, but I fancy he would like to get a hearing.”

“But he did get a hearing at the council of war, and he will get a hearing when he begins to talk sense. But to delay and wait about now when Bonaparte fears a general engagement more than anything—is out of the question.”

“Oh yes, you have seen him,” said Prince Andrey. “Well, what did you think of Bonaparte? What impression did he make on you?”

“Yes, I saw him, and I'm persuaded he fears a general engagement more than anything in the world,” repeated Dolgorukov, who evidently attached great value to this general deduction he had made from his interview with Napoleon. “If he weren't afraid of an engagement what reason has he to ask for this interview, to open negotiations, and, above all, to retreat, when retreat is contrary to his whole method of conducting warfare? Believe me, he's afraid, afraid of a general engagement; his hour has come, mark my words.”

“But tell me what was he like, how did he behave?” Prince Andrey still insisted.

“He's a man in a grey overcoat, very anxious to be called ‘your majesty,' but disappointed at not getting a title of any kind out of me. That's the sort of man he is, that's all,” answered Dolgorukov, looking round with a smile at Bilibin.

“In spite of my profound respect for old Kutuzov,” he pursued, “a pretty set of fools we should be to wait about and let him have a chance to get away or cheat us, when as it is he's in our hands for certain. No, we mustn't forget Suvorov and his rule—never to put oneself in a position to be attacked, but to make the attack oneself. Believe me, the energy of young men is often a safer guide in warfare than all the experience of the old cunctators.”

“But in what position are you going to attack him? I have been at the outposts to-day, and there was no making out where his chief forces are concentrated,” said Prince Andrey. He was longing to explain to Dolgorukov his own idea, the plan of attack he had formed.

“Ah, that's a matter of no consequence whatever,” Dolgorukov said quickly, getting up and unfolding a map on the table. “Every contingency has been provided for; if he is concentrated at Brünn.…” And Prince Dolgorukov gave a rapid and vague account of Weierother's plan of a flank movement.

Prince Andrey began to make objections and to explain his own plan, which may have been as good as Weierother's, but had the fatal disadvantage that Weierother's plan had already been accepted. As soon as Prince Andrey began to enlarge on the drawbacks of the latter and the advantages of his own scheme, Prince Dolgorukov ceased to attend, and looked without interest not at the map, but at Prince Andrey's face.

“There is to be a council of war at Kutuzov's to-night, though; you can explain all that then,” said Dolgorukov.

“That's what I am going to do,” said Prince Andrey, moving away from the map.

“And what are you worrying yourselves about, gentlemen?” said Bilibin, who had till then been listening to their talk with a beaming smile, but now unmistakably intended to make a joke. “Whether there is victory or defeat to-morrow, the glory of the Russian arms is secure. Except your Kutuzov, there's not a single Russian in command of a column. The commanders are: Herr General Wimpfen, le comte de Langeron, le prince de Lichtenstein, le prince de Hohenlohe and Prishprshiprsh, or some such Polish name.”

“Hold your tongue, backbiter,” said Dolgorukov. “It's not true, there are two Russians: Miloradovitch and Dohturov, and there would have been a third, Count Araktcheev, but for his weak nerves.”

“Mihail Ilarionovitch has come out, I think,” said Prince Andrey. “Good luck and success to you, gentlemen,” he added, and went out, after shaking hands with Dolgorukov and Bilibin.

On returning home Prince Andrey could not refrain from asking Kutuzov, who sat near him in silence, what he thought about the coming battle. Kutuzov looked sternly at his adjutant, and after a pause, answered: “I think the battle will be lost, and I said so to Count Tolstoy and asked him to give that message to the Tsar. And what do you suppose was the answer he gave me? ‘Eh, mon cher général, je me mêle de riz et de côtelettes, mêlez-vous des affaires de la guerre.' Yes.… That's the answer I got!”




Back Home