ROSTOV had been sent that night with a platoon on picket duty to the line of outposts in the foremost part of Bagration's detachment. His hussars were scattered in couples about the outposts; he himself rode about the line of the outposts trying to struggle against the sleepiness which kept overcoming him. Behind him could be seen the immense expanse of the dimly burning fires of our army; before him was the misty darkness. However intently Rostov gazed into this misty distance, he could see nothing; at one moment there seemed something greyish, at the next something blackish, then something like the glimmer of a fire over there where the enemy must be, then he fancied the glimmer had been only in his own eyes. His eyes kept closing, and there floated before his mind the image of the Emperor, then of Denisov, and Moscow memories, and again he opened his eyes and saw close before him the head and ears of the horse he was riding, and sometimes black figures of hussars, when he rode within six paces of them, but in the distance still the same misty darkness. “Why? it may well happen,” mused Rostov, “that the Emperor will meet me and give me some commission, as he might to any officer; he'll say, “Go and find out what's there.” There are a lot of stories of how quite by chance he has made the acquaintance of officers and given them some place close to him too. Oh, if he were to give me a place in attendance on him! Oh, what care I would take of him, how I would tell him the whole truth, how I would unmask all who deceive him!” And to picture his love and devotion to the Tsar more vividly, Rostov imagined some enemy or treacherous German, whom he would with great zest not simply kill, but slap in the face before the Tsar's eyes. All at once a shout in the distance roused Rostov. He started and opened his eyes. “Where am I? Yes, in the picket line; the pass and watchword—shaft, Olmütz. How annoying that our squadron will be in reserve …” he thought. “I'll ask to go to the front. It may be my only chance of seeing the Emperor. And now it's not long before I'm off duty. I'll ride round once more, and as I come back, I'll go to the general and ask him.” He sat up straight in the saddle and set off to ride once more round his hussars. It seemed to him that it was lighter. On the left side he could see a sloping descent that looked lighted up and a black knoll facing it that seemed steep as a wall. On this knoll was a white patch which Rostov could not understand; was it a clearing in the wood, lighted up by the moon, or the remains of snow, or white horses? It seemed to him indeed that something was moving over that white spot. “It must be snow—that spot: a spot—une tache,” Rostov mused dreamily. “But that's not a tache … Na … tasha, my sister, her black eyes. Na … tasha (won't she be surprised when I tell her how I've seen the Emperor!) Natasha … tasha … sabretache.…” “Keep to the right, your honour, there are bushes here,” said the voice of an hussar, by whom Rostov was riding as he fell asleep. Rostov lifted his head, which had dropped on to his horse's mane, and pulled up beside the hussar. He could not shake off the youthful, childish drowsiness that overcame him. “But, I say, what was I thinking? I mustn't forget. How I am going to speak to the Emperor? No, not that—that's to-morrow. Yes, yes! Natasha, attacks, tacks us,—whom? The hussars. Ah, the hussars with their moustaches … Along the Tversky boulevard rode that hussar with the moustaches, I was thinking of him too just opposite Guryev's house.… Old Guryev.… Ah, a fine fellow, Denisov! But that's all nonsense. The great thing is that the Emperor's here now. How he looked at me and longed to say something, but he did not dare.… No, it was I did not dare. But that's nonsense, and the great thing is not to forget something important I was thinking of, yes. Natasha, attacks us, yes, yes, yes. That's right.” And again he dropped with his head on his horse's neck. All at once it seemed to him that he was being fired at. “What? what?… Cut them down! What?” Rostov was saying, as he wakened up. At the instant that he opened his eyes, Rostov heard in front, over where the enemy were, the prolonged shouting of thousands of voices. His horse and the horse of the hussar near him pricked up their ears at these shouts. Over where the shouts came from, a light was lighted and put out, then another, and all along the line of the French troops on the hillside fires were lighted and the shouts grew louder and louder. Rostov heard the sound of French words though he could not distinguish them. He could only hear: aaaa! and rrrr!
“What is it? What do you think?” Rostov said to the hussar near him. “That's in the enemy's camp surely?”
The hussar made no reply.
“Why, don't you hear it?” Rostov asked again, after waiting some time for a reply.
“Who can tell, your honour?” the hussar answered reluctantly.
“From the direction it must be the enemy,” Rostov said again.
“May be 'tis, and may be not,” said the hussar; “it's dark. Now! steady,” he shouted to his horse, who fidgeted. Rostov's horse too was restless, and pawed the frozen ground as it listened to the shouts and looked at the lights. The shouting grew louder and passed into a mingled roar that could only be produced by an army of several thousands. The lights stretched further and further probably along the line of the French camp. Rostov was not sleepy now. The gay, triumphant shouts in the enemy's army had a rousing effect on him. “Vive l'Empereur! l'Empereur!” Rostov could hear distinctly now.
“Not far off, beyond the stream it must be,” he said to the hussar near him.
The hussar merely sighed without replying, and cleared his throat angrily. They heard the thud of a horse trotting along the line of hussars, and there suddenly sprang up out of the night mist, looking huge as an elephant, the figure of a sergeant of hussars.
“Your honour, the generals!” said the sergeant, riding up to Rostov. Rostov, still looking away towards the lights and shouts, rode with the sergeant to meet several men galloping along the line. One was on a white horse. Prince Bagration with Prince Dolgorukov and his adjutant had ridden out to look at the strange demonstration of lights and shouts in the enemy's army. Rostov, going up to Bagration, reported what he had heard and seen to him, and joined the adjutants, listening to what the generals were saying.
“Take my word for it,” Prince Dolgorukov was saying to Bagration, “it's nothing but a trick; they have retreated and ordered the rearguard to light fires and make a noise to deceive us.”
“I doubt it,” said Bagration; “since evening I have seen them on that knoll; if they had retreated, they would have withdrawn from there too. Monsieur l'officier,” Prince Bagration turned to Rostov, “are the enemy's pickets still there?”
“They were there this evening, but now I can't be sure, your excellency. Shall I go with some hussars and see?” said Rostov.
Bagration stood still, and before answering, tried to make out Rostov's face in the mist.
“Well, go and see,” he said after a brief pause.
Rostov put spurs to his horse, called up the sergeant Fedtchenko, and two other hussars, told them to ride after him, and trotted off downhill in the direction of the shouting, which still continued. Rostov felt both dread and joy in riding alone with three hussars into that mysterious and dangerous, misty distance, where no one had been before him. Bagration shouted to him from the hill not to go beyond the stream, but Rostov made as though he had not heard his words, and rode on without stopping, further and further, continually mistaking bushes for trees and ravines for men, and continually discovering his mistakes. As he galloped downhill he lost sight both of our men and the enemy, but more loudly and distinctly he heard the shouts of the French. In the valley he saw ahead of him something that looked like a river, but when he had ridden up to it, he found out it was a road. As he got out on the road he pulled up his horse, hesitating whether to go along it or to cut across it, and ride over the black field up the hillside. To follow the road, which showed lighter in the mist, was more dangerous, because figures could be more easily descried upon it. “Follow me,” he said, “cut across the road,” and began galloping up the hill towards the point where the French picket had been in the evening.
“Your honour, here he is!” said one of the hussars behind; and before Rostov had time to make out something that rose up suddenly black in the mist, there was a flash of light, the crack of a shot and a bullet, that seemed whining a complaint, whizzed high in the air and flew away out of hearing. Another shot missed fire, but there was a flash in the pan. Rostov turned his horse's head and galloped back. He heard four more shots at varying intervals, and four more bullets whistled in varying tones somewhere in the mist. Rostov held in his horse, who seemed inspirited, as he was himself by the shots, and rode back at a walkingpace. “Now, then, some more; now then, more!” a sort of light-hearted voice murmured in his soul. But there were no more shots. Only as he approached Bagration, Rostov put his horse into a gallop again, and with his hand to his cap, rode up to him.
Dolgorukov was still insisting on his opinion that the French were retreating, and had only lighted fires to mislead them. “What does it prove?” he was saying, as Rostov rode up to them. “They might have retreated and left pickets.”
“It's clear they have not all retired, prince,” said Bagration. “We must wait till morning; to-morrow we shall know all about it.”
“The picket's on the hill, your excellency, still where it was in the evening,” Rostov announced, his hand to his cap, unable to restrain the smile of delight that had been called up by his expedition and the whiz of the bullets.
“Very good, very good,” said Bagration, “I thank you, monsieur l'officier.”
“Your excellency,” said Rostov, “may I ask a favour?”
“What is it?”
“To-morrow our squadron is ordered to the rear; may I beg you to attach me to the first squadron?”
“What's your name?”
“Ah, very good! You may stay in attendance on me.”
“Ilya Andreitch's son?” said Dolgorukov. But Rostov made him no reply.
“So I may reckon on it, your excellency.”
“I will give the order.”
“To-morrow, very likely, they will send me with some message to the Emperor,” he thought. “Thank God!”
The shouts and lights in the enemy's army had been due to the fact that while Napoleon's proclamation had been read to the troops, the Emperor had himself ridden among the bivouacs. The soldiers on seeing the Emperor had lighted wisps of straw and run after him, shouting, “Vive l'Empereur!” Napoleon's proclamation was as follows:—
“Soldiers! The Russian army is coming to meet you, to avenge the Austrian army, the army of Ulm. They are the forces you have defeated at Hollabrunn, and have been pursuing ever since up to this place. The position we occupy is a powerful one, and while they will march to out-flank me on the right, they will expose their flank to me! Soldiers! I will myself lead your battalions. I will keep out of fire, if you, with your habitual bravery, carry defeat and disorder into the ranks of the enemy. But if victory is for one moment doubtful, you will see your Emperor exposed to the enemy's hottest attack, for there can be no uncertainty of victory, especially on this day, when it is a question of the honour of the French infantry, on which rests the honour of our nation. Do not, on the pretext of removing the wounded, break the order of the ranks! Let every man be fully penetrated by the idea that we must subdue these minions of England, who are inspired by such hatred of our country. This victory will conclude our campaign, and we can return to winter quarters, where we shall be reinforced by fresh forces now being formed in France; and then the peace I shall conclude will be one worthy of my people, of you and me.