War And Peace

CHAPTER XIX

Chinese

PRINCE ANDREY BOLKONSKY was lying on the hill of Pratzen, on the spot where he had fallen with the flagstaff in his hands. He was losing blood, and kept moaning a soft, plaintive, childish moan, of which he himself knew nothing. Towards evening he ceased moaning and became perfectly still. He did not know how long his unconsciousness lasted. Suddenly he felt again that he was alive and suffering from a burning, lacerating pain in his head.

“Where is it, that lofty sky that I knew not till now and saw to-day?” was his first thought. “And this agony I did not know either,” he thought. “Yes, I knew nothing, nothing till now. But where am I?”

He fell to listening, and caught the sound of approaching hoofs and voices speaking French. He opened his eyes. Above him was again the same lofty sky, with clouds higher than ever floating over it, and between them stretches of blue infinity. He did not turn his head and did not see the men who, judging from the voices and the thud of hoofs, had ridden up to him and stopped.

They were Napoleon and two adjutants escorting him. Bonaparte, making a tour of the field of battle, had been giving his last instructions for the strengthening of the battery firing at the Augest dam, and was inspecting the dead and wounded on the field of battle.

“Fine men!” said Napoleon, looking at a dead Russian grenadier, who with his face thrust into the earth and blackened neck lay on his stomach, one stiff arm flung wide.

“The field-guns have exhausted their ammunition,” said an adjutant, arriving that moment from the battery that was firing at Augest.

“Bring up more from the reserve,” said Napoleon, and riding a few steps away stood still, looking at Prince Andrey, who lay on his back with the abandoned flagstaff beside him (the flag had been taken by the French as a trophy).

“That's a fine death!” said Napoleon, looking at Bolkonsky. Prince Andrey knew that it was said of him, and that it was Napoleon saying it. He heard the speaker of those words addressed as “your majesty.” But he heard the words as he heard the buzzing of flies. It was not merely that he took no interest in them, but he did not attend to them and at once forgot them. There was a burning pain in his head; he felt he was losing blood, and he saw above him the high, far-away, everlasting sky. He knew it was Napoleon—his hero—but at that moment Napoleon seemed to him such a small, insignificant creature in comparison with what was passing now between his soul and that lofty, limitless sky with the clouds flying over it. It meant nothing to him at that moment who was standing over him, what was being said of him. He was only glad that people were standing over him, and his only desire was that these people should help him and bring him back to life, which seemed to him so good, because he saw it all quite differently now. He made a supreme effort to stir and utter some sound. He moved his leg faintly, and uttered a weak, sickly moan that touched himself. “Ah, he's alive,” said Napoleon. “Pick up this young man and carry him to an ambulance!” Saying this, Napoleon rode on to meet Marshal Lannes, who rode up to meet the conqueror, smiling, taking off his hat and congratulating him on his victory.

Prince Andrey remembered nothing more; he lost consciousness from the excruciating pain caused by being laid on the stretcher, the jolting while he was being moved, and the sounding of his wound at the ambulance. He only regained consciousness towards the end of the day when with other Russian officers, wounded and prisoners, he was being taken to the hospital. On this journey he felt a little stronger, and could look about him and even speak.

The first words he heard on coming to himself were from a French convoy officer who was saying hurriedly: “They must stop here; the Emperor will be here directly; it will be a pleasure for him to see these prisoners.”

“There are such a lot of prisoners to-day, almost the whole of the Russian army, that he is probably weary of seeing them,” said another officer.

“Well, but this one, they say, is the commander of all the Emperor Alexander's guards,” said the first speaker, pointing to a wounded Russian officer in the white uniform of the horse-guards. Bolkonsky recognised Prince Repnin, whom he had met in Petersburg society. Beside him stood another officer of the horse-guards, a lad of nineteen, also wounded.

Bonaparte rode up at a gallop and pulled up. “Who is the senior officer?” he said, on seeing the prisoners.

They named the colonel, Prince Repnin.

“Are you the commander of the regiment of Emperor Alexander's horse-guards?” asked Napoleon.

“I was in command of a squadron,” replied Repnin.

“Your regiment did its duty honourably,” said Napoleon.

“The praise of a great general is a soldier's best reward,” said Repnin.

“I bestow it upon you with pleasure,” said Napoleon. “Who is this young man beside you?” Prince Repnin gave his name, Lieutenant Suhtelen.

Looking at him, Napoleon said with a smile: “He has come very young to meddle with us.”

“Youth is no hindrance to valour,” said Suhtelen in a breaking voice.

“A fine answer,” said Napoleon; “young man, you will go far.”

Prince Andrey, who had been thrust forward under the Emperor's eyes to complete the show of prisoners, could not fail to attract his notice. Napoleon apparently remembered seeing him on the field, and addressing him he used the same epithet, “young man,” with which his first sight of Bolkonsky was associated in his memory.

“And you, young man,” he said to him, “how are you feeling, mon brave?”

Although five minutes previously Prince Andrey had been able to say a few words to the soldiers who were carrying him, he was silent now, with his eyes fastened directly upon Napoleon. So trivial seemed to him at that moment all the interests that were engrossing Napoleon, so petty seemed to him his hero, with his paltry vanity and glee of victory, in comparison with that lofty, righteous, and kindly sky which he had seen and comprehended, that he could not answer him. And all indeed seemed to him so trifling and unprofitable beside the stern and solemn train of thought aroused in him by weakness from loss of blood, by suffering and the nearness of death. Gazing into Napoleon's eyes, Prince Andrey mused on the nothingness of greatness, on the nothingness of life, of which no one could comprehend the significance, and on the nothingness—still more—of death, the meaning of which could be understood and explained by none of the living.

The Emperor, after vainly pausing for a reply, turned away and said to one of the officers in command—

“See that they look after these gentlemen and take them to my bivouac; let my doctor Larrey attend to their wounds. Au revoir, Prince Repnin,” and he galloped away.

His face was radiant with happiness and self-satisfaction.

The soldiers, who had been carrying Prince Andrey, had come across the golden relic Princess Marya had hung upon her brother's neck, and taken it off him, but seeing the graciousness the Emperor had shown to the prisoners, they made haste to restore the holy image.

Prince Andrey did not see who put it on him again, nor how it was replaced, but all at once he found the locket on its delicate gold chain on his chest outside his uniform.

“How good it would be,” thought Prince Andrey, as he glanced at the image which his sister had hung round his neck with such emotion and reverence, “how good it would be if all were as clear and simple as it seems to Marie. How good to know where to seek aid in this life and what to expect after it, there, beyond the grave!”

“How happy and at peace I should be, if I could say now, ‘Lord, have mercy on me!…' But to whom am I to say that? Either a Power infinite, inconceivable, to which I cannot appeal, which I cannot even put into words, the great whole, or nothing,” he said to himself, “or that God, who has been sewn up here in this locket by Marie? There is nothing, nothing certain but the nothingness of all that is comprehensible to us, and the grandeur of something incomprehensible, but more important!”

The stretchers began to be moved. At every jolt he felt intolerable pain again. The fever became higher, and he fell into delirium. Visions of his father, his wife, his sister, and his future son, and the tenderness he had felt for them on the night before the battle, the figure of that little, petty Napoleon, and over all these the lofty sky, formed the chief substance of his delirious dreams. The quiet home life and peaceful happiness of Bleak Hills passed before his imagination. He was enjoying that happiness when suddenly there appeared that little Napoleon with his callous, narrow look of happiness in the misery of others, and there came doubts and torments, and only the sky promised peace. Towards morning all his dreams mingled and melted away in the chaos and darkness of unconsciousness and oblivion, far more likely, in the opinion of Napoleon's doctor, Larrey, to be ended by death than by recovery.

“He is a nervous, bilious subject,” said Larrey; “he won't recover.”

Prince Andrey, with the rest of the hopeless cases, was handed over to the care of the inhabitants of the district.

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