THE ASSISTANT walked along the corridor and led Rostov to the officers' wards, three rooms with doors opening between them. In these rooms there were bedsteads; the officers were sitting and lying upon them. Some were walking about the room in hospital dressing-gowns. The first person who met Rostov in the officers' ward was a thin little man who had lost one arm. He was walking about the first room in a nightcap and hospital dressing-gown, with a short pipe between his teeth. Rostov, looking intently at him, tried to recall where he had seen him.
“See where it was God's will for us to meet again,” said the little man. “Tushin, Tushin, do you remember I brought you along after Schöngraben? They have sliced a bit off me, see,…” said he smiling, and showing the empty sleeve of his dressing-gown. “Is it Vassily Dmitryevitch Denisov you are looking for—a fellow-lodger here?” he said, hearing who it was Rostov wanted. “Here, here,” and he led him into the next room, from which there came the sound of several men laughing. “How can they live in this place even, much less laugh?” thought Rostov, still aware of that corpse-like smell that had been so overpowering in the soldiers' ward, and still seeing around him those envious eyes following him on both sides, and the face of that young soldier with the sunken eyes.
Denisov, covered up to his head with the quilt, was still in bed, though it was twelve o'clock in the day.
“Ah, Rostov! How are you, how are you?” he shouted, still in the same voice as in the regiment. But Rostov noticed with grief, behind this habitual briskness and swagger, some new, sinister, smothered feeling that peeped out in the words and intonations and the expression of the face of Denisov.
His wound, trifling as it was, had still not healed, though six weeks had passed since he was wounded. His face had the same swollen pallor as all the faces in the hospital. But that was not what struck Rostov: what struck him was that Denisov did not seem pleased to see him, and his smile was forced. Denisov asked him nothing either of the regiment or of the general progress of the war. When Rostov talked of it, Denisov did not listen.
Rostov even noticed that Denisov disliked all reference to the regiment, and to that other free life going on outside the hospital walls. He seemed to be trying to forget that old life, and to be interested only in his quarrel with the commissariat officials. In reply to Rostov's inquiry as to how this matter was going, he promptly drew from under his pillow a communication he had received from the commissioner, and a rough copy of his answer. He grew more eager as he began to read his answer, and specially called Rostov's attention to the biting sarcasm with which he addressed his foes. Denisov's companions in the hospital, who had gathered round Rostov, as a person newly come from the world of freedom outside, gradually began to move away as soon as Denisov began reading his answer. From their faces Rostov surmised that all these gentlemen had more than once heard the whole story, and had had time to be bored with it. Only his nearest neighbour, a stout Uhlan, sat on his pallet-bed, scowling gloomily and smoking a pipe, and little one-armed Tushin still listened, shaking his head disapprovingly. In the middle of the reading the Uhlan interrupted Denisov.
“What I say is,” he said, turning to Rostov, “he ought simply to petition the Emperor for pardon. Just now, they say, there will be great rewards given and they will surely pardon.”
“Me petition the Emperor!” said Denisov in a voice into which he tried to throw his old energy and fire, but which sounded like the expression of impotent irritability. “What for? If I had been a robber, I'd beg for mercy; why, I'm being called up for trying to show up robbers. Let them try me, I'm not afraid of any one; I have served my Tsar and my country honestly, and I'm not a thief! And degrade me to the ranks and … Listen, I tell them straight out, see, I write to them, ‘If I had been a thief of government property…' ”
“It's neatly put, no question about it,” said Tushin. “But that's not the point, Vassily Dmitritch,” he too turned to Rostov, “one must submit, and Vassily Dmitritch here won't do it. The auditor told you, you know, that it looks serious for you.”
“Well, let it be serious,” said Denisov.
“The auditor wrote a petition for you,” Tushin went on, “and you ought to sign it and despatch it by this gentleman. No doubt he” (he indicated Rostov) “has influence on the staff too. You won't find a better opportunity.”
“But I have said I won't go cringing and fawning,” Denisov interrupted, and he went on reading his answer.
Rostov did not dare to try and persuade Denisov, though he felt instinctively that the course proposed by Tushin and the other officers was the safest. He would have felt happy if he could have been of assistance to Denisov, but he knew his stubborn will and straightforward hasty temper.
When the reading of Denisov's biting replies, which lasted over an hour, was over, Rostov said nothing, and in the most dejected frame of mind spent the rest of the day in the society of Denisov's companions, who had again gathered about him. He told them what he knew, and listened to the stories told by others. Denisov maintained a gloomy silence the whole evening.
Late in the evening, when Rostov was about to leave, he asked Denisov if he had no commission for him.
“Yes, wait a bit,” said Denisov. He looked round at the officers, and taking his papers from under his pillow, he went to the window where there was an inkstand, and sat down to write.
“It seems it's no good knocking one's head against a stone wall,” said he, coming from the window and giving Rostov a large envelope. It was the petition addressed to the Emperor that had been drawn up by the auditor. In it Denisov, making no reference to the shortcoming of the commissariat department, simply begged for mercy. “Give it, it seems…” He did not finish, and smiled a forced and sickly smile.