War And Peace

CHAPTER XV

Chinese

ROSTOV, with his keen sportsman's eye, was one of the first to descry these blue dragoons pursuing our Uhlans. Nearer and nearer flew the disordered crowds of the Uhlans and the French dragoons in pursuit of them. He could see now separate figures, looking small at the bottom of the hill, fighting, overtaking one another, and waving their arms and their swords.

Rostov gazed at what was passing before him as at a hunt. He felt instinctively that if he were to charge with his hussars on the French dragoons now, they could not stand their ground; but if he were to charge it must be that very minute or it would be too late. He looked round. The captain standing beside him had his eyes too fixed on the cavalry below.

“Andrey Sevastianitch,” said Rostov, “we could close them in, surely …”

“And a smart job, too,” said the captain, “and indeed …”

Rostov, without waiting for his answer, set spurs to his horse and galloped off in front of his squadron. Before he had time to give the command, the whole squadron, sharing his feeling, flew after him. Rostov himself could not have said how or why he did it. He did it all, as he did everything in a wolf hunt, without thinking or considering. He saw that the dragoons were near, that they were galloping in no order, he knew they could not stand their ground; he knew there was only one minute to act in, which would not return if he let it slip. The cannon balls were hissing and whistling so inspiritingly about him, his horse pulled so eagerly forward that he could not resist it. He spurred his horse, shouted the command, and the same instant flew full trot down-hill towards the dragoons, hearing the tramp of his squadron behind him. As they dashed downhill, the trot insensibly passed into a gallop that became swifter and swifter, as they drew nearer their Uhlans and the French dragoons pursuing them. The dragoons were close now. The foremost, seeing the hussars, began turning back; the hindmost halted. With the same feeling with which he had dashed off to cut off the wolf's escape, Rostov, letting his Don horse go at his utmost speed, galloped to cut off the broken ranks of the dragoons. One Uhlan halted; another, on foot, flung himself to the ground to avoid being knocked down; a riderless horse was carried along with the hussars. Almost all the dragoons were galloping back. Rostov picked out one of them on a grey horse and flew after him. On the way he rode straight at a bush; his gallant horse cleared it; and Nikolay was hardly straight in the saddle again when he saw in a few seconds he would overtake the enemy he had pitched upon as his aim. The Frenchman, probably an officer from his uniform, sat crouched upon his grey horse, and urging it on with his sword. In another instant Rostov's horse dashed up against the grey horse's hindquarters, almost knocking it over, and at the same second Rostov, not knowing why he did so, raised his sword, and aimed a blow at the Frenchman.

The instant he did this all Rostov's eagerness suddenly vanished. The officer fell to the ground, not so much from the sword cut, for it had only just grazed his arm above the elbow, as from fright and the shock to his horse. As Rostov pulled his horse in, his eyes sought his foe to see what sort of man he had vanquished. The French officer was hopping along on the ground, with one foot caught in the stirrup. Screwing up his eyes, as though expecting another blow every instant, he glanced up at Rostov frowning with an expression of terror. His pale, mud-stained face—fair and young, with a dimple on the chin and clear blue eyes—was the most unwarlike, most good-natured face, more in place by a quiet fireside than on the field of battle. Before Rostov could make up his mind what to do with him, the officer shouted, “I surrender.” He tried hurriedly and failed to extricate his foot from the stirrup, and still gazed with his frightened blue eyes at Rostov. The hussars, galloping up, freed his foot, and got him into his saddle. The hussars were busily engaged on all sides with the dragoons; one was wounded, but though his face was streaming with blood he would not let go of his horse; another put his arms round an hussar as he sat perched up behind on his horse; a third was clambering on to his horse, supported by an hussar. The French infantry were in front, firing as they ran. The hussars galloped hastily back with their prisoners. Rostov galloped back with the rest, conscious of some disagreeable sensation, a kind of ache at his heart. A glimpse of something vague and confused, of which he could not get a clear view, seemed to have come to him with the capture of that French officer and the blow he had dealt him.

Count Osterman-Tolstoy met the hussars on their return, summoned Rostov, thanked him and told him he would report his gallant action to the Tsar and would recommend him for the cross of St. George. When Rostov was called up to Count Osterman, bethinking himself that he had received no command to charge, he had no doubt that his commanding officer sent for him to reprimand him for his breach of discipline. Osterman's flattering words and promise of a reward should, therefore, have been a pleasant surprise to Rostov; but he still suffered from that unpleasant vague feeling of moral nausea. “Why, what on earth is it that's worrying me?” he wondered, as he rode away from the general. “Ilyin? No, he's all right. Did I do anything disgraceful? No, that's not it either!” Something else fretted him like a remorse. “Yes, yes, that officer with the dimple. And I remember clearly how my hand paused when I had lifted it.”

Rostov saw the prisoners being led away, and galloped after them to look at his Frenchman with the dimple in his chin. He was sitting in his strange uniform on one of the spare horses, looking uneasily about him. The sword-cut in his arm could hardly be called a wound. He looked at Rostov with a constrained smile, and waved his hand by way of a greeting. Rostov still felt the same discomfort and vague remorse.

All that day and the next Rostov's friends and comrades noticed that, without being exactly depressed or irritable, he was silent, dreamy, and preoccupied. He did not care to drink, tried to be alone, and seemed absorbed in thought. Rostov was still pondering on his brilliant exploit, which, to his amazement, had won him the St. George's Cross and made his reputation indeed for fearless gallantry. There was something he could not fathom in it. “So they are even more frightened than we are,” he thought. “Why, is this all that's meant by heroism? And did I do it for the sake of my country? And was he to blame with his dimple and his blue eyes? How frightened he was! He thought I was going to kill him. Why should I kill him? My hand trembled. And they have given me the St. George's Cross. I can't make it out, I can't make it out!”

But while Nikolay was worrying over these questions in his heart and unable to find any clear solution of the doubts that troubled him, the wheel of fortune was turning in his favour, as so often happens in the service. He was brought forward after the affair at Ostrovna, received the command of a battalion of hussars, and when an officer of dauntless courage was wanted he was picked out.

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