HAVING INWARDLY RESOLVED that until the execution of his design, he ought to disguise his station and his knowledge of French, Pierre stood at the half-open door into the corridor, intending to conceal himself at once as soon as the French entered. But the French entered, and Pierre did not leave the door; and irresistible curiosity kept him there.
There were two of them. One—an officer, a tall, handsome man of gallant bearing; the other, obviously a soldier or officer's servant, a squat, thin, sunburnt man, with hollow cheeks and a dull expression. The officer walked first, limping and leaning on a stick. After advancing a few steps, the officer apparently making up his mind that these would be good quarters, stopped, turned round and shouted in a loud, peremptory voice to the soldiers standing in the doorway to put up the horses. Having done this the officer, with a jaunty gesture, crooking his elbow high in the air, stroked his moustaches and put his hand to his hat.
“Bonjour, la compagnie!” he said gaily, smiling and looking about him.
No one made any reply.
“Vous êtes le bourgeois?” the officer asked, addressing Gerasim.
Gerasim looked back with scared inquiry at the officer.
“Quartire, quartire, logement,” said the officer, looking down with a condescending and good-humoured smile at the little man. “The French are good lads. Don't let us be cross, old fellow,” he went on in French, clapping the scared and mute Gerasim on the shoulder. “I say, does no one speak French in this establishment?” he added, looking round and meeting Pierre's eyes. Pierre withdrew from the door.
The officer turned again to Gerasim. He asked him to show him over the house.
“Master not here—no understand … me you …” said Gerasim, trying to make his words more comprehensible by saying them in reverse order.
The French officer, smiling, waved his hands in front of Gerasim's nose, to give him to understand that he too failed to understand him, and walked with a limp towards the door where Pierre was standing. Pierre was about to retreat to conceal himself from him, but at that very second he caught sight of Makar Alexyevitch peeping out of the open kitchen door with a pistol in his hand. With a madman's cunning, Makar Alexyevitch eyed the Frenchmen, and lifting the pistol, took aim. “Run them down!!!” yelled the drunkard, pressing the trigger. The French officer turned round at the scream, and at the same instant Pierre dashed at the drunken man. Just as Pierre snatched at the pistol and jerked it up, Makar Alexyevitch succeeded at last in pressing the trigger, and a deafening shot rang out, wrapping every one in a cloud of smoke. The Frenchman turned pale and rushed back to the door.
Forgetting his intention of concealing his knowledge of French, Pierre pulled away the pistol, and throwing it on the ground, ran to the officer and addressed him in French. “You are not wounded?” he said.
“I think not,” answered the officer, feeling himself; “but I have had a narrow escape this time,” he added, pointing to the broken plaster in the wall.
“Who is this man?” he asked, looking sternly at Pierre.
“Oh, I am really in despair at what has happened,” said Pierre quickly, quite forgetting his part. “It is a madman, an unhappy creature, who did not know what he was doing.”
The officer went up to Makar Alexyevitch and took him by the collar.
Makar Alexyevitch pouting out his lips, nodded, as he leaned against the wall, as though dropping asleep.
“Brigand, you shall pay for it,” said the Frenchman, letting go of him. “We are clement after victory, but we do not pardon traitors,” he added, with gloomy dignity in his face, and a fine, vigorous gesture.
Pierre tried in French to persuade the officer not to be severe with this drunken imbecile. The Frenchman listened in silence, with the same gloomy air, and then suddenly turned with a smile to Pierre. For several seconds he gazed at him mutely. His handsome face assumed an expression of melodramatic feeling, and he held out his hand.
“You have saved my life. You are French,” he said. For a Frenchman, the deduction followed indubitably. An heroic action could only be performed by a Frenchman, and to save the life of him, M. Ramballe, captain of the 13th Light Brigade, was undoubtedly a most heroic action.
But however indubitable this logic, and well grounded the conviction the officer based on it, Pierre thought well to disillusion him on the subject.
“I am Russian,” he said quickly.
“Tell that to others,” said the Frenchman, smiling and waving his finger before his nose. “You shall tell me all about it directly,” he said. “Charmed to meet a compatriot. Well, what are we to do with this man?” he added, applying to Pierre now as though to a comrade. If Pierre were indeed not a Frenchman, he would hardly on receiving that appellation—the most honourable in the world—care to disavow it, was what the expression and tone of the French officer suggested. To his last question Pierre explained once more who Makar Alexyevitch was. He explained that just before his arrival the drunken imbecile had carried off a loaded pistol, which they had not succeeded in getting from him, and he begged him to let his action go unpunished. The Frenchman arched his chest, and made a majestic gesture with his hand.
“You have saved my life! You are a Frenchman. You ask me to pardon him. I grant you his pardon. Let this man be released,” the French officer pronounced with rapidity and energy, and taking the arm of Pierre— promoted to be a Frenchman for saving his life—he was walking with him into the room.
The soldiers in the yard, hearing the shot, had come into the vestibule to ask what had happened, and to offer their services in punishing the offender; but the officer sternly checked them.
“You will be sent for when you are wanted,” he said. The soldiers withdrew. The orderly, who had meanwhile been in the kitchen, came in to the officer.
“Captain, they have soup and a leg of mutton in the kitchen,” he said. “Shall I bring it up?”
“Yes, and the wine,” said the captain.