War And Peace

CHAPTER XIV

Chinese

THROUGH THE LANES of Hamovniky, the prisoners marched alone with their escort, a train of carts and waggons, belonging to the soldiers of the escort, following behind them. But as they came out to the provision shops they found themselves in the middle of a huge train of artillery, moving with difficulty, and mixed up with private baggage-waggons.

At the bridge itself the whole mass halted, waiting for the foremost to get across. From the bridge the prisoners got a view of endless trains of baggage-waggons in front and behind. On the right, where the Kaluga road turns by Neskutchny Gardens, endless files of troops and waggons stretched away into the distance. These were the troops of Beauharnais's corps, which had set off before all the rest. Behind, along the riverside, and across Kamenny bridge, stretched the troops and transport of Ney's corps.

Davoust's troops, to which the prisoners belonged, were crossing by the Crimean Ford, and part had already entered Kaluga Street. But the baggage-trains were so long that the last waggons of Beauharnais's corps had not yet got out of Moscow into Kaluga Street, while the vanguard of Ney's troops had already emerged from Bolshaya Ordynka.

After crossing the Crimean Ford, the prisoners moved a few steps at a time and then halted, and again moved forward, and the crowd of vehicles and people grew greater and greater on all sides. After taking over an hour in crossing the few hundred steps which separates the bridge from Kaluga Street and getting as far as the square where the Zamoskvoryetche streets run into Kaluga Street, the prisoners were jammed in a close block and kept standing for several hours at the crossroads. On all sides there was an unceasing sound, like the roar of the sea, of rumbling wheels, and tramping troops, and incessant shouts of anger and loud abuse. Pierre stood squeezed against the wall of a charred house, listening to that sound, which in his imagination melted off into the roll of drums.

Several of the Russian officers clambered up on to the wall of the burnt house by which Pierre stood so as to get a better view.

“The crowds! What crowds!…They have even loaded goods on the cannons! Look at the furs!…” they kept saying. “I say, the vermin, they have been pillaging.…Look at what that one has got behind, on the cart.…Why, they are holy pictures, by God!…Those must be Germans. And a Russian peasant; by God!…Ah; the wretches!…See, how he's loaded; he can hardly move! Look, I say, chaises; they have got hold of them, too!…See, he has perched on the boxes. Heavens!…They have started fighting!…That's right; hit him in the face! We shan't get by before evening like this. Look, look!…Why, that must surely be Napoleon himself. Do you see the horses! with the monograms and a crown! That's a portable house. He has dropped his sack, and doesn't see it. Fighting again.…A woman with a baby, and good-looking, too! Yes, I dare say; that's the way they will let you pass.…Look; why, there's no end to it. Russian wenches, I do declare they are. See how comfortable they are in the carriages!”

Again a wave of general curiosity, as at the church in Hamovniky, carried all the prisoners forward towards the road, and Pierre, thanks to his height, saw over the heads of the others what attracted the prisoners' curiosity. Three carriages were blocked between caissons, and in them a number of women with rouged faces, decked out in flaring colours, were sitting closely packed together, shouting something in shrill voices.

From the moment when Pierre had recognised the manifestation of that mysterious force, nothing seemed to him strange or terrible; not the corpse with its face blacked for a jest, nor these women hurrying away, nor the burnt ruins of Moscow. All that Pierre saw now made hardly any impression on him—as though his soul, in preparation for a hard struggle, refused to receive any impression that might weaken it.

The carriages of women drove by. They were followed again by carts, soldiers, waggons, soldiers, carriages, soldiers, caissons, and again soldiers, and at rare intervals women.

Pierre did not see the people separately; he saw only their movement.

All these men and horses seemed, as it were, driven along by some unseen force. During the hour in which Pierre watched them they all were swept out of the different streets with the same one desire to get on as quickly as possible. All of them, alike hindered by the rest, began to get angry and to fight. The same oaths were bandied to and fro, and white teeth flashed, and every frowning face wore the same look of reckless determination and cold cruelty, which had struck Pierre in the morning in the corporal's face, while the drums were beating.

It was almost evening when the officer in command of their escort rallied his men, and with shouts and oaths forced his way in among the baggage-trains; and the prisoners, surrounded on all sides, came out on the Kaluga road.

They marched very quickly without pausing, and only halted when the sun was setting. The baggage-carts were moved up close to one another, and the men began to prepare for the night. Every one seemed ill-humoured and dissatisfied. Oaths, angry shouts, and fighting could be heard on all sides till a late hour. A carriage, which had been following the escort, had driven into one of their carts and run a shaft into it. Several soldiers ran up to the cart from different sides; some hit the carriage horses on the head as they turned them round, other were fighting among themselves, and Pierre saw one German seriously wounded by a blow from the flat side of a sword on his head.

It seemed as though now when they had come to a standstill in the midst of the open country, in the cold twilight of the autumn evening, all these men were experiencing the same feeling of unpleasant awakening from the hurry and eager impulse forward that had carried them all away at setting off. Now standing still, all as it were grasped that they knew not where they were going, and that there was much pain and hardship in store for them on the journey.

At this halting-place, the prisoners were even more roughly treated by their escort than at starting. They were for the first time given horse-flesh to eat.

In every one of the escort, from the officers to the lowest soldier, could be seen a sort of personal spite against every one of the prisoners, in surprising contrast with the friendly relations that had existed between them before.

This spite was increased when, on counting over the prisoners, it was discovered that in the bustle of getting out of Moscow one Russian soldier had managed to run away by pretending to be seized with colic. Pierre had seen a Frenchman beat a Russian soldier unmercifully for moving too far from the road, and heard the captain, who had been his friend, reprimanding an under-officer for the escape of the prisoner, and threatening him with court-martial. On the under-officer's urging that the prisoner was ill and could not walk, the officer said that their orders were to shoot those who should lag behind. Pierre felt that that fatal force which had crushed him at the execution, and had been imperceptible during his imprisonment, had now again the mastery of his existence. He was afraid; but he felt too, that as that fatal force strove to crush him, there was growing up in his soul and gathering strength a force of life that was independent of it. Pierre supped on soup made of rye flour and horseflesh, and talked a little with his companions.

Neither Pierre nor any of his companions talked of what they had seen in Moscow, nor of the harsh treatment they received from the French, nor of the orders to shoot them, which had been announced to them. As though in reaction against their more depressing position, all were particularly gay and lively. They talked of personal reminiscences, of amusing incidents they had seen as they marched, and avoided touching on their present position.

The sun had long ago set. Stars were shining brightly here and there in the sky; there was a red flush, as of a conflagration on the horizon, where the full moon was rising, and the vast, red ball seemed trembling strangely in the grey darkness. It became quite light. The evening was over, but the night had not yet begun. Pierre left his new companions and walked between the camp-fires to the other side of the road, where he had been told that the common prisoners were camping. He wanted to talk to them. On the road a French sentinel stopped him and bade him go back.

Pierre did go back, but not to the camp-fire where his companions were, but to an unharnessed waggon where there was nobody. Tucking his legs up under him, and dropping his head, he sat down on the cold ground against the waggon wheel, and sat there a long while motionless, thinking. More than an hour passed by. No one disturbed Pierre. Suddenly he burst into such a loud roar of his fat, good-humoured laughter, that men looked round on every side in astonishment at this strange and obviously solitary laughter. “Ha, ha, ha!” laughed Pierre. And he talked aloud to himself. “The soldier did not let me pass. They have taken me—shut me up. They keep me prisoner. Who is ‘me'? Me? Me—my immortal soul! ha, ha, ha! … Ha, ha, ha! …” he laughed, with the tears starting into his eyes.

A man got up and came to see what this strange, big man was laughing at all by himself. Pierre left off laughing, got up, walked away from the inquisitive intruder, and looked about him.

The immense, endless bivouac, which had been full of the sound of crackling fires and men talking, had sunk to rest; the red camp-fires burnt low and dim. High overhead in the lucid sky stood the full moon. Forests and fields, that before could not be seen beyond the camp, came into view now in the distance. And beyond those fields and forests could be seen the bright, shifting, alluring, boundless distance. Pierre glanced at the sky, at the far-away, twinkling stars. “And all that is mine, and all that is in me, and all that is I!” thought Pierre. “And all this they caught and shut up in a shed closed in with boards!” He smiled and went to lie down to sleep beside his companions.

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