War And Peace

CHAPTER XVI

Chinese

IT was a dark, warm autumn night. Rain had been falling for the last four days. Changing horses twice, Bolhovitinov galloped in an hour and a half thirty versts over a muddy, slippery road. He reached Letashevko after one o'clock in the night. Dismounting at a hut, on the hurdle fence of which was the inscription “Headquarters of the Staff,” and letting his horse go, he walked into the dark entry.

“The general on duty at once! Very important!” he cried to some one, who jumped up, wheezing in the darkness.

“His honour has been very unwell since the evening; he has not slept for three nights,” an orderly's voice whispered, interposing. “You must wake the captain first.”

“Very important from General Dohturov,” said Bolhovitinov, feeling for the opened door and going in.

The orderly went in before him, and began waking some one up. “Your honour, your honour, a courier.”

“What? what? from whom?” said a sleepy voice.

“From Dohturov and from Alexey Petrovitch. Napoleon is at Fominskoe,” said Bolhovitinov, not seeing the speaker in the darkness, but assuming from the voice that it was not Konovnitsyn.

The man who had been waked yawned and stretched. “I don't want to wake him,” he said, fumbling for something. “He's ill! Perhaps it's only a rumour.”

“Here is the report,” said Bolhovitinov. “My instructions are to give it at once to the general on duty.”

“Wait a minute, I'll strike a light. What do you do with things, damn you!” said the sleepy voice addressing the orderly. The speaker was Shtcherbinin, Konovnitsyn's adjutant. “I have found it, I have found it,” he added.

The orderly struck a light, Shtcherbinin felt for a candlestick.

“Ah, the nasty beasts!” he said with disgust.

By the light of the sparks in the tinderbox Bolhovitinov had a glimpse of Shtcherbinin's youthful face, and in a corner another man asleep. This was Konovnitsyn.

When the tinder broke first into a blue and then into a red flame, Shtcherbinin lighted a tallow candle—the cockroaches that had been gnawing it ran away in all directions—and looked at the messenger. Bolhovitinov was bespattered all over, and on rubbing his face with his sleeve, had smudged that too with mud.

“But who sends the report?” said Shtcherbinin, taking the packet.

“The news is certain,” said Bolhovitinov. “Prisoners and Cossacks and spies, all tell the same story.”

“Well there's no help for it, we must wake him,” said Shtcherbinin, getting up and going to the sleeping man who wore a nightcap and was covered up with a military cloak. “Pyotr Petrovich!” he said. Konovnitsyn did not stir. “Wanted at headquarters!” he said with a smile, knowing these words would be sure to wake him. And the head in the nightcap was in fact lifted at once. Konovnitsyn's strong, handsome face, with feverishly swollen cheeks, still wore for an instant a far-away dreamy look, but he gave a sudden start and his face resumed its customary expression of calmness and strength.

“Well, what is it? From whom?” he asked at once, but with no haste, blinking at the light. Hearing what the officer had to tell him, Konovnitsyn broke open the packet and read it. He had hardly read it before he dropped his feet in worsted stockings on to the earth floor and began putting on his boots. Then he took off the nightcap, and combing his hair, put on a forage cap.

“Did you get here quickly? Let us go to his highness.”

Konovnitsyn understood at once that the news was of great importance, and that they must lose no time. As to whether it were good news or bad, he had no opinion and did not even put the question to himself. That did not interest him. He looked at the whole subject of the war, not with his intellect, not with his reason, but with something different. In his heart he had a deep, unaltered conviction that all would be well, yet that he ought not to believe in this, and still more ought not to say so, but ought simply to do his duty. And that he did do, giving all his energies to it.

Pyotr Petrovich Konovnitsyn, like Dohturov, is simply as a formality included in the list of the so-called heroes of 1812 with the Barclays, Raevskys, Yermolovs, Platovs and Miloradovitchs. Like Dohturov, he had the reputation of being a man of very limited capacities and information; and, like Dohturov, he never proposed plans of campaign, but was always to be found in the most difficult position. Ever since he had been appointed the general on duty, he had slept with his door open, and given orders to be waked on the arrival of any messenger. In battle he was always under fire, so that Kutuzov even reproached him for it, and was afraid to send him to the front. Like Dohturov, he was one of those inconspicuous cogwheels, which, moving without creaking or rattling, make up the most essential part of the machine.

Coming out of the hut into the damp, dark night, Konovnitsyn frowned, partly from his headache getting worse, and partly from the disagreeable thought that occurred to him of the stir this would make in all the nest of influential persons on the staff; of its effect on Bennigsen in particular, who since the battle of Tarutino had been at daggers drawn with Kutuzov; of the suppositions and discussions and orders and counter-orders. And the presentiment of all that was disagreeable to him, though he knew it to be inevitable.

Toll, to whom he went to communicate the news, did in fact begin at once expounding his views on the situation to the general who shared his abode; and Konovnitsyn, after listening in weary silence, reminded him that they must go to his highness.

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