AFTER TALKING a little while longer with the esaul about the next day's attack, which Denisov seemed to have finally decided upon after seeing how near the French were, he turned his horse's head and rode back.
“Now, my boy, we will go and dry ourselves,” he said to Petya.
As he came near the forester's hut, Denisov stopped, looking into the wood before him. A man in a short jacket, bast shoes, and a Kazan hat, with a gun across his shoulder, and an axe in his belt, was striding lightly through the forest with long legs and long arms swinging at his side. Catching sight of Denisov, he hastily flung something into the bushes, and taking off his sopped hat, the brim of which drooped limply, he walked up to his commanding officer.
This was Tihon. His pock-marked and wrinkled face, with little slits of eyes, beamed with self-satisfaction and merriment. He held his head high, and looked straight at Denisov as though he were suppressing a laugh.
“Well, where have you been?” said Denisov.
“Where have I been? I have been after the French,” Tihon answered boldly and hastily, in a husky, but mellow bass.
“Why did you creep in in the daytime? Ass! Well, why didn't you catch one?”
“Catch one I did,” said Tihon.
“Where is he, then?”
“I caught one at the very first at daybreak,” Tihon went on, setting his feet down wider apart, in their flat, turned-up bast shoes; “and I took him into the wood too. I see he's no good. So, thinks I, better go and get another, rather more the proper article.”
“Ay, the rogue, so that's how it is,” said Denisov to the esaul. “Why didn't you bring that one?”
“Why, what was the use of bringing him in?” Tihon broke in, hurriedly and angrily. “A worthless fellow! Don't I know what sort you want?”
“Ah, you brute! … Well?”
“I went to get another,” Tihon went on. “I crept up in this way in the wood, and I lay down.” With a sudden, supple movement, Tihon lay down on his stomach, to show how he had done this. “One turned up,” he went on, “I seized him like this,” Tihon jumped up swiftly and lightly. “ ‘Come along to the colonel,' says I. He set up such a shouting, and then I saw four of them. And they rushed at me with their sabres. I went at them like this with my axe. ‘What are you about?' says I. ‘Christ be with you,' ” cried Tihon, waving his arms and squaring his chest with a menacing scowl.
“Oh yes, we saw from the hill how you gave them the slip, through the pools,” said the esaul, screwing up his sparkling eyes.
Petya had a great longing to laugh, but he saw that all the others refrained from laughing. He kept looking rapidly from Tihon's face to the face of the esaul and Denisov, not knowing what to make of it all.
“Don't play the fool,” said Denisov, coughing angrily. “Why didn't you bring the first man?”
Tihon began scratching his back with one hand and his head with the other, and all at once his countenance expanded into a beaming, foolish grin, showing the loss of a tooth that had given him his name, Shtcherbatov (i.e. lacking a tooth). Denisov smiled, and Petya went off into a merry peal of laughter, in which Tihon himself joined.
“Why, he was no good at all,” said Tihon. “He was so badly dressed, how could I bring him? And a coarse fellow, your honour. Why, says he, ‘I'm a general's son,' says he, ‘I'm not going.' ”
“Ugh, you brute!” said Denisov. “I wanted to question him …”
“Oh, I did question him,” said Tihon. “He said he didn't know much. “There are a lot of our men,' says he, ‘but they are all poor creatures; that's all you can say for them. Give a good shout,' says he, ‘and you can take them all,' ” Tihon concluded, with a merry and determined look at Denisov.
“Mind, I'll give you a good hundred lashes that will teach you to play the fool,” said Denisov sternly.
“Why be angry,” said Tihon, “because I haven't seen your sort of Frenchmen? As soon as it gets dark, I'll catch whatever kind you like, three of them I'll bring.”
“Well, come along,” said Denisov, and all the way to the forester's hut he was silent, frowning angrily.
Tihon was walking behind, and Petya heard the Cossacks laughing with him and at him about a pair of boots that he had thrown into the bushes.
When the laughter roused by Tihon's words and smile had passed, and Petya understood for a moment that Tihon had killed the man, he had an uneasy feeling. He looked round at the boy prisoner, and there was a sudden pang in his heart. But that uneasiness only lasted a moment. He felt it incumbent on him to hold his head high, and with a bold and important air to question the esaul about the next day's expedition, that he might not be unworthy of the company in which he found himself.
The officer Denisov had sent to Dolohov met him on the way with the news that everything was going well with Dolohov, and that he was coming himself immediately.
Denisov at once became more cheerful, and beckoned Petya to him.
“Come, tell me about yourself,” he said.