War And Peace

CHAPTER XI

Chinese

RAPIDLY in the twilight the men picked out their horses, tightened saddlegirths, and formed into parties. Denisov stood by the hut, giving the last orders. The infantry of the detachment moved on along the road, hundreds of feet splashing through the mud. They quickly vanished among the trees in the mist before the dawn. The esaul gave some order to the Cossacks. Petya held his horse by the bridle, eagerly awaiting the word of command to mount. His face glowed from a dip in cold water, and his eyes gleamed. He felt a chill running down his back, and a kind of rapid, rhythmic throbbing all over.

“Well, have you everything ready?” said Denisov. “Give us our horses.”

They brought the horses up. Denisov was vexed with the Cossack because the saddlegirths were slack, and swore at him as he mounted his horse. Petya put his foot in the stirrup. The horse, as its habit was, made as though to nip at his leg; but Petya leaped into the saddle, unconscious of his own weight, and looking round at the hussars moving up from behind in the darkness, he rode up to Denisov.

“Vassily Fyodorovitch, you will trust me with some commission? Please…for God's sake…” he said. Denisov seemed to have forgotten Petya's existence. He looked round at him.

“One thing I beg of you,” he said sternly, “to obey me and not to put yourself forward.”

All the way Denisov did not say another word to Petya; he rode on in silence. By the time that they reached the edge of the wood, it was perceptibly getting light in the open country. Denisov whispered something to the esaul, and the Cossacks began riding by Petya and Denisov. When they had all passed on Denisov put his spurs to his horse, and rode downhill. Slipping and sinking back on their haunches, the horses slid down into the hollow with their riders. Petya kept beside Denisov. The tremor all over him was growing more intense. It was getting lighter and lighter, but the mist hid objects at a distance. When he had reached the bottom, Denisov looked back and nodded to the Cossack beside him.

“The signal,” he said. The Cossack raised his arm, and a shot rang out. At the same moment they heard the tramp of horses galloping in front, shouts from different directions, and more shots.

The instant that he heard the first tramp of hoofs and shouts, Petya gave the rein to his horse, and lashing him on, galloped forward, heedless of Denisov, who shouted to him. It seemed to Petya that it suddenly became broad daylight, as though it were midday, at the moment when he heard the shot. He galloped to the bridge. The Cossacks were galloping along the road in front. At the bridge he jostled against a Cossack who had lagged behind, and he galloped on. In front Petya saw men of some sort—the French he supposed—running across the road from right to left. One slipped in the mud under his horse's legs.

Cossacks were crowding about a hut, doing something. A fearful scream rose out of the middle of the crowd. Petya galloped to this crowd, and the first thing he saw was the white face and trembling lower-jaw of a Frenchman, who had clutched hold of a lance aimed at his breast.

“Hurrah!…Mates…ours…” shouted Petya, and giving the rein to his excited horse, he galloped on down the village street.

He heard firing in front. Cossacks, hussars, and tattered Russian prisoners, running up from both sides of the road, were all shouting something loud and unintelligible. A gallant-looking Frenchman, in a blue coat, with a red, frowning face, and no cap, was keeping back the hussars with a bayonet. By the time that Petya galloped up, the Frenchman had fallen. “Too late again,” flashed through Petya's brain, and he galloped to the spot where he heard the hottest fire. The shots came from the yard of the manor-house where he had been the night before with Dolohov. The French were ambushing there behind the fence in among the bushes of the overgrown garden, and firing at the Cossacks who were crowding round the gates. As he rode up to the gates, Petya caught a glimpse in the smoke of Dolohov's white, greenish face, as he shouted something to the men. “Go round. Wait for the infantry!” he was shouting, just as Petya rode up to him.

“Wait? … Hurrah!…” shouted Petya, and without pausing a moment, he galloped towards the spot where he heard the shots, and where the smoke was the thickest. There came a volley of shots with the sound of bullets whizzing by and thudding into something. The Cossacks and Dolohov galloped in at the gates after Petya. In the thick, hovering smoke the French flung down their arms and ran out of the bushes to meet the Cossacks, or fled downhill towards the pond. Petya was galloping on round the courtyard, but instead of holding the reins, he was flinging up both arms in a strange way, and slanting more and more to one side in the saddle. The horse stepped on to the ashes of the fire smouldering in the morning light, and stopped short. Petya fell heavily on the wet earth. The Cossacks saw his arms and legs twitching rapidly, though his head did not move. A bullet had passed through his brain.

After parleying with the French senior officer, who came out of the house with a handkerchief on a sword to announce that they surrendered, Dolohov got off his horse and went up to Petya, who lay motionless with outstretched arms.

“Done for,” he said frowning, and walked to the gate to Denisov, who was riding towards him.

“Killed?” cried Denisov, even from a distance recognising the familiar, unmistakably lifeless posture in which Petya's body was lying.

“Done for,” Dolohov repeated, as though the utterance of those words afforded him satisfaction; and he walked rapidly towards the prisoners, whom the Cossacks were hurriedly surrounding. “No quarter!” he shouted to Denisov. Denisov made no reply. He went up to Petya, got off his horse, and with trembling hands turned over the blood-stained, mud-spattered face that was already turning white.

“I'm fond of sweet things. They are capital raisins, take them all,” came into his mind. And the Cossacks looked round in surprise at the sound like the howl of a dog, that Denisov uttered as he turned away, walked to the fence and clutched at it.

Among the Russian prisoners rescued by Denisov and Dolohov was Pierre Bezuhov.

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