War And Peace

CHAPTER XII

Chinese

THE PARTY of prisoners, of whom Pierre was one, was on the 22nd of October not with the troops and transport, in whose company they had left Moscow, though no fresh instructions in regard to them had been given by the French authorities. Half of the transport with stores of biscuit, which had followed them during the early stages of the march, had been carried off by the Cossacks, the other half had got away in front. Of the cavalry soldiers on foot, who had marched in front of the prisoners, not one was left; they had all disappeared. The artillery, which the prisoners had seen in front during the early stages, was now replaced by the immense train of Marshal Junot's baggage, convoyed by an escort of Westphalians. Behind the prisoners came a transport of cavalry accoutrements.

The French had at first marched in three columns, but from Vyazma they had formed a single mass. The symptoms of lack of discipline, which Pierre had observed at the first halt outside Moscow, had by now reached their extreme limits.

The road along which they marched was strewn on both sides with the carcases of dead horses. The tattered soldiers, stragglers from different regiments, were continually changing, joining the column as it marched, and dropping behind it again. Several times there had been false alarms, and the soldiers of the cavalry had raised their guns, and fired and fled, trampling one another underfoot. Then they had rallied again, and abused one another for their causeless panic.

These three bodies, travelling together—the cavalry transport, the convoy of prisoners, and Junot's baggage transport—still made up a complete separate whole, though each of its three parts was rapidly dwindling away.

Of the cavalry transport, which had at first consisted of one hundred and twenty waggons, only sixty were left; the rest had been carried off or abandoned. Several waggonloads of Junot's baggage, too, had been discarded or captured. Three waggons had been attacked and pillaged by stragglers from Davoust's regiment. From the talk he overheard among the Germans, Pierre learned that a more careful watch was kept over this baggage-train than over the prisoners, and that one of their comrades, a German, had been shot by order of the marshal himself because a silver spoon belonging to the marshal had been found in the soldier's possession.

The convoy of prisoners had dwindled even more than the other two convoys. Of the three hundred and thirty men who had started from Moscow there were now less than a hundred left. The prisoners were a burden even more irksome to the soldiers than the cavalry stores and Junot's baggage. The saddles and Junot's spoons they could understand might be of some use, but why cold and starving soldiers should stand as sentinels, keeping guard over Russians as cold and starving, who were continually dying and being left behind on the road, and whom they had orders to shoot—it was not only incomprehensible, but revolting. And the soldiers of the escort, apparently afraid in the miserable plight they were in themselves, to give way to the pity they felt for the prisoners, for fear of making their own lot harder, treated them with marked moroseness and severity.

At Dorogobuzh the soldiers of the escort had gone off to plunder their own stores, leaving the prisoners locked in a stable, and several prisoners had burrowed under the wall and run away, but they were caught by the French and shot.

The arrangement, made at the start from Moscow, that the officers among the prisoners should march separately from the common soldiers, had long since been given up. All who could walk marched together; and at the third stage Pierre had rejoined Karataev and the bow-legged, purple-grey dog, who had chosen Karataev for her master.

On the third day after leaving Moscow, Karataev had a return of the fever, which had kept him in the Moscow hospital, and as Karataev's strength failed, Pierre held more aloof from him. Pierre could not have said why it was, but from the time Karataev fell sick, he had to make an effort to force himself to go near him. And when he did go near him and heard the subdued moans, which Karataev often uttered, as he lay at the halting-places, and smelt the increasing odour from the sick man. Pierre moved further away from him and did not think about him.

In captivity in the shed that had been his prison, Pierre had learned not through his intellect, but through his whole being, through life, that man is created for happiness, that happiness lies in himself, in the satisfaction of his natural, human cravings; that all unhappiness is due, not to lack of what is needful, but to superfluity. But now, during the last three weeks of the march, he had learned another new and consolatory truth—he had learned that there is nothing terrible to be dreaded in the world. He had learned that just as there is no position in the world in which a man can be happy and perfectly free, so too there is no position in which he need be unhappy and in bondage. He had found out that there is a limit to suffering and a limit to freedom, and that that limit is very soon reached; that the man who suffered from a crumpled petal in his bed of roses, suffered just as much as he suffered now, sleeping on the bare, damp earth, with one side getting chilled as the other side got warm; that when in former days he had put on his tight dancing-shoes, he had suffered in just the same way as now, when he walked quite barefoot (his foot-gear had long since fallen to pieces), with his feet covered with sores. He learned that when he had—by his own free-will, as he had fancied—married his wife, he had been no more free than now when he was locked up for the night in a stable. Of all that he did himself afterwards call sufferings, though at the time he hardly felt them so, the chief was the state of his bare, blistered, sore feet. The horse-flesh was savoury and nourishing, the saltpetre flavour given it by the gun-powder they used instead of salt was positively agreeable; there was no great degree of cold, it was always warm in the daytime on the march, and at night there were the camp-fires, and the lice that devoured him helped to keep him warm. One thing was painful in the earlier days— that was his feet.

On the second day of the march, as he examined his blisters by the camp-fire, Pierre thought he could not possibly walk on them; but when they all got up, he set off limping, and later on, when he got warm, he walked without pain, though his feet looked even more terrible that evening. But he did not look at them, and thought of something else.

Only now Pierre grasped all the force of vitality in man, and the saving power innate in man, of transferring his attention, like the safety-valve in steam-engines, that lets off the superfluous steam so soon as its pressure exceeds a certain point.

He did not see and did not hear how the prisoners that lagged behind were shot, though more than a hundred of them had perished in that way. He did not think about Karataev, who was getting weaker every day, and would obviously soon fall a victim to the same fate. Still less did Pierre think about himself. The harder his lot became, the more terrible his future, the more independent of his present plight were the glad and soothing thoughts, memories, and images that occurred to him.

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