War and Peace

by Leo Tolstoy

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Book Ten: 1812 - Chapter XXXI

Having descended the hill the general after whom Pierre was galloping turned sharply to the left, and Pierre, losing sight of him, galloped in among some ranks of infantry marching ahead of him. He tried to pass either in front of them or to the right or left, but there were soldiers everywhere, all with expression and busy with some unseen but evidently important task. They all gazed with the same dissatisfied and inquiring expression at this stout man in a white hat, who for some unknown reason threatened to trample them under his horse's hoofs.

"Why ride into the middle of the battalion?" one of them shouted at him.

Another prodded his horse with the butt end of a musket, and Pierre, bending over his saddlebow and hardly able to control his shying horse, galloped ahead of the soldiers where there was a free space.

There was a bridge ahead of him, where other soldiers stood firing. Pierre rode up to them. Without being aware of it he had come to the bridge across the Kolocha between Gorki and Borodino, which the French (having occupied Borodino) were attacking in the first phase of the battle. Pierre saw that there was a bridge in front of him and that soldiers were doing something on both sides of it and in the meadow, among the rows of new-mown hay which he had taken no notice of amid the smoke of the campfires the day before; but despite the incessant firing going on there he had no idea that this was the field of battle. He did not notice the sound of the bullets whistling from every side, or the projectiles that flew over him, did not see the enemy on the other side of the river, and for a long time did not notice the killed and wounded, though many fell near him. He looked about him with a smile which did not leave his face.

"Why's that fellow in front of the line?" shouted somebody at him again.

"To the left!... Keep to the right!" the men shouted to him.

Pierre went to the right, and unexpectedly encountered one of Raevski's adjutants whom he knew. The adjutant looked angrily at him, evidently also intending to shout at him, but on recognizing him he nodded.

"How have you got here?" he said, and galloped on.

Pierre, feeling out of place there, having nothing to do, and afraid of getting in someone's way again, galloped after the adjutant.

"What's happening here? May I come with you?" he asked.

"One moment, one moment!" replied the adjutant, and riding up to a stout colonel who was standing in the meadow, he gave him some message and then addressed Pierre.

"Why have you come here, Count?" he asked with a smile. "Still inquisitive?"

"Yes, yes," assented Pierre.

But the adjutant turned his horse about and rode on.

"Here it's tolerable," said he, "but with Bagration on the left flank they're getting it frightfully hot."

"Really?" said Pierre. "Where is that?"

"Come along with me to our knoll. We can get a view from there and in our battery it is still bearable," said the adjutant. "Will you come?"

"Yes, I'll come with you," replied Pierre, looking round for his groom.

It was only now that he noticed wounded men staggering along or being carried on stretchers. On that very meadow he had ridden over the day before, a soldier was lying athwart the rows of scented hay, with his head thrown awkwardly back and his shako off.

"Why haven't they carried him away?" Pierre was about to ask, but seeing the stern expression of the adjutant who was also looking that way, he checked himself.

Pierre did not find his groom and rode along the hollow with the adjutant to Raevski's Redoubt. His horse lagged behind the adjutant's and jolted him at every step.

"You don't seem to be used to riding, Count?" remarked the adjutant.

"No it's not that, but her action seems so jerky," said Pierre in a puzzled tone.

"Why... she's wounded!" said the adjutant. "In the off foreleg above the knee. A bullet, no doubt. I congratulate you, Count, on your baptism of fire!"

Having ridden in the smoke past the Sixth Corps, behind the artillery which had been moved forward and was in action, deafening them with the noise of firing, they came to a small wood. There it was cool and quiet, with a scent of autumn. Pierre and the adjutant dismounted and walked up the hill on foot.

"Is the general here?" asked the adjutant on reaching the knoll.

"He was here a minute ago but has just gone that way," someone told him, pointing to the right.

The adjutant looked at Pierre as if puzzled what to do with him now.

"Don't trouble about me," said Pierre. "I'll go up onto the knoll if I may?"

"Yes, do. You'll see everything from there and it's less dangerous, and I'll come for you."

Pierre went to the battery and the adjutant rode on. They did not meet again, and only much later did Pierre learn that he lost an arm that day.

The knoll to which Pierre ascended was that famous one afterwards known to the Russians as the Knoll Battery or Raevski's Redoubt, and to the French as la grande redoute, la fatale redoute, la redoute du centre, around which tens of thousands fell, and which the French regarded as the key to the whole position.

This redoubt consisted of a knoll, on three sides of which trenches had been dug. Within the entrenchment stood ten guns that were being fired through openings in the earthwork.

In line with the knoll on both sides stood other guns which also fired incessantly. A little behind the guns stood infantry. When ascending that knoll Pierre had no notion that this spot, on which small trenches had been dug and from which a few guns were firing, was the most important point of the battle.

On the contrary, just because he happened to be there he thought it one of the least significant parts of the field.

Having reached the knoll, Pierre sat down at one end of a trench surrounding the battery and gazed at what was going on around him with an unconsciously happy smile. Occasionally he rose and walked about the battery still with that same smile, trying not to obstruct the soldiers who were loading, hauling the guns, and continually running past him with bags and charges. The guns of that battery were being fired continually one after another with a deafening roar, enveloping the whole neighborhood in powder smoke.

In contrast with the dread felt by the infantrymen placed in support, here in the battery where a small number of men busy at their work were separated from the rest by a trench, everyone experienced a common and as it were family feeling of animation.

The intrusion of Pierre's nonmilitary figure in a white hat made an unpleasant impression at first. The soldiers looked askance at him with surprise and even alarm as they went past him. The senior artillery officer, a tall, long-legged, pockmarked man, moved over to Pierre as if to see the action of the farthest gun and looked at him with curiosity.

A young round-faced officer, quite a boy still and evidently only just out of the Cadet College, who was zealously commanding the two guns entrusted to him, addressed Pierre sternly.

"Sir," he said, "permit me to ask you to stand aside. You must not be here."

The soldiers shook their heads disapprovingly as they looked at Pierre. But when they had convinced themselves that this man in the white hat was doing no harm, but either sat quietly on the slope of the trench with a shy smile or, politely making way for the soldiers, paced up and down the battery under fire as calmly as if he were on a boulevard, their feeling of hostile distrust gradually began to change into a kindly and bantering sympathy, such as soldiers feel for their dogs, cocks, goats, and in general for the animals that live with the regiment. The men soon accepted Pierre into their family, adopted him, gave him a nickname ("our gentleman"), and made kindly fun of him among themselves.

A shell tore up the earth two paces from Pierre and he looked around with a smile as he brushed from his clothes some earth it had thrown up.

"And how's it you're not afraid, sir, really now?" a red-faced, broad-shouldered soldier asked Pierre, with a grin that disclosed a set of sound, white teeth.

"Are you afraid, then?" said Pierre.

"What else do you expect?" answered the soldier. "She has no mercy, you know! When she comes spluttering down, out go your innards. One can't help being afraid," he said laughing.

Several of the men, with bright kindly faces, stopped beside Pierre. They seemed not to have expected him to talk like anybody else, and the discovery that he did so delighted them.

"It's the business of us soldiers. But in a gentleman it's wonderful! There's a gentleman for you!"

"To your places!" cried the young officer to the men gathered round Pierre.

The young officer was evidently exercising his duties for the first or second time and therefore treated both his superiors and the men with great precision and formality.

The booming cannonade and the fusillade of musketry were growing more intense over the whole field, especially to the left where Bagration's fleches were, but where Pierre was the smoke of the firing made it almost impossible to distinguish anything. Moreover, his whole attention was engrossed by watching the family circle- separated from all else- formed by the men in the battery. His first unconscious feeling of joyful animation produced by the sights and sounds of the battlefield was now replaced by another, especially since he had seen that soldier lying alone in the hayfield. Now, seated on the slope of the trench, he observed the faces of those around him.

By ten o'clock some twenty men had already been carried away from the battery; two guns were smashed and cannon balls fell more and more frequently on the battery and spent bullets buzzed and whistled around. But the men in the battery seemed not to notice this, and merry voices and jokes were heard on all sides.

"A live one!" shouted a man as a whistling shell approached.

"Not this way! To the infantry!" added another with loud laughter, seeing the shell fly past and fall into the ranks of the supports.

"Are you bowing to a friend, eh?" remarked another, chaffing a peasant who ducked low as a cannon ball flew over.

Several soldiers gathered by the wall of the trench, looking out to see what was happening in front.

"They've withdrawn the front line, it has retired," said they, pointing over the earthwork.

"Mind your own business," an old sergeant shouted at them. "If they've retired it's because there's work for them to do farther back."

And the sergeant, taking one of the men by the shoulders, gave him a shove with his knee. This was followed by a burst of laughter.

"To the fifth gun, wheel it up!" came shouts from one side.

"Now then, all together, like bargees!" rose the merry voices of those who were moving the gun.

"Oh, she nearly knocked our gentleman's hat off!" cried the red-faced humorist, showing his teeth chaffing Pierre. "Awkward baggage!" he added reproachfully to a cannon ball that struck a cannon wheel and a man's leg.

"Now then, you foxes!" said another, laughing at some militiamen who, stooping low, entered the battery to carry away the wounded man.

"So this gruel isn't to your taste? Oh, you crows! You're scared!" they shouted at the militiamen who stood hesitating before the man whose leg had been torn off.

"There, lads... oh, oh!" they mimicked the peasants, "they don't like it at all!"

Pierre noticed that after every ball that hit the redoubt, and after every loss, the liveliness increased more and more.

As the flames of the fire hidden within come more and more vividly and rapidly from an approaching thundercloud, so, as if in opposition to what was taking place, the lightning of hidden fire growing more and more intense glowed in the faces of these men.

Pierre did not look out at the battlefield and was not concerned to know what was happening there; he was entirely absorbed in watching this fire which burned ever more brightly and which he felt was flaming up in the same way in his own soul.

At ten o'clock the infantry that had been among the bushes in front of the battery and along the Kamenka streamlet retreated. From the battery they could be seen running back past it carrying their wounded on their muskets. A general with his suite came to the battery, and after speaking to the colonel gave Pierre an angry look and went away again having ordered the infantry supports behind the battery to lie down, so as to be less exposed to fire. After this from amid the ranks of infantry to the right of the battery came the sound of a drum and shouts of command, and from the battery one saw how those ranks of infantry moved forward.

Pierre looked over the wall of the trench and was particularly struck by a pale young officer who, letting his sword hang down, was walking backwards and kept glancing uneasily around.

The ranks of the infantry disappeared amid the smoke but their long-drawn shout and rapid musketry firing could still be heard. A few minutes later crowds of wounded men and stretcher-bearers came back from that direction. Projectiles began to fall still more frequently in the battery. Several men were lying about who had not been removed. Around the cannon the men moved still more briskly and busily. No one any longer took notice of Pierre. Once or twice he was shouted at for being in the way. The senior officer moved with big, rapid strides from one gun to another with a frowning face. The young officer, with his face still more flushed, commanded the men more scrupulously than ever. The soldiers handed up the charges, turned, loaded, and did their business with strained smartness. They gave little jumps as they walked, as though they were on springs.

The stormcloud had come upon them, and in every face the fire which Pierre had watched kindle burned up brightly. Pierre standing beside the commanding officer. The young officer, his hand to his shako, ran up to his superior.

"I have the honor to report, sir, that only eight rounds are left. Are we to continue firing?" he asked.

"Grapeshot!" the senior shouted, without answering the question, looking over the wall of the trench.

Suddenly something happened: the young officer gave a gasp and bending double sat down on the ground like a bird shot on the wing. Everything became strange, confused, and misty in Pierre's eyes.

One cannon ball after another whistled by and struck the earthwork, a soldier, or a gun. Pierre, who had not noticed these sounds before, now heard nothing else. On the right of the battery soldiers shouting "Hurrah!" were running not forwards but backwards, it seemed to Pierre.

A cannon ball struck the very end of the earth work by which he was standing, crumbling down the earth; a black ball flashed before his eyes and at the same instant plumped into something. Some militiamen who were entering the battery ran back.

"All with grapeshot!" shouted the officer.

The sergeant ran up to the officer and in a frightened whisper informed him (as a butler at dinner informs his master that there is no more of some wine asked for) that there were no more charges.

"The scoundrels! What are they doing?" shouted the officer, turning to Pierre.

The officer's face was red and perspiring and his eyes glittered under his frowning brow.

"Run to the reserves and bring up the ammunition boxes!" he yelled, angrily avoiding Pierre with his eyes and speaking to his men.

"I'll go," said Pierre.

The officer, without answering him, strode across to the opposite side.

"Don't fire.... Wait!" he shouted.

The man who had been ordered to go for ammunition stumbled against Pierre.

"Eh, sir, this is no place for you," said he, and ran down the slope.

Pierre ran after him, avoiding the spot where the young officer was sitting.

One cannon ball, another, and a third flew over him, falling in front, beside, and behind him. Pierre ran down the slope. "Where am I going?" he suddenly asked himself when he was already near the green ammunition wagons. He halted irresolutely, not knowing whether to return or go on. Suddenly a terrible concussion threw him backwards to the ground. At the same instant he was dazzled by a great flash of flame, and immediately a deafening roar, crackling, and whistling made his ears tingle.

When he came to himself he was sitting on the ground leaning on his hands; the ammunition wagons he had been approaching no longer existed, only charred green boards and rags littered the scorched grass, and a horse, dangling fragments of its shaft behind it, galloped past, while another horse lay, like Pierre, on the ground, uttering prolonged and piercing cries.

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