Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library
  PREVIOUSNEXT  

CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · QUICK INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHIES
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · PORTRAITS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
At Borodino
By Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910)
 
From ‘War and Peace’: New York: William S. Gottsberger, 1886

WHEN Pierre returned to Gorky after his visit to Prince André he desired his servant to have his horses ready saddled, and to wake him at daybreak; then he went soundly to sleep in the corner that Boris had so obligingly offered him. When he woke, the cottage was empty, the little panes in the windows were trembling, and his man was shaking him to rouse him.  1
  “Excellency, Excellency!” he shouted.  2
  “Why—what is the matter? Is it begun?”  3
  “Listen to the cannonade,” said the man, who was an old soldier. “They have all been gone a long time; even his Highness.”  4
  Pierre hastily dressed and ran out. It was a brilliant, delicious morning: dewdrops sparkled everywhere; the sun sent level rays through the curtain of cloud, and a shaft of light fell across the roof and through the hanging mist, on the dusty road just moist with the night-dews—on the walls of the houses, the rough wood palings, and the horses standing saddled at the door. The roar of cannon grew louder and louder.  5
  “Make haste, count, if you want to be in time!” shouted an aide-de-camp as he galloped past.  6
  Pierre started on foot,—his man leading the horses,—and made his way by the road as far as the knoll from whence he had surveyed the field the day before. This mamelon was crowded with military; the staff officers could be heard talking French; and conspicuous among them all was Koutouzow’s gray head under a white cap bound with red,—his fat neck sunk in his broad shoulders. He was studying the distance through a field-glass.  7
  As he climbed the slope, Pierre was struck by the scene that spread before him. It was the same landscape that he had seen yesterday, but swarming now with an imposing mass of troops, wrapped in wreaths of smoke, and lighted up by the low sun, which was rising on the left and filling the pure upper air with quivering rose and gold, while on the earth lay long masses of black shadow. The clumps of trees that bordered the horizon might have been hewn out of some sparkling yellow-green gem; and beyond them again, far away, the Smolensk road could be made out, covered with troops. Close to the knoll the golden fields and dewy slopes were bathed in shimmering light; and everywhere to the right and left were soldiers, and still soldiers. It was animated, grandiose, and unexpected; but what especially interested Pierre was the actual field of battle,—Borodino and the valley of the Kolotcha, through which the river ran.  8
  Above the stream, over Borodino, just where the Voïna makes its way through vast marshes to join the Kolotcha, rose one of those mists which, melting and dissolving before the sun’s rays, gives an enchanted aspect and color to the landscape it transforms rather than hides.  9
  The morning light glowed in this mist, and in the smoke which mixed with it here and there; and sparkled on the water, the dew, the bayonets,—even on Borodino. Through that transparent veil could be seen the white church, the hovel roofs of the village; and on every side serried masses of soldiers, green caissons, and guns. From the valley, from the heights and the slopes, from the woods, from the fields, came cannon shots, now singly, now in volleys; followed by puffs of smoke which wreathed, mingled, and faded away. And strange as it may appear, this smoke and cannonade were the most attractive features of the spectacle. Pierre was chafing to be there among the smoke and the sparkling bayonets, in the midst of the movement, close to the guns.  10
  He turned to compare his own feelings with those which Koutouzow and his staff might be expected to feel at such a moment, and found on every face that suppressed excitement which he had noticed before; but which he had not understood until after his conversation with Prince André.  11
  “Go, my friend, go,” said Koutouzow to a general standing near him, “and God go with you.” And the general who had taken the order went past Pierre down the hill.  12
  “To the bridge!” he answered in reply to a question from another officer.  13
  “And I too,” thought Pierre, following him. The general mounted his horse, which a Cossack was holding; and Pierre, going up to his servant, asked which of his two steeds was the quietest to ride. Then clutching the beast’s mane, leaning over his neck and clinging on by his heels, off he started. He felt that his spectacles were gone; however, as he would not, and indeed could not, let go of the bridle or the mane, away he went after the general, past the rest of the officers, who gazed at his headlong career.  14
  The general led the way down the hill, and turned off sharp to the left; Pierre lost sight of him, and found himself riding through the ranks of an infantry regiment; he tried in vain to get out of the midst of the men, who surrounded him on all sides, and looked with angry surprise at this fat man in a white hat, who was knocking them about so heedlessly and at such a critical moment.  15
  “Why the devil do you ride through a battalion?” asked one; and another gave the horse a prod with the butt-end of his musket. Pierre, clutching the saddle-bow, and holding in his frightened steed as best he might, was carried on at a furious speed, and presently found himself in an open space. In front of him was a bridge guarded by infantry firing briskly; without knowing it he had come down to the bridge between Gorky and Borodino, which the French, after taking the village, had come down to attack. On both sides of the river, and in the hayfields he had seen from afar, soldiers were struggling frantically; still Pierre could not believe that he was witnessing the first act of a battle. He did not hear the bullets that were whistling about his ears, nor the balls that flew over his head; and it did not occur to him that the men on the other side of the river were the enemy, or that those who lay on the ground were wounded or killed.  16
  “What on earth is he doing in front of the line?” shouted a voice. “Left! left! turn to the left!”  17
  Pierre turned to the right, and ran up against an aide-de-camp of General Raïevsky’s; the officer looked furious, and was about to abuse him roundly, when he recognized him.  18
  “What brings you here?” said he, and he rode away.  19
  Pierre, with a vague suspicion that he was not wanted there, and fearing he might be in the way, galloped after him.  20
  “Is it here? May I follow you?” he asked.  21
  “In a minute—wait a minute,” said his friend, tearing down into the meadow to meet a burly colonel to whom he was carrying orders. Then he came back to Pierre.  22
  “Tell me what on earth you have come here for?—to look on, I suppose?”  23
  “Just so,” said Pierre; while the officer wheeled his horse round and was starting off again.  24
  “Here it is not such warm work yet, thank God! but there, where Bagration is to the left, they are getting it hot!”  25
  “Really!” said Pierre. “Where?”  26
  “Come up the hill with me: you will see very well from thence, and it is still bearable. Are you coming?”  27
  “After you,” said Pierre, looking round for his servant: then for the first time his eye fell on the wounded men who were dragging themselves to the rear, or being carried on litters; one poor little soldier, with his hat lying by his side, was stretched motionless on the field where the mown hay exhaled its stupefying scent.  28
  “Why have they left that poor fellow?” Pierre was on the point of saying; but the aide-de-camp’s look of pain as he turned away stopped the question on his lips. As he could nowhere see his servant, he rode on across the flat as far as Raïevsky’s battery; but his horse could not keep up with the officer’s, and shook him desperately.  29
  “You are not used to riding, I see,” said the aide-de-camp.  30
  “Oh, it is nothing,” said Pierre: “his pace is bad.”  31
  “The poor beast has had his off leg wounded just above the knee; a bullet must have caught him there. Well, I congratulate you, count,—it is your baptism of fire.”  32
  After passing the sixth corps they got, through dense smoke, to the rear of the artillery, which held an advanced position, and kept up an incessant and deafening fire. At last they found themselves in a little copse where the mild autumn air was clear of smoke. They dismounted and climbed the little hill.  33
  “Is the general here?” asked the aide-de-camp.  34
  “Just gone,” was the answer. The officer turned to Pierre: he did not know what to do with him.  35
  “Do not trouble yourself about me,” said Bésoukhow. “I will go on to the top.”  36
  “Yes, do—and stay there: you will see everything, and it is comparatively safe. I will come back for you.”  37
  So they parted; and it was not till the end of the day that Pierre heard that his companion had one arm shot off. He went up to the battery that held the famous knoll which came to be known to the Russians as the “mamelon battery’” or “Raïevsky’s redoubt”; and to the French—who regarded it as the key of the position—as the “great redoubt,” or the “fatal redoubt,” or the “centre redoubt.” At its foot fell tens of thousands.  38
  The works were thrown up on a mamelon surrounded with trenches on three sides. Ten heavy guns poured forth death through the embrasures of a breastwork, while other pieces, continuing the line, never paused in their fire. The infantry stood somewhat further back.  39
  Pierre had no suspicion of the paramount value of this point, but supposed it to be, on the contrary, of quite secondary importance. He sat down on the edge of the earthwork that screened the battery, and looked about with a smile of innocent satisfaction; now and then he got up to see what was going on, trying to keep out of the way of the men who were reloading the guns and pushing them forward each time, and of those who went to and fro carrying the heavy cartridges. Quite unlike the infantry outside, whose duty it was to protect the redoubt, the gunners standing on this speck of earth that was inclosed by its semicircle of trenches, and apart from the rest of the battle, seemed bound together in a kind of fraternal responsibility; and the appearance in their midst of a civilian like Pierre was by no means pleasing to them. They looked at him askance, and seemed almost alarmed at his presence: a tall artillery officer came close up to him and looked at him inquisitively; and a quite young lieutenant, rosy and baby-faced, who was in charge of two guns, turned round and said very severely:—  40
  “You must have the goodness to go away, sir: you cannot remain here.”  41
  The gunners continued to shake their heads disapprovingly; but when they saw that the man in a white hat did not get in the way,—that he was content to sit still, or walk up and down in the face of the enemy’s fire, as coolly as if it were a boulevard; that he stood aside politely to make room for them, with a shy smile,—their ill-humor gave place to sympathetic cordiality, such as soldiers are apt to feel for the dogs, cocks, or other animals that march with the regiment. They adopted him, as it were, and laughing at him among themselves, gave him the name of “Our Gentleman.”  42
  A ball fell within a couple of yards of Pierre, who only shook off the dust with which he was covered, and smiled as he looked round.  43
  “And you are really not afraid, master?” said a stalwart, red-faced artilleryman, showing his white teeth in a grin.  44
  “Well, are you afraid?”  45
  “Ah, but you know they will have no respect for you. If one of them knocks you down it will kick your inside out! How can you help being afraid?” he added with a laugh.  46
  Two or three more had stopped to look at Pierre; they had jolly, friendly faces, and seemed quite astonished to hear him talk like themselves.  47
  “It is our business, master. But as for you, it is not at all the same thing, and it is wonderful.”…  48
  “Now then—serve the guns!” cried the young lieutenant, who was evidently on duty of this kind for the first or second time in his life, he was so extravagantly anxious to be blameless in his conduct to his chief and to his men.  49
  The continual thunder of guns and musketry grew louder and louder, especially on the left, round Bagration’s advanced work; but Pierre’s attention was taken up with what was going on close to him, and the smoke prevented his seeing the progress of the action. His first impulse of gratified excitement had given way to a very different feeling, roused in the first instance by the sight of the little private lying in the hay-field. It was scarcely ten o’clock yet; twenty men had been carried away from the battery, and two guns were silenced. The enemy’s missiles fell thicker and faster, and spent balls dropped about them with a buzz and a thud. The artillerymen did not seem to heed them: they were full of jests and high spirits.  50
  “Look out, my beauty! Not this way,—try the infantry!” cried one man to a shell that spun across above their heads.  51
  “Yes, go to the infantry,” echoed a second; and he laughed as he saw the bomb explode among the foot soldiers.  52
  “Hallo! Is that an acquaintance of yours?” cried a third, to a peasant who bowed low as a ball came past.  53
  A knot of men had gathered close to the breastwork to look at something in the distance.  54
  “Do you see? the advanced posts are retiring,—they are giving way!” said one.  55
  “Mind your own business,” cried an old sergeant. “If they are retiring, it is because there is something for them to do elsewhere;”—he took one of them by the shoulders and shoved him forward with his knee. They all laughed.  56
  “Forward No. 5!” was shouted from the other end.  57
  “A long pull and a pull all together!” answered the men who were serving the gun.  58
  “Hallo! That one nearly had our Gentleman’s hat off!” said a wag, addressing Pierre. “Ah, you brute!” he added, as the ball hit the wheel of a gun-carriage and took off a man’s leg.  59
  “Here, you foxes!” cried another to the militiamen, who had been charged with the duty of removing the wounded, and who now crept forward, bent almost double. “This is not quite the sauce you fancy!”  60
  “Look at those crows!” added a third to a party of the militia, who had stopped short in their horror at the sight of the man who had lost his leg.  61
  Pierre observed that every ball that hit, and every man that fell, added to the general excitement. The soldiers’ faces grew more fierce and more eager, as lightnings play round a thunder-cloud; and as though in defiance of that other storm that was raging around them. Pierre felt that this glow was infectious.  62
  At ten o’clock the infantry sharpshooters, placed among the scrub in front of the battery and along the Kamenka brook, began to give way: he could see them running and carrying the wounded on their gunstocks. A general came up the mamelon, exchanged a few words with the colonel in command, shot a wrathful scowl at Pierre, and went away again, after ordering the infantrymen to fire lying down, so as to expose a smaller front. There was a sharp rattle of drums in the regiment below, and the line rushed forward. Pierre’s attention was caught by the pale face of a young officer who was marching with them backwards, holding his sword point downwards, and looking behind him uneasily; in a minute they were lost to sight in the smoke, and Pierre only heard a confusion of cries, and the steady rattle of well-sustained firing. Then in a few minutes, the wounded were brought out of the mêlée on stretchers.  63
  In the redoubt, projectiles were falling like hail, and several men were laid low; the soldiers were working with increased energy: no one heeded Pierre. Once or twice he was told to get out of the way; and the old commanding officer walked up and down from one gun to another, with his brows knit. The boy lieutenant, with flaming cheeks, was giving his orders more incisively than ever; the gunners brought up the cartridges, loaded and fired with passionate celerity and zeal. They no longer walked; they sprang about as if they were moved by springs. The thunder-cloud was close overhead. Every face seemed to flash fire, and Pierre, now standing by the old colonel, felt as if the explosion was at hand; then the young lieutenant came up to the chief and saluted with his hand to the peak of his cap.  64
  “I have the honor to inform you that there are only eight rounds left. Must we go on?”  65
  “Grape-shot!” cried the colonel, instead of answering him; and at that moment the little lieutenant gave a cry, and dropped like a bird shot on the wing.  66
  Everything whirled and swam before Pierre’s eyes. A rain of ball was clattering on the breastwork, the men, and the guns. Pierre, who had not thought much about it hitherto, now heard nothing else. On the right some soldiers were running and shouting “Hurrah!”—but backwards surely, not forwards. A ball hit the earthwork close to where he was standing, and made the dust fly; at the same instant a black object seemed to leap up and bury itself in something soft. The militiamen made the best of their way down the slope again.  67
  “Grape-shot!” repeated the old commander. A sergeant in much agitation ran to him, and told him in terrified undertones that the ammunition was all spent. He might have been a house-steward telling his master that the wine had run short.  68
  “Rascals! what are they about?” cried the officer; he looked round at Pierre, his heated face streaming with perspiration, and his eyes flashing with a fever of excitement. “Run down to the reserve and fetch up a caisson,” he added furiously to one of the soldiers.  69
  “I will go,” said Pierre.  70
  The officer did not answer, but stepped aside. “Wait—don’t fire!”  71
  The man who had been ordered to fetch up the caisson ran against Pierre.  72
  “It is not your place, master!” he said; and he set off as fast as he could go, down the slope. Pierre ran after him, taking care to avoid the spot where the boy lieutenant was lying. Two, three balls flew over his head, and fell close to him.  73
  “Where am I going?” he suddenly asked himself when he was within a few feet of the ammunition stores. He stopped, not knowing where to go. At the same instant a tremendous shock flung him face downwards on the ground; a sheet of flame blinded him; and a terrible shriek, ending in an explosion and rattle all round him, completely stunned him. When he presently recovered his senses, he was lying on the ground with his arms spread out. The caisson he had before seen had vanished; in its place the scorched grass was strewn with green boards, half burnt up, and with rags of clothing; one horse, shaking off the remains of his shafts, started away at a gallop; his mate, mortally injured, lay whinnying piteously.  74
  Pierre, half crazy with terror, started to his feet, and ran back to the battery, as being the only place where he could find shelter from all these catastrophes. As he went he was surprised to hear no more firing, and to find the work occupied by a number of new-comers whom he could not recognize. The colonel was leaning over the breastwork as though he were looking down at something; and a soldier, struggling in the hands of some others, was shouting for help. He had not had time to understand that the commanding officer was dead, and the soldier a prisoner, when another was killed under his eyes by a bayonet thrust in the back. Indeed, he had scarcely set foot in the redoubt when a man in a dark-blue uniform, with a lean brown face, threw himself on him, sword in hand. Pierre instinctively dodged, and seized his assailant by the neck and shoulder. It was a French officer; but he dropped his sword and took Pierre by the collar. They stood for a few seconds face to face, each looking more astonished than the other at what he had just done.  75
  “Am I his prisoner or is he mine?” was the question in both their minds.  76
  The Frenchman was inclined to accept the first alternative; for Pierre’s powerful hand was tightening its clutch on his throat. He seemed to be trying to speak, when a ball came singing close over their heads, and Pierre almost thought it had carried off his prisoner’s—he ducked it with such amazing promptitude. He himself did the same, and let go. The Frenchman, being no longer curious to settle which was the other’s prize, fled into the battery; while Pierre made off down the hill, stumbling over the dead and wounded, and fancying in his panic that they clutched at his garments. As he got to the bottom he met a dense mass of Russians, running as if they were flying from the foe, but all rushing towards the battery. This was the attack of which Yermolow took all the credit; declaring to all who would listen to him that his good star and daring alone could have carried it through. He pretended that he had had his pockets full of crosses of St. George, which he had strewn all over the mamelon. The French, who had captured the redoubt, now in their turn fled, and the Russians pursued them with such desperate determination that it was impossible to stop them.  77
  The prisoners were led away from the spot; among them was a wounded general who was at once surrounded by Russian officers. Hundreds of wounded,—French and Russians,—their faces drawn with anguish, were carried off the mamelon, or dragged themselves away. Once more Pierre went up; but those who had been his friends there were gone: he found only a heap of slain, for the most part unknown to him, though he saw the young lieutenant still in the same place by the earthwork, sunk in a heap in a pool of blood; the ruddy-faced gunner still moved convulsively, but was too far gone to be carried away. Pierre fairly took to his heels. “They must surely leave off now,” he thought. “They must be horrified at what they have done.” And he mechanically followed in the wake of the procession of litters which were quitting the field of action.  78
  The sun, shrouded in the cloud of smoke, was still high above the horizon. Away to the left, and particularly round Séménovski, a confused mass swayed and struggled in the distance, and the steady roar of cannon and musketry, far from diminishing, swelled louder and louder; it was like the wild despairing effort of a man who collects all his strength for a last furious cry.  79
  The principal scene of action had been over a space of about two versts, lying between Borodino and the advanced works held by Bagration. Beyond this radius the cavalry at Ouvarow had made a short diversion in the middle of the day; and behind Outitza, Poniatowski and Toutchkow had come to blows: but these were relatively trifling episodes. It was on the plain, between the village and Bagration’s intrenchment,—a tract of open ground almost clear of copse or brushwood,—that the real engagement was fought, and in the simplest way. The signal to begin was given on each side by the firing of above a hundred cannon. Then as the smoke rolled down in a thick cloud, the divisions under Desaix and Compans attacked Bagration, while the Viceroy’s marched on Borodino. It was about a verst from Bagration’s position to Schevardino, where Napoleon had posted himself; and more than two, as the crow flies, from those advanced works to Borodino. Napoleon could not therefore be aware of what was going on there, for the whole valley was shrouded in smoke. Desaix’s men were invisible as soon as they got into the hollow, and when they had disappeared they could be seen no more, as the opposite slope was hidden from view. Here and there a black mass, or a few bayonets, might be seen; still, from the redoubt at Schevardino, no one could be certain whether the hostile armies were moving or standing still. The slanting rays of a glorious sun lighted up Napoleon’s face, and he screened his eyes with his hand to examine the defenses opposite. Shouts rose now and then above the rattle of musketry, but the smoke thickened and curtained everything from view. He went down from the eminence and walked up and down, stopping now and then to listen to the artillery, and looking at the field of battle; but neither from where he stood, nor from the knoll, where he had left his generals, nor from the intrenchments, which had fallen into the hands of the French and the Russians alternately, could anything that was happening be discovered.  80
  For several hours in succession, now the French came into view and now the Russians,—now the infantry and now the cavalry; they seemed to surge up, to fall, struggle, jostle, and then, not knowing what to do, shouted and ran forwards or backwards. Napoleon’s aides-de-camp, orderly officers, and marshals, rode up every few minutes to report progress: but these reports were necessarily fictitious, because, in the turmoil and fire, it was impossible to know exactly how matters stood; and because most of the aides-de-camp were content to repeat what was told them, without going themselves to the scene of action; because, too, during the few minutes that it took them to ride back again, everything changed, and what had been true was then false. Thus, one of the Viceroy’s aides-de-camp flew to tell the Emperor that Borodino was taken, that the bridge over the Kolotcha was held by the French, and to ask Napoleon whether troops should be made to cross it or no. Napoleon’s commands were to form in line on the other side and wait; but even while he was giving this order, and at the very time when the aide-de-camp was leaving Borodino, the bridge had been recaptured and burnt by the Russians in the conflict with which Pierre had got mixed up at the beginning of the engagement. Another aide-de-camp came riding up, with a scared face, to say that the attack on the advanced works had been repulsed, that Compans was wounded and Davoust killed; while in fact, the intrenchments had been recaptured by fresh troops, and Davoust had only been bruised.  81
  As the outcome of these reports,—which were inevitably inaccurate by the mere force of circumstances,—Napoleon made fresh arrangements, which if they had not been anticipated by prompt action on the spot, must have come too late. The marshals and generals in command, who were nearer to the struggle than he was, and who now and then exposed themselves to fire, took steps without waiting to refer to the Emperor, directed the artillery, and brought up the cavalry on this side or the infantry on that. Often, however, their orders were only half executed, or not heeded at all. The ranks that were ordered to advance, flinched and turned tail as soon as they smelt grape-shot; those who ought to have stood firm, fled or rushed on as they saw the foe rise up before them; and the cavalry, again, would bolt off to catch the Russian fugitives. In this way two regiments of cavalry charged across the ravine of Séménovski, dashed up the hill, turned right round and pelted back again, while the infantry performed much the same feat,—allowing itself to be completely carried away. Hence all the decisions necessitated by the events of the moment were taken by those in immediate command, without waiting for orders from Ney, Davoust, or Murat—much less from Napoleon. They did not hesitate indeed to take the responsibility; since during the struggle a man’s sole idea is to escape with his life, and in seeking his own safety he rushes forward or back, and acts under the immediate influence of his own personal excitement.  82
  On the whole, after all, these various movements resulting from mere chance neither helped, nor even altered, the attitude of the troops. Their attacks and blows did little harm: it was the round shot and shell flying across the wide plain that brought death and wounds. As soon as the men were out of range of the cannon, their leaders had them in hand, formed them into line, brought them under discipline; and by sheer force of that discipline, led them back into the ring of iron and fire, where they again lost their presence of mind, and fled headlong, dragging one another into the stampede.  83
  Davoust, Murat, and Ney had led forward their troops under fire again and again in enormous masses and in perfect order: but instead of seeing the enemy take to flight, as in so many previous battles, these disciplined troops turned back disbanded and panic-stricken; in vain they reformed their ranks,—their numbers perceptibly dwindled. About noon Murat sent a message to Napoleon to ask for reinforcements. Napoleon was sitting at the foot of the knoll drinking punch. When the aide-de-camp came up and said the Russians could certainly be routed if his Majesty would send a reinforcement, Napoleon looked stern and astonished.  84
  “Reinforcements?” he cried, as if he did not understand the meaning of the request; and he looked up at the handsome lad with curly hair who had been sent on the errand.  85
  “Reinforcements!” he repeated to himself in an undertone. “What more can they want of me, when they have half of the army at their disposal in front of the Russian left wing, which has not even an intrenchment? Tell the King of Naples that it is not yet noon, and I do not see my way on the chessboard. Go.” The handsome young fellow sighed, and with his hand still up to his shako, rode back into the fire. Napoleon rose and called Caulaincourt and Berthier, with whom he discussed various matters not relating to the battle. In the middle of the conversation Berthier’s attention was attracted by seeing a general riding a horse covered with foam, and coming towards the mamelon with his staff. This was Belliard. He dismounted; and hastening towards the Emperor, explained to him in loud and positive tones, that the reinforcements must be sent up. He swore on his honor that the Russians would be utterly cut up if the Emperor would only send forward one division. Napoleon shrugged his shoulders and said nothing, still walking up and down; while Belliard vehemently expressed his opinions to the generals who stood round him.  86
  “Belliard, you are too hot-headed,” said Napoleon. “It is so easy to make a mistake in the thick of the fray. Go back; look again, and then return!”  87
  Belliard had hardly disappeared when another messenger arrived from the scene of action.  88
  “Well, what now?” said Napoleon, in the tone of a man who is worried by unlooked-for difficulties.  89
  “Your Majesty, the prince—”  90
  “Wants reinforcements, I suppose?”  91
  The aide-de-camp bowed affirmatively. Napoleon turned away, went forward a step or two, turned back and addressed Berthier.  92
  “We must send them the reserves—what do you think? Who can we send to help that gosling I hatched into an eagle?”  93
  “Let us send Claparède’s division, sire,” replied Berthier, who knew every division, regiment, and battalion by name.  94
  The Emperor nodded approval: the aide-de-camp went off at a gallop towards Claparède’s division; and a few minutes later the regiment known as the Young Guard (in contradistinction to the Old Guard), which stood in reserve behind the mamelon, began to move forward. Napoleon stood looking at it.  95
  “No,” he said suddenly, “I cannot send Claparède; send Friant.”  96
  Though there was nothing to be gained by moving the second rather than the first, and in fact the immediate result was great delay, this order was carried out exactly. Napoleon, though he little suspected it, was dealing with his army like a doctor who impedes the course of nature by the application of remedies: a method he was always ready to criticize severely in others. Friant’s division was soon lost to sight in the smoke, with the rest; while aides-de-camp came in from every point of the action, as if they had conspired to make the same demand. All reported that the Russians stood firm in their positions, and were keeping up a terrific fire under which the French were fairly melting away. M. de Beausset, who was still fasting, went up to the Emperor, who had taken a seat on a camp-stool, and respectfully suggested breakfast.  97
  “I fancy I may congratulate your Majesty on a victory?” he said.  98
  Napoleon shook his head. M. de Beausset, thinking that this negative referred to the assumed victory, took the liberty of remarking, in a half-jesting tone, that there could be no mortal reason against their having some breakfast as soon as it might be possible.  99
  “Go—you—” Napoleon suddenly began, and he turned away.  100
  A smile of pity and dejection was Beausset’s comment, as he left the Emperor and joined the officers.  101
  Napoleon was going through the painful experience of a gambler, who, after a long run of luck, has calculated every chance and staked handfuls of gold, and then finds himself beaten after all,—just because he has played too elaborately. The troops and commanders were the same as of old; his plans well laid; his address short and vigorous; he was sure of himself, and of his experience,—his genius which had ripened with years; the enemy in front was the same as at Austerlitz and Friedland; he had counted on falling on him tooth and nail—and the stroke had failed as if by magic. He was wont to see his designs crowned with success. To-day, as usual, he had concentrated his fire on a single point, had thrown forward his reserves and his cavalry—men of steel—to break through the Russian lines; and yet Victory held aloof. From all sides came the cry for reinforcement, the news that generals were killed or wounded, that the regiments were demoralized, that it was impossible to move the Russians. On other occasions, after two or three moves, and two or three orders hastily given, the aides-de-camp and marshals had come to him beaming, to announce with compliments and congratulations that whole corps had been taken prisoners,—to bring in sheaves of standards and eagles taken from the foe; trains of cannon had rattled up behind them, and Murat had asked leave to charge the baggage-wagons with cavalry! This was how things had gone at Lodi, at Marengo, at Areola, at Jena, at Austerlitz, at Wagram. To-day something strange was in the air: the Russian advanced works, to be sure, had been taken by storm; still he felt it, and he knew that all his staff felt it too. Every face was gloomy; each man avoided catching his neighbor’s eye: and Napoleon himself knew better than any one else what was the meaning of a struggle that had lasted eight hours, and had not yet resulted in victory, though all his forces had been engaged. He knew that it was a drawn game, and that even now the smallest turn of fortune might, at this critical moment, involve him and his army in ruin.  102
  As he thought over this weird campaign in Russia,—in which, during two months’ fighting, not a battle had been won, not a flag, not a gun, not a company of men had been captured,—the dismal faces of his courtiers, and their lamentations over the obstinacy of the Russians, oppressed him like a nightmare. The Russians might at any moment fall on his left wing, or break through his centre! A spent ball might even hit him! All these things were possible. He had been used to look forward to none but happy chances; to-day, on the contrary, an endless series of chances, all against him, rose before his fancy. When he heard that the left wing was in fact attacked by the enemy, he was panic-stricken. Berthier came up, and suggested that he should ride round and judge for himself of the state of affairs.  103
  “What? What did you say? Ah! yes, to be sure; call for my horse—” And he started towards Séménovski.  104
  All along the road nothing was to be seen but horses and men, singly or in heaps, lying in pools of blood; neither Napoleon nor his generals had ever seen so many slain within so small a space. The hollow roar of the cannon, which had never ceased for ten hours, and of which the ear was weary, made a sinister accompaniment to the scene. Having reached the height above Séménovski, he could see in the distance, across the smoke, close lines of uniforms of unfamiliar colors: these were the Russians. They stood in compact masses behind the village and the knoll, and their guns still thundered unremittingly all along the line: it was not a battle,—it was butchery, equally fruitless to both sides. Napoleon stopped and relapsed into the revery from which Berthier had roused him. It was impossible to put an end to the slaughter, and yet he it was who, to the world, was the responsible authority; this first repulse brought home to him all the horror and waste of such massacres.  105
  One of the generals ventured to suggest that the Old Guard should be sent forward; Ney and Berthier exchanged glances and smiled in contempt for so preposterous a notion. Napoleon sat in silence, with his head down.  106
  “We are eight hundred leagues from home,” he suddenly exclaimed; “and I will not have my Guards cut to pieces!” Then turning his horse, he galloped back to Schevardino.  107
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.