Chapter 8

THE REST of the infantry pressed together into a funnel shape at the entrance of the bridge, and hastily marched across it. At last all the baggage-waggons had passed over; the crush was less, and the last battalion were stepping on to the bridge. Only the hussars of Denisov’s squadron were left on the further side of the river facing the enemy. The enemy, visible in the distance from the opposite mountain, could not yet be seen from the bridge below, as, from the valley, through which the river flowed, the horizon was bounded by rising ground not more than half a mile away. In front lay a waste plain dotted here and there with handfuls of our scouting Cossacks. Suddenly on the road, where it ran up the rising ground opposite, troops came into sight wearing blue tunics and accompanied by artillery. They were the French. A scouting party of Cossacks trotted away down the hillside. Though the officers and the men of Denisov’s squadron tried to talk of other things, and to look in other directions, they all thought continually of nothing else but what was there on the hillside, and kept constantly glancing towards the dark patches they saw coming into sight on the sky-line, and recognised as the enemy’s forces. The weather had cleared again after midday, and the sun shone brilliantly as it began to go down over the Danube and the dark mountains that encircle it. The air was still, and from the hillside there floated across from time to time the sound of bugles and of the shouts of the enemy. Between the squadron and the enemy there was no one now but a few scouting parties. An empty plain, about six hundred yards across, separated them from the hostile troops. The enemy had ceased firing, and that made even more keenly felt the stern menace of that inaccessible, unassailable borderland that was the dividing-line between the two hostile armies.

“One step across that line, that suggests the line dividing the living from the dead, and unknown sufferings and death. And what is there? and who is there? there, beyond that field and that tree and the roofs with the sunlight on them? No one knows, and one longs to know and dreads crossing that line, and longs to cross it, and one knows that sooner or later one will have to cross it and find out what there is on the other side of the line, just as one must inevitably find out what is on the other side of death. Yet one is strong and well and cheerful and nervously excited, and surrounded by men as strong in the same irritable excitement.” That is how every man, even if he does not think, feels in the sight of the enemy, and that feeling gives a peculiar brilliance and delightful keenness to one’s impressions of all that takes place at such moments.

On the rising ground occupied by the enemy, there rose the smoke of a shot, and a cannon ball flew whizzing over the heads of the squadron of hussars. The officers, who had been standing together, scattered in different directions. The hussars began carefully getting their horses back into line. The whole squadron subsided into silence. All the men were looking at the enemy in front and at the commander of the squadron, expecting an order to be given. Another cannon ball flew by them, and a third. There was no doubt that they were firing at the hussars. But the cannon balls, whizzing regularly and rapidly, flew over the heads of the hussars and struck the ground beyond them. The hussars did not look round, but at each sound of a flying ball, as though at the word of command, the whole squadron, with their faces so alike, through all their dissimilarity, rose in the stirrups, holding their breath, as the ball whizzed by, then sank again. The soldiers did not turn their heads, but glanced out of the corners of their eyes at one another, curious to see the effect on their comrades. Every face from Denisov down to the bugler showed about the lips and chin the same lines of conflict and nervous irritability and excitement. The sergeant frowned, looking the soldiers up and down, as though threatening them with punishment. Ensign Mironov ducked at the passing of each cannon ball. On the left flank, Rostov on his Rook—a handsome beast, in spite of his unsound legs—had the happy air of a schoolboy called up before a large audience for an examination in which he is confident that he will distinguish himself. He looked serenely and brightly at every one, as though calling upon them all to notice how unconcerned he was under fire. But into his face too there crept, against his will, that line about the mouth that betrayed some new and strenuous feeling.

“Who’s bobbing up and down there? Ensign Mironov! Not the thing! look at me!” roared Denisov, who could not keep still in one place, but galloped to and fro before the squadron.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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