Chapter 9

PURSUED by the French army of a hundred thousand men under the command of Bonaparte, received with hostility by the inhabitants, losing confidence in their allies, suffering from shortness of supplies, and forced to act under circumstances unlike anything that had been foreseen, the Russian army of thirty-five thousand men, under the command of Kutuzov, beat a hasty retreat to the lower ground about the Danube. There they halted, and were overtaken by the enemy, and fought a few rear-guard skirmishes, avoiding an engagement, except in so far as it was necessary to secure a retreat without the loss of their baggage and guns. There were actions at Lambach, at Amsteten, and at Melk; but in spite of the courage and stubbornness—acknowledged even by the enemy—with which the Russians fought, the only consequence of these engagements was a still more rapid retreat. The Austrian troops that had escaped being taken at Ulm, and had joined Kutuzov’s forces at Braunau, now parted from the Russian army, and Kutuzov was left unsupported with his weak and exhausted forces. The defence of Vienna could no longer be dreamed of. Instead of the elaborately planned campaign of attack, in accordance with the principles of the modern science of strategy, the plan of which had been communicated to Kutuzov during his sojourn in Vienna by the Austrian Hofkriegsrath, the sole aim—almost a hopeless one—that remained now for Kutuzov was to avoid losing his army, like Mack at Ulm, and to effect a junction with the fresh troops marching from Russia.

On the 28th of October, Kutuzov took his army across to the left bank of the Danube, and then for the first time halted, leaving the Danube between his army and the greater part of the enemy’s forces. On the 30th he attacked Mortier’s division, which was on the left bank of the Danube, and defeated it. In this action for the first time trophies were taken—a flag, cannons, and two of the enemy’s generals. For the first time, after retreating for a fortnight, the Russian troops had halted, and after fighting had not merely kept the field of battle, but had driven the French off it. Although the troops were without clothing and exhausted, and had lost a third of their strength in wounded, killed, and missing; although they had left their sick and wounded behind on the other side of the Danube, with a letter from Kutuzov commending them to the humanity of the enemy; although the great hospitals and houses in Krems could not contain all the sick and wounded,—in spite of all that, the halt before Krems and the victory over Mortier had greatly raised the spirits of the troops. Throughout the whole army, and also at headquarters, there were the most cheerful but groundless rumours of the near approach of the columns from Russia, of some victory gained by the Austrians, and of the retreat of Bonaparte panic-stricken.

Prince Andrey had been during the engagement in attendance on the Austrian general Schmidt, who was killed in the battle. His horse had been wounded under him, and he had himself received a slight wound on his arm from a bullet. As a mark of special favour on the part of the commander-in-chief, he was sent with the news of this victory to the Austrian court, now at Brünn, as Vienna was threatened by the French. On the night of the battle, excited, but not weary (though Prince Andrey did not look robustly built, he could bear fatigue better than very strong men), he had ridden with a despatch from Dohturov to Krems to Kutuzov. The same night he had been sent on with a special despatch to Brünn. This commission, apart from its reward, meant an important step in promotion.

The night was dark and starlit; the road looked black in the white snow that had fallen on the day of the battle. With his mind filled with impressions of the battle, joyful anticipations of the effect that would be produced by the news of the victory, and recollections of the farewells of the commander-in-chief and his comrades, Prince Andrey trotted along in a light posting cart, with the sensations of a man who, after long waiting, has at last attained the first instalment of some coveted happiness. As soon as he closed his eyes, the firing of guns and cannons was echoing in his ears, and that sound blended with the rattle of the wheels and the sensation of victory. At one moment he would begin to dream that the Russians were flying, that he was himself slain; but he waked up in haste, and with fresh happiness realised anew that that was all unreal, and that it was the French, on the contrary, who were put to flight. He recalled again all the details of the victory, his own calm manliness during the battle, and, reassured, he began to doze.… The dark, starlit night was followed by a bright and sunny morning. The snow was thawing in the sun, the horses galloped quickly, and new and different-looking forests, fields, and trees flew by on both sides of the road alike.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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