“Kindly go to your places,” said the staff-officer, trying to preserve his gravity.

Prince Andrey glanced once more at the little figure of the artillery officer. There was something peculiar about it, utterly unsoldierly, rather comic, but very attractive.

The staff-officer and Prince Andrey got on their horses and rode on.

Riding out beyond the village, continually meeting or overtaking soldiers and officers of various ranks, they saw on the left earthworks being thrown up, still red with the freshly dug clay. Several battalions of soldiers, in their shirt-sleeves, in spite of the cold wind were toiling like white ants at these entrenchments; from the trench they saw spadefuls of red clay continually being thrown out by unseen hands. They rode up to the entrenchment, examined it, and were riding on further. Close behind the entrenchment they came upon dozens of soldiers continually running to and from the earthworks, and they had to hold their noses and put their horses to a gallop to get by the pestilential atmosphere of this improvised sewer.

Voilà l’agrément des camps, monsieur le prince,” said the staff-officer. They rode up the opposite hill. From that hill they had a view of the French. Prince Andrey stopped and began looking closer at what lay before them.

“You see here is where our battery stands,” said the staff-officer, pointing to the highest point, “commanded by that queer fellow sitting without his boots; from there you can see everything; let us go there, prince.”

“I am very grateful to you, I’ll go on alone now,” said Prince Andrey, anxious to be rid of the staff-officer; “don’t trouble yourself further, please.”

The staff-officer left him, and Prince Andrey rode on alone.

The further forward and the nearer to the enemy he went, the more orderly and cheerful he found the troops. The greatest disorder and depression had prevailed in the transport forces before Znaim, which Prince Andrey had passed that morning, ten versts from the French. At Grunte too a certain alarm and vague dread could be felt. But the nearer Prince Andrey got to the French line, the more self-confident was the appearance of our troops. The soldiers, in their great-coats, stood ranged in lines with their sergeant, and the captain was calling over the men, poking the last soldier in the line in the ribs, and telling him to hold up his hand. Soldiers were dotted all over the plain, dragging logs and brushwood, and constructing shanties, chatting together, and laughing good-humouredly. They were sitting round the fires, dressed and stripped, drying shirts and foot-gear. Or they thronged round the porridge-pots and cauldrons, brushing their boots and their coats. In one company dinner was ready, and the soldiers, with greedy faces, watched the steaming pots, and waited for the sample, which was being taken in a wooden bowl to the commissariat officer, sitting on a piece of wood facing his shanty.

In another company—a lucky one, for not all had vodka—the soldiers stood in a group round a broad- shouldered, pock-marked sergeant, who was tilting a keg of vodka, and pouring it into the covers of the canteens held out to him in turn. The soldiers, with reverential faces, lifted the covers to their mouths, drained them, and licking their lips and rubbing them with the sleeves of their coats, they walked away looking more good-humoured than before. Every face was as serene as though it were all happening not in sight of the enemy, just before an action in which at least half of the detachment must certainly be left on the field, but somewhere at home in Russia, with every prospect of a quiet halting-place. Prince Andrey rode by the Chasseur regiment, and as he advanced into the ranks of the Kiev Grenadiers, stalwart fellows all engaged in the same peaceful pursuits, not far from the colonel’s shanty, standing higher than the rest, he came upon a platoon of grenadiers, before whom lay a man stripped naked. Two soldiers were holding him, while two others were brandishing supple twigs and bringing them down at regular intervals on the man’s bare back. The man shrieked unnaturally. A stout major was walking up and down in front of the platoon, and regardless of the screams, he kept saying: “It’s a disgrace for a soldier

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.