Chapter 19

THE ATTACK of the Sixth Chasseurs covered the retreat of the right flank. In the centre Tushin’s forgotten battery had succeeded in setting fire to Schöngraben and delaying the advance of the French. The French stayed to put out the fire, which was fanned by the wind, and this gave time for the Russians to retreat. The retreat of the centre beyond the ravine was hurried and noisy; but the different companies kept apart. But the left flank, which consisted of the Azovsky and Podolosky infantry and the Pavlograd hussars, was simultaneously attacked in front and surrounded by the cream of the French army under Lannes, and was thrown into disorder. Bagration had sent Zherkov to the general in command of the left flank with orders to retreat immediately.

Zherkov, keeping his hand still at his cap, had briskly started his horse and galloped off. But no sooner had he ridden out of Bagration’s sight than his courage failed him. He was overtaken by a panic he could not contend against, and he could not bring himself to go where there was danger.

After galloping some distance towards the troops of the left flank, he rode not forward where he heard firing, but off to look for the general and the officers in a direction where they could not by any possibility be; and so it was that he did not deliver the message.

The command of the left flank belonged by right of seniority to the general of the regiment in which Dolohov was serving—the regiment which Kutuzov had inspected before Braunau. But the command of the extreme left flank had been entrusted to the colonel of the Pavlograd hussars, in which Rostov was serving. Hence arose a misunderstanding. Both commanding officers were intensely exasperated with one another, and at a time when fighting had been going on a long while on the right flank, and the French had already begun their advance on the left, these two officers were engaged in negotiations, the sole aim of which was the mortification of one another. The regiments—cavalry and infantry alike—were by no means in readiness for the engagement. No one from the common soldier to the general expected a battle; and they were all calmly engaged in peaceful occupations—feeding their horses in the cavalry, gathering wood in the infantry.

“He is my senior in rank, however,” said the German colonel of the hussars, growing very red and addressing an adjutant, who had ridden up. “So let him do as he likes. I can’t sacrifice my hussars. Bugler! Sound the retreat!”

But things were becoming urgent. The fire of cannon and musketry thundered in unison on the right and in the centre, and the French tunics of Lannes’s sharpshooters had already passed over the milldam, and were forming on this side of it hardly out of musket-shot range.

The infantry general walked up to his horse with his quivering strut, and mounting it and drawing himself up very erect and tall, he rode up to the Pavlograd colonel. The two officers met with affable bows and concealed fury in their hearts.

“Again, colonel,” the general said, “I cannot leave half my men in the wood. I beg you, I beg you,” he repeated, “to occupy the position, and prepare for an attack.”

“And I beg you not to meddle in what’s not your business,” answered the colonel, getting hot. “If you were a cavalry officer …”

“I am not a cavalry officer, colonel, but I am a Russian general, and if you are unaware of the fact …”

“I am fully aware of it, your excellency,” the colonel screamed suddenly, setting his horse in motion and becoming purple in the face. “If you care to come to the front, you will see that this position cannot be held. I don’t want to massacre my regiment for your satisfaction.”

“You forget yourself, colonel. I am not considering my own satisfaction, and I do not allow such a thing to be said.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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