Chapter 21

THE WIND had sunk, black storm-clouds hung low over the battlefield, melting on the horizon into the clouds of smoke from the powder. Darkness had come, and the glow of conflagrations showed all the more distinctly in two places. The cannonade had grown feebler, but the snapping of musketry-fire in the rear and on the right was heard nearer and more often. As soon as Tushin with his cannons, continually driving round the wounded and coming upon them, had got out of fire and were descending the ravine, he was met by the staff, among whom was the staff-officer and Zherkov, who had twice been sent to Tushin’s battery, but had not once reached it. They all vied with one another in giving him orders, telling him how and where to go, finding fault and making criticisms. Tushin gave no orders, and in silence, afraid to speak because at every word he felt, he could not have said why, ready to burst into tears, he rode behind on his artillery nag. Though orders were given to abandon the wounded, many of them dragged themselves after the troops and begged for a seat on the cannons. The jaunty infantry-officer—the one who had run out of Tushin’s shanty just before the battle—was laid on Matvyevna’s carriage with a bullet in his stomach. At the bottom of the hill a pale ensign of hussars, holding one arm in the other hand, came up to Tushin and begged for a seat.

“Captain, for God’s sake. I’ve hurt my arm,” he said timidly. “For God’s sake. I can’t walk. For God’s sake!” It was evident that this was not the first time the ensign had asked for a lift, and that he had been everywhere refused. He asked in a hesitating and piteous voice, “Tell them to let me get on, for God’s sake!”

“Let him get on, let him get on,” said Tushin. “Put a coat under him, you, uncle.” He turned to his favourite soldier. “But where’s the wounded officer?”

“We took him off; he was dead,” answered some one.

“Help him on. Sit down, my dear fellow, sit down. Lay the coat there, Antonov.”

The ensign was Rostov. He was holding one hand in the other. He was pale and his lower jaw was trembling as though in a fever. They put him on Matvyevna, the cannon from which they had just removed the dead officer. There was blood on the coat that was laid under him, and Rostov’s riding-breeches and arm were smeared with it.

“What, are you wounded, my dear?” said Tushin, going up to the cannon on which Rostov was sitting.

“No; it’s a sprain.”

“How is it there’s blood on the frame?” asked Tushin.

“That was the officer, your honour, stained it,” answered an artillery-man, wiping the blood off with the sleeve of his coat, and as it were apologising for the dirty state of the cannon.

With difficulty, aided by the infantry, they dragged the cannon uphill, and halted on reaching the village of Guntersdorf. It was by now so dark that one could not distinguish the soldiers’ uniforms ten paces away, and the firing had begun to subside. All of a sudden there came the sound of firing and shouts again close by on the right side. The flash of the shots could be seen in the darkness. This was the last attack of the French. It was met by the soldiers in ambush in the houses of the village. All rushed out of the village again, but Tushin’s cannons could not move and the artillerymen, Tushin, and the ensign looked at one another in anticipation of their fate. The firing on both sides began to subside, and some soldiers in lively conversation streamed out of a side street.

“Not hurt, Petrov?” inquired one.

“We gave it them hot, lads. They won’t meddle with us now,” another was saying.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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