Chapter 14

AT FIVE O’CLOCK in the morning it was still quite dark. The troops of the centre, of the reserves, and of Bagration’s right flank, were still at rest. But on the left flank the columns of the infantry, cavalry, and artillery, destined to be the first to descend from the heights, so as to attack the French right flank, and, according to Weierother’s plan, to drive it back to the Bohemian mountains, were already up and astir. The smoke from the camp-fires, into which they were throwing everything superfluous, made the eyes smart. It was cold and dark. The officers were hurriedly drinking tea and eating breakfast; the soldiers were munching biscuits, stamping their feet rhythmically, while they gathered about the fires warming themselves, and throwing into the blaze remains of shanties, chairs, tables, wheels, tubs, everything superfluous that they could not take away with them. Austrian officers were moving in and out among the Russian troops, coming everywhere as heralds of their advance. As soon as an Austrian officer appeared near a commanding officer’s quarters, the regiment began to bestir themselves; the soldiers ran from the fires, thrust pipes into boot-legs, bags into waggons, saw to their muskets, and formed into ranks. The officers buttoned themselves up, put on their sabres and pouches, and moved up and down the ranks shouting. The commissariat men and officers’ servants harnessed the horses, packed and tied up the waggons. The adjutants and the officers in command of regiments and battalions got on their horses, crossed themselves, gave final orders, exhortations and commissions to the men who remained behind with the baggage, and the monotonous thud of thousands of feet began. The columns moved, not knowing where they were going, and unable from the crowds round them, the smoke, and the thickening fog, to see either the place which they were leaving, or that into which they were advancing.

The soldier in movement is as much shut in, surrounded, drawn along by his regiment, as the sailor is by his ship. However great a distance he traverses, however strange, unknown, and dangerous the regions to which he penetrates, all about him, as the sailor has the deck and masts and rigging of his ship, he has always everywhere the same comrades, the same ranks, the same sergeant Ivan Mitritch, the same regimental dog Zhutchka, the same officers. The soldier rarely cares to know into what region his ship has sailed; but on the day of battle—God knows how or whence it comes—there may be heard in the moral world of the troops a sterner note that sounds at the approach of something grave and solemn, and rouses them to a curiosity unusual in them. On days of battle, soldiers make strenuous efforts to escape from the routine of their regiment’s interests, they listen, watch intently, and greedily inquire what is being done around them.

The fog had become so thick that though it was growing light, they could not see ten steps in front of them. Bushes looked like huge trees, level places looked like ravines and slopes. Anywhere, on any side, they might stumble upon unseen enemies ten paces from them. But for a long while the columns marched on in the same fog, going downhill and uphill, passing gardens and fences, in new and unknown country, without coming upon the enemy anywhere. On the contrary, the soldiers became aware that in front, behind, on all sides, were the Russian columns moving in the same direction. Every soldier felt cheered at heart by knowing that where he was going, to that unknown spot were going also many, many more of our men.

“I say, the Kurskies have gone on,” they were saying in the ranks.

“Stupendous, my lad, the forces of our men that are met together! Last night I looked at the fires burning, no end of them. A regular Moscow!”

Though not one of the officers in command of the columns rode up to the ranks nor talked to the soldiers (the commanding officers, as we have seen at the council of war, were out of humour, and displeased with the plans that had been adopted, and so they simply carried out their orders without exerting themselves to encourage the soldiers), yet the soldiers marched on in good spirits, as they always do when advancing into action, especially when on the offensive.

But after they had been marching on for about an hour in the thick fog, a great part of the troops had to halt, and an unpleasant impression of mismanagement and misunderstanding spread through the ranks. In what way that impression reached them it is very difficult to define. But there is no doubt that it did

  By PanEris using Melati.

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