Chapter 17

ON THE RIGHT FLANK in Bagration’s detachment, at nine o’clock the battle had not yet begun. Not caring to assent to Dolgorukov’s request that he should advance into action, and anxious to be rid of all responsibility, Prince Bagration proposed to Dolgorukov to send to inquire of the commander-in-chief. Bagration was aware that as the distance between one flank and the other was almost eight miles, if the messenger sent were not killed (which was highly probable), and if he were to succeed in finding the commander-in-chief (which would be very difficult), he would hardly succeed in making his way back before the evening.

Bagration looked up and down his suite with his large, expressionless, sleepy eyes, and the childish face of Rostov, unconsciously all a-quiver with excitement and hope, was the first that caught his eye. And he sent him.

“And if I meet his majesty before the commander-in-chief, your excellency?” said Rostov, with his hand to the peak of his cap.

“You can give the message to his majesty,” said Dolgorukov, hurriedly interposing before Bagration.

On being relieved from picket duty, Rostov had managed to get a few hours’ sleep before morning, and felt cheerful, bold, and resolute, with a peculiar springiness in his movements, and confidence in his luck, and in that frame of mind in which everything seems easy and possible.

All his hopes had been fulfilled that morning: there was to be a general engagement, he was taking part in it; more than that, he was in attendance on the bravest general; more than that, he was being sent on a commission to Kutuzov, perhaps even to the Tsar himself. It was a fine morning, he had a good horse under him, his heart was full of joy and happiness. On receiving his orders, he spurred his horse and galloped along the line. At first he rode along the line of Bagration’s troops which had not yet advanced into action, and were standing motionless, then he rode into the region occupied by Uvarov’s cavalry, and here he began to observe activity and signs of preparation for battle. After he had passed Uvarov’s cavalry, he could distinctly hear the sound of musket-fire and the booming of cannons ahead of him. The firing grew louder and more intense.

The sound that reached him in the fresh morning air was not now, as before, the report of two or three shots at irregular intervals, and then one or two cannons booming. Down the slopes of the hillsides before Pratzen, he could hear volleys of musketry, interspersed with such frequent shots of cannon that sometimes several booming shots could not be distinguished from one another, but melted into one mingled roar of sound.

He could see the puffs of musket smoke flying down the hillsides, as though racing one another, while the cannon smoke hung in clouds, that floated along and melted into one another. He could see, from the gleam of bayonets in the smoke, that masses of infantry were moving down, and narrow lines of artillery with green caissons.

On a hillock Rostov stopped his horse to try and make out what was going on. But however much he strained his attention, he could not make out and understand what he saw; there were men of some sort moving about there in the smoke, lines of troops were moving both backwards and forwards; but what for? Who? where were they going? it was impossible to make out. This sight, and these sounds, so far from exciting any feeling of depression or timidity in him, only increased his energy and determination.

“Come, fire away, at them again!” was his mental response to the sounds he heard. Again he galloped along the line, penetrating further and further into the part where the troops were already in action.

“How it will be there, I don’t know, but it will all be all right!” thought Rostov.

After passing Austrian troops of some sort, Rostov noticed that the next part of the forces (they were the guards) had already advanced into action.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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