left, and some regiments have none, as the commanders Osterman and Sedmoretsky have reported, and the peasantry of the country have had everything eaten up. I shall myself remain in the hospital at Ostrolenka till I am cured. In regard to which I must humbly submit the report that if the army remains another fortnight in its present bivouac, by spring not a man will be left in health.

“ ‘Graciously discharge from his duty an old man who is sufficiently disgraced by his inability to perform the great and glorious task for which he was chosen. I shall await here in the hospital your most gracious acceptance of my retirement, that I may not have to act the part of a secretary rather than a commander. My removal is not producing the slightest sensation—a blind man is leaving the army, that is all. More like me can be found in Russia by thousands!’

“The marshal is angry with the Emperor and punishes all of us; isn’t it logical!

“That is the first act. In the next the interest and the absurdity rise, as they ought. After the marshal has departed it appears that we are within sight of the enemy and shall have to give battle. Buxhevden is commanding officer by right of seniority, but General Bennigsen is not of that opinion, the rather that it is he and his corps who face the enemy, and he wants to seize the opportunity to fight a battle ‘on his own hand,’ as the Germans say. He fights it. It is the battle of Pultusk, which is counted a great victory, but which in my opinion is nothing of the kind. We civilians, you know, have a very ugly way of deciding whether battles are lost or won. The side that retreats after the battle has lost, that is what we say, and according to that we lost the battle of Pultusk. In short, we retreat after the battle, but we send a message to Petersburg with news of a victory, and the general does not give up the command to Buxhevden, hoping to receive from Petersburg the title of commander-in-chief in return for his victory. During this interregnum we begin an excessively interesting and original scheme of manœuvres. The aim does not, as it should, consist in avoiding or attacking the enemy, but solely in avoiding General Buxhevden, who by right of seniority should be our commanding officer. We pursue this object with so much energy that even when we cross a river which is not fordable we burn the bridges in order to separate ourselves from our enemy, who, at the moment, is not Bonaparte but Buxhevden. General Buxhevden was nearly attacked and taken by a superior force of the enemy, in consequence of one of our fine manœuvres which saved us from him. Buxhevden pursues us; we scuttle. No sooner does he cross to our side of the river than we cross back to the other. At last our enemy Buxhevden catches us and attacks us. The two generals quarrel. There is even a challenge on Buxhevden’s part and an epileptic fit on Bennigsen’s. But at the critical moment the messenger who carried the news of our Pultusk victory brings us from Petersburg our appointment as commander-in-chief, and the first enemy, Buxhevden, being overthrown, we are able to think of the second, Bonaparte. But what should happen at that very moment but the rising against us of a third enemy, which is the ‘holy armament’ fiercely crying out for bread, meat, biscuits, hay, and I don’t know what else! The storehouses are empty, the roads impassable. The ‘holy armament’ sets itself to pillage, and that in a way of which the last campaign can give you no notion. Half the regiments have turned themselves into free companies, and are overrunning the country with fire and sword. The inhabitants are totally ruined, the hospitals are overflowing with sick, and famine is everywhere. Twice over the headquarters have been attacked by bands of marauders, and the commander-in-chief himself has had to ask for a battalion to drive them off. In one of these attacks my empty trunk and my dressing-gown were carried off. The Emperor proposes to give authority to all the commanders of divisions to shoot marauders, but I greatly fear this will oblige one half of the army to shoot the other.”

Prince Andrey at first read only with his eyes, but unconsciously what he read (though he knew how much faith to put in Bilibin) began to interest him more and more. When he reached this passage, he crumpled up the letter and threw it away. It was not what he read that angered him; he was angry that the far-away life out there—in which he had no part—could trouble him. He closed his eyes, rubbed his forehead with his hand, as though to drive out all interest in what he had been reading, and listened to what was passing in the nursery. Suddenly he fancied a strange sound through the door. A panic seized him; he was afraid something might have happened to the baby while he was reading the letter. He went on tiptoe to the door of the nursery and opened it.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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