Chapter 5

FROM SMOLENSK the troops continued to retreat. The enemy followed them. On the 10th of August the regiment of which Prince Andrey was in command was marching along the high-road past the avenue that led to Bleak Hills. The heat and drought had lasted more than three weeks. Every day curly clouds passed over the sky, rarely covering the sun; but towards evening the sky cleared again and the sun set in a glowing, red mist. But a heavy dew refreshed the earth at night. The wheat left in the fields was burnt up and dropping out of the ear. The marshes were dry. The cattle lowed from hunger, finding nothing to graze on in the sunbaked meadows. Only at night in the woods, as long as the dew lasted, it was cool. But on the road, on the high-road along which the troops marched, there was no coolness even at night, not even where the road passed through the woods. The dew was imperceptible on the sandy dust of the road, more than a foot deep. As soon as it was daylight, the soldiers began to move. The transports and artillery moved noiselessly, buried up to their axles, and the infantry sank to their ankles in the soft, stifling, burning dust, that never got cool even at night. The sandy dust clung to their legs and to the wheels, rose in a cloud over their heads, and got into the eyes and hair and nostrils and lungs of the men and beasts that moved along the road. The higher the sun rose, the higher rose the cloud of dust, and through the fine, burning dust the sun in the cloudless sky looked like a purple ball, at which one could gaze with undazzled eyes. There was no wind, and the men gasped for breath in the stagnant atmosphere. They marched with handkerchiefs tied over their mouths and noses. When they reached the villages, there was a rush for the wells. They fought over the water and drank it down to the mud.

Prince Andrey was in command of a regiment; and the management of the regiment, the welfare of his men, the necessity of receiving and giving orders occupied his mind. The burning and abandonment of Smolensk made an epoch in Prince Andrey’s life. A new feeling of intense hatred of the enemy made him forget his own sorrow. He was devoted heart and soul to the interests of his regiment; he was careful of the welfare of his men and his officers, and cordial in his manner with them. They called him in the regiment “our prince,” were proud of him, and loved him. But he was kind and gentle only with his own men, with Timohin, and others like him, people quite new to him, belonging to a different world, people who could have no notion of his past. As soon as he was brought into contact with any of his old acquaintances, any of the staff officers, he bristled up again at once, and was vindictive, ironical, and contemptuous. Everything associated by memories with the past was repulsive to him, and so, in his relations with that old world, he confined himself to trying to do his duty, and not to be unfair.

Prince Andrey, in fact, saw everything in the darkest, gloomiest light, especially after Smolensk, which he considered could and should have been defended, had been abandoned, on the 6th of August, and his invalid father had been forced, as he supposed, to flee to Moscow, leaving Bleak Hills, the house that he had so loved, that he had designed and settled with his peasants, to be plundered. But in spite of that, thanks to his position, Prince Andrey had another subject to think of, quite apart from all general questions, his regiment. On the 10th of August, the column of which his regiment formed part reached the turning leading off to Bleak Hills. Two days before Prince Andrey had received the news that his father, his son, and his sister had gone away to Moscow. Though there was nothing for Prince Andrey to do at Bleak Hills, he decided, with characteristic desire to aggravate his own sufferings, that he must ride over there.

He ordered his horse to be saddled, and turned off from the main line of march towards his father’s house, where he had been born and had spent his childhood. As he rode by the pond, where there always used to be dozens of peasant women gossiping, rinsing their linen, or beating it with washing bats, Prince Andrey noticed that there was no one by the pond, and that the platform where they used to stand had been torn away, and was floating sideways in the middle of the pond, half under water. Prince Andrey rode up to the keeper’s lodge. There was no one to be seen at the stone gates and the door was open. The paths of the garden were already overgrown with weeds, and cattle and horses were straying about the English park. Prince Andrey rode up to the conservatory: the panes were smashed, and some of the trees in tubs were broken, others quite dried up. He called Taras, the gardener. No one answered. Going round the conservatory on the terrace, he saw that the paling-fence was all broken

  By PanEris using Melati.

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