Chapter 23

FROM GORKY Bennigsen went down the high-road to the bridge, which the officer on the knoll had pointed out to Pierre as the centre of the position, where by the riverside lay rows of sweet-scented, new-mown hay. They crossed the bridge to the village of Borodino, then turned to the left, and passing immense numbers of men and cannons, came out on to the high knoll on which militiamen were at work excavating. This was the redoubt, as yet unnamed, afterwards called Raevsky’s redoubt, or the battery on the mound.

Pierre did not take special notice of this redoubt. He did not dream that that spot would be more memorable for him than any other part of the plain of Borodino. Then they crossed a hollow to Semyonovskoye, where the soldiers were dragging away the last logs of the huts and barns. Then they rode on downhill and uphill again, across a field of rye, trampled and laid as though by hail, along the track newly made by the artillery, over the ridges of the ploughed field, to the earthworks, at which the men were still at work.

Bennigsen halted at the earthworks, and looked in front at the redoubt of Shevardino, which had been ours the day before. Several horsemen could be descried upon it. The officers said that Napoleon and Murat were there. And all gazed eagerly at the little group of horsemen. Pierre too stared at them, trying to guess which of the scarcely discernible figures was Napoleon. At last the group of horsemen descended the hill and passed out of sight.

Bennigsen began explaining to a general who had ridden up to him the whole position of our troops. Pierre listened to his words, straining every faculty of his mind to grasp the essential points of the coming battle, but to his mortification he felt that his faculties were not equal to the task. He could make nothing of it. Bennigsen finished speaking, and noticing Pierre’s listening face, he said, turning suddenly to him:

“It’s not very interesting for you, I expect.”

“Oh, on the contrary, it’s very interesting,” Pierre repeated, not quite truthfully.

From the earthworks they turned still more to the left of the road that ran winding through a thick, low- growing, birch wood. In the middle of the wood a brown hare with white feet popped out on the road before them, and was so frightened by the tramp of so many horses, that in its terror it hopped along the road just in front of them for a long while, rousing general laughter, and only when several voices shouted at it, dashed to one side and was lost in the thicket. After a couple of versts of woodland, they came out on a clearing, where were the troops of Tutchkov’s corps, destined to protect the left flank.

At this point, at the extreme left flank, Bennigsen talked a great deal with much heat; and gave instructions, of great importance from a military point of view, as it seemed to Pierre. Just in front of the spot where Tutchkov’s troops were placed there rose a knoll, which was not occupied by troops. Bennigsen was loud in his criticism of this oversight, saying that it was insane to leave a height that commanded the country round unoccupied and place troops just below it. Several generals expressed the same opinion. One in particular, with martial warmth, declared that they were doomed there to certain destruction. Bennigsen, on his own responsibility, ordered the troops to be moved on to the high-road.

This change of position on the left flank made Pierre more than ever doubtful of his capacity for comprehending military matters. As he heard Bennigsen and the other generals criticising the position of the troops at the foot of the hill, Pierre fully grasped and shared their views. But that was why he could not imagine how the man who had placed them there could have made so gross and obvious a blunder.

Pierre did not know that the troops had not been placed there to defend their position, as Bennigsen supposed, but had been stationed in that concealed spot in ambush, in order unobserved to deal a sudden blow at the enemy unawares. Bennigsen, ignorant of this project, moved the troops into a prominent position without saying anything about this change to the commander-in-chief.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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