Chapter 24

PRINCE ANDREY was on that bright August evening lying propped on his elbow in a broken-down barn in the village of Knyazkovo, at the further end of the encampment of his regiment. Through a gap in the broken wall he was looking at the line of thirty-year-old pollard birches in the hedge, at the field with sheaves of oats lying about it, and at the bushes where he saw the smoke of camp-fires, at which the soldiers were doing their cooking.

Cramped and useless and burdensome as his life seemed now to Prince Andrey, he felt nervously excited and irritable on the eve of battle, just as he had felt seven years earlier before Austerlitz.

He had received and given all orders for the next day’s battle. He had nothing more to do. But thoughts—the simplest, most obvious, and therefore most awful—would not leave him in peace. He knew that the battle next day would be the most awful of all he had taken part in, and death, for the first time, presented itself to him, not in relation to his actual manner of life, or to the effect of it on others, but simply in relation to himself, to his soul, and rose before him simply and awfully with a vividness that made it like a concrete reality. And from the height of this vision everything that had once occupied him seemed suddenly illumined by a cold, white light, without shade, without perspective or outline. His whole life seemed to him like a magic lantern, at which he had been looking through the glass and by artificial light. Now he saw suddenly, without the glass, in the clear light of day, those badly daubed pictures. “Yes, yes, there are they; there are the cheating forms that excited torments and ecstasies in me,” he said to himself, going over in imagination the chief pictures of the magic lantern of his life, looking at them now in the cold, white daylight of a clear view of death. “These are they, these coarsely sketched figures which seemed something splendid and mysterious. Glory, the good society, love for a woman, the fatherland—what grand pictures they used to seem to me, with what deep meaning they seemed to be filled! And it is all so simple, so colourless and coarse in the cold light of the day that I feel is dawning for me.” The three chief sorrows of his life held his attention especially. His love for a woman, his father’s death, and the invasion of the French—now in possession of half of Russia. “Love! … That little girl, who seemed to me brimming over with mysterious forces. How I loved her! I made romantic plans of love, of happiness with her! O simple-hearted youth!” he said aloud bitterly. “Why, I believed in some ideal love which was to keep her faithful to me for the whole year of my absence! Like the faithful dove in the fable, she was to pine away in my absence from her! And it was all so much simpler. … It is all so horribly simple and loathsome!

“My father, too, laid out Bleak Hills, and thought it was his place, his land, his air, his peasants. But Napoleon came along, and without even knowing of his existence, swept him away like a chip out of his path, and his Bleak Hills laid in the dust, and all his life with it brought to nought. Princess Marya says that it is a trial sent from above. What is the trial for, since he is not and never will be? He will never come back again! He is not! So for whom is it a trial? Fatherland, the spoiling of Moscow! But to-morrow I shall be killed; and not by a Frenchman even, maybe, but by one of our own men, like the soldier who let off his gun close to my ear yesterday; and the French will come and pick me up by my head and my heels and pitch me into a hole that I may not stink under their noses; and new conditions of life will arise, and I shall know nothing of them, and I shall not be at all.”

He gazed at the row of birch-trees with their motionless yellows and greens, and the white bark shining in the sun. “To die then, let them kill me to-morrow, let me be no more … let it all go on, and let me be at an end.” He vividly pictured his own absence from that life. And those birch-trees, with their light and shade, and the curling clouds and the smoke of the fires, everything around seemed suddenly transformed into something weird and menacing. A shiver ran down his back. Rising quickly to his feet, he went out of the barn, and began to walk about.

He heard voices behind the barn.

“Who’s there?” called Prince Andrey.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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