Chapter 32

PIERRE, beside himself with terror, jumped up and ran back to the battery as the one refuge from the horrors encompassing him.

Just as Pierre ran up to the redoubt, he noticed that there was no sound of firing from the battery, but that there were men there doing something or other. He had not time to make out what men they were. He caught sight of the senior officer lying with his back towards him on the earth wall, as though gazing intently at something below; and he noticed one soldier, who, tearing himself away from the men who were holding him, shouted “Mates!” and he saw something else that was strange.

But before he had time to grasp that the colonel had been killed, that the soldier shouting “Mates!” was a prisoner, another soldier was stabbed in the back by a bayonet before his eyes. He had hardly run up into the redoubt when a thin man with a yellow, perspiring face, in a blue uniform, ran up to him with a sword in his hand, shouting something. Pierre, instinctively defending himself, as they came full tilt against each other, put out his hands and clutched the man (it was a French officer) by the shoulder and the throat. The officer, dropping his sword, seized Pierre by the collar.

For several seconds both gazed with frightened eyes at each other’s unfamiliar-looking faces, and both were bewildered, not knowing what they were doing or what they were to do. “Am I taken prisoner or am I taking him prisoner?” each of them was wondering. But the French officer was undoubtedly more disposed to believe he was taken prisoner, because Pierre’s powerful hand, moved by instinctive terror, was tightening its grip on his throat. The Frenchman tried to speak, when suddenly a cannon ball flew with a fearful whiz close over their heads, and it seemed to Pierre that the Frenchman’s head had been carried off by it, so swiftly had he ducked it.

Pierre, too, ducked and let go with his hands. Giving no more thought to the question which was taken prisoner, the Frenchman ran back to the battery, while Pierre dashed downhill, stumbling over the dead and wounded, who seemed to him to be clutching at his feet.

But before he had reached the bottom he was met by dense crowds of Russian soldiers, who, stumbling against each other and tripping up, were running in wild merriment towards the battery. (This was the attack of which Yermolov claimed the credit, declaring that it was only his valour and good luck that made this feat of arms possible; it was the attack in which he is supposed to have strewn the redoubt with the St. George’s crosses that were in his pocket.)

The French, who had captured the battery, fled. Our soldiers pursued them so far beyond the battery that they were with difficulty stopped. They were bringing the prisoners down from the battery, among them a wounded French general, surrounded by officers. Crowds of wounded, both French and Russians—among them men Pierre recognised—walked, or crawled, or were borne on stretchers from the battery, their faces distorted by suffering.

Pierre went up into the battery, where he had spent over an hour; and found no one left of that little fraternal group that had accepted him as one of themselves. There were many dead there, whom he had not seen before. But several he recognised. The boy-officer was still sitting huddled up in a pool of blood at the edge of the earth wall. The red-faced, merry soldier was still twitching convulsively; but they did not carry him away.

Pierre ran down the slope.

“Oh, now they will stop it, now they will be horrified at what they have done!” thought Pierre, aimlessly following the crowds of stretchers moving off the battlefield.

But the sun still stood high behind the veil of smoke, and in front, and even more so to the left, about Semyonovskoye, there was still a turmoil seething in the smoke; and the roar of cannon and musketry, far from slackening, grew louder and more desperate, like a man putting all his force into one deafening outcry as a last despairing effort.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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