Chapter 3

THE RUSSIAN ARMY, retreating from Borodino, halted at Fili. Yermolov, who had been inspecting the position, rode up to the commander-in-chief.

“There is no possibility of fighting in this position,” he said.

Kutuzov looked at him in wonder, and made him repeat the words he had just uttered. When he had done so, he put out his hand to him.

“Give me your hand,” he said; and turning it so as to feel his pulse, he said: “You are not well, my dear boy. Think what you are saying.”

Kutuzov could not yet take in the idea of its being possible to retreat, abandoning Moscow without a battle.

On the Poklonnaya Hill, six versts from Dorogomilovsky gate, Kutuzov got out of his carriage and sat down on a bench by the side of the road. A great crowd of generals gathered about him. Count Rastoptchin, who had come out from Moscow, joined them. All this brilliant company broke up into several circles, and talked among themselves of the advantages and disadvantages of the position, of the condition of the troops, of the plans proposed, of the situation of Moscow—in fact, of military questions generally. All felt that though they had not been summoned for the purpose, it was really, if not ostensibly, a military council. All conversation was confined to public questions. If any one did repeat or inquire any piece of personal news, it was in a whisper, and the talk passed at once back to general topics. There was not a jest, not a laugh, not even a smile, to be seen among all these men. They was all making an obvious effort to rise to the level of the situation. And all the groups, while talking among themselves, tried to keep close to the commander-in-chief, whose bench formed the centre of the whole crowd, and tried to talk so that he might hear them. The commander-in-chief listened, and sometimes asked what had been said near him, but did not himself enter into conversation or express any opinion. For the most part, after listening to the talk of some group, he turned away with an air of disappointment, as though they were not speaking of anything he cared to hear about at all. Some were discussing the position, criticising not so much the position itself as the intellectual qualifications of those who had selected it. Others argued that a blunder had been made earlier, that a battle ought to have been fought two days before. Others talked of the battle of Salamanca, which a Frenchman, Crosart, wearing a Spanish uniform, was describing to them. (This Frenchman, who had just arrived, had with one of the German princes serving in the Russian army been criticising the siege of Saragossa, foreseeing a possibility of a similar defence of Moscow.) In the fourth group, Count Rastoptchin was saying that he, with the Moscow city guard, was ready to die under the walls of the city, but that still he could not but complain of the uncertainty in which he had been left, and that had he known it earlier, things would have been different.… A fifth group was manifesting the profundity of their tactical insight by discussing the direction the troops should certainly take now. A sixth group were talking arrant nonsense.

Kutuzov’s face grew more and more careworn and gloomy. From all this talk Kutuzov saw one thing only: the defence of Moscow was a physical impossibility in the fullest sense of the words. It was so utterly impossible that even if some insane commander were to give orders for a battle, all that would follow would be a muddle, and no battle would be fought. There would be no battle, because all the officers in command, not merely recognised the position to be impossible, but were only engaged now in discussing what was to be done after the inevitable abandonment of that position. How could officers lead their men to a field of battle which they considered it impossible to hold? The officers of lower rank, and even the soldiers themselves (they too form their conclusions), recognised that the position could not be held, and so they could not advance into battle with the conviction that they would be defeated. That Bennigsen urged the defence of this position, and others still discussed it, was a fact that had no significance in itself, but only as a pretext for dissension and intrigue. Kutuzov knew that.

Bennigsen was warmly manifesting his Russian patriotism (Kutuzov could not listen to him without wincing), by insisting on the defence of Moscow. To Kutuzov, his object was as clear as daylight: in case of the

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