Chapter 11

FROM PRINCE SHTCHERBATOV’S HOUSE the prisoners were taken straight downhill across the Virgin’s Meadow to the left of the monastery of the Virgin, and led to a kitchen garden, in which there stood a post. A big pit had been dug out near the post, and the freshly turned-up earth was heaped up by it. A great crowd of people formed a semicircle about the pit and the post. The crowd consisted of a small number of Russians and a great number of Napoleon’s soldiers not on duty: there were Germans, Italians, and Frenchmen in various uniforms. To the right and left of the post stood rows of French soldiers, in blue uniforms, with red epaulettes, in Hessians and shako. The prisoners were stood in a certain order, in accordance with a written list (Pierre was sixth) and led up to the post. Several drums suddenly began beating on both sides of them, and Pierre felt as though a part of his soul was being torn away from him by that sound. He lost all power of thought and reflection. He could only see and hear. And there was only one desire left in him, the desire that the terrible thing that was to be done should be done more quickly. Pierre looked round at his companions and scrutinised them.

The two men at the end were shaven convicts; one tall and thin, the other a swarthy, hirsute, muscular fellow with a flattened nose. The third was a house-serf, a man of five-and-forty, with grey hair and a plump, well-fed figure. The fourth was a peasant, a very handsome fellow with a full, flaxen beard and black eyes. The fifth was a factory hand, a thin, sallow lad of eighteen, in a dressing-gown.

Pierre heard the Frenchmen deliberating how they were to be shot, singly, or two at a time. “Two at a time,” a senior officer answered coldly. There was a stir in the ranks of the soldiers, and it was evident that every one was in haste and not making haste, not as people do when they are getting through some job every one can understand, but as men hasten to get something done that is inevitable, but is disagreeable and incomprehensible.

A French official wearing a scarf came up to the right side of the file of prisoners, and read aloud the sentence in Russian and in French.

Then two couples of French soldiers came up to the prisoners by the instruction of an officer, and took the two convicts who stood at the head. The convicts went up to the post, stopped there, and while the sacks were being brought, they looked dumbly about them, as a wild beast at bay looks at the approaching hunter. One of them kept on crossing himself, the other scratched his back and worked his lips into the semblance of a smile. The soldiers with hurrying fingers bandaged their eyes, put the sacks over their heads and bound them to the post.

A dozen sharpshooters, with muskets, stepped out of the ranks with a fine, regular tread, and halted eight paces from the post. Pierre turned away not to see what was coming. There was a sudden bang and rattle that seemed to Pierre louder than the most terrific clap of thunder, and he looked round. There was a cloud of smoke, and the French soldiers, with trembling hands and pale faces, were doing something in it by the pit. The next two were led up. Those two, too, looked at every one in the same way, with the same eyes, dumbly, and in vain, with their eyes only begging for protection, and plainly unable to understand or believe in what was coming. They could not believe in it, because they only knew what their life was to them, and so could not understand, and could not believe, that it could be taken from them.

Pierre tried not to look, and again turned away; but again a sort of awful crash smote his hearing, and with the sound he saw smoke, blood, and the pale and frightened faces of the Frenchmen, again doing something at the post, and balking each other with their trembling hands. Pierre, breathing hard, looked about him as though asking, “What does it mean?” The same question was written in all the eyes that met Pierre’s eyes. On all the faces of the Russians, on the faces of the French soldiers and officers, all without exception, he read the same dismay, horror, and conflict as he felt in his own heart. “But who is it doing it there really? They are all suffering as I am! Who is it? who?” flashed for one second through Pierre’s mind. “Sharpshooters of the eighty-sixth, forward!” some one shouted. The fifth prisoner standing beside Pierre was led forward—alone. Pierre did not understand that he was saved; that he and all the rest had been brought here simply to be present at the execution. With growing horror, with no sense of

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