Chapter 6

Count Orlov-Denisov with his Cossacks (the detachment of least importance of the lot) was the only one that reached the right place at the right time. This detachment halted at the extreme edge of a forest, on a path from the village of Stromilovo to Dmitrovskoe.

Before dawn Count Orlov, who had fallen asleep, was waked up. A deserter from the French camp was brought to him. It was a Polish under-officer of Poniatovsky’s corps. This under-officer explained in Polish that he had deserted because he had been insulted in the service; because he ought long ago to have been an officer, and was braver than any of them, and so he had thrown them up and wanted to punish them. He said that Murat was camping for the night a verst from them, and that if they would give him a convoy of a hundred men he would take him alive. Count Orlov-Denisov took council with his comrades. The proposition was too alluring to be refused. Every one clamoured to go, everyone advised making the attempt. After many disputes and confabulations, it was settled that Major-General Grekov, with two regiments of Cossacks, should go with the Polish deserter.

“Now, remember,” said Count Orlov-Denisov to the Polish deserter, as he dismissed him, “if you have been lying, I will have you shot like a dog, but if it’s true, a hundred crowns.”

The deserter made no reply to these words, and with a resolute air mounted his horse and rode off with Grekov’s men, who were hurriedly gathered together. They disappeared into the wood. Count Orlov, shivering from the freshness of the dawning morning, and excited by the enterprise he had undertaken on his own responsibility, came out of the wood, accompanying Grekov, and began scrutinising the enemy’s camp, faintly visible now in the deceptive light of the approaching dawn and the smouldering camp- fires. On the open copse on Count Orlov-Denisov’s right our columns ought to have been visible. Count Orlov-Denisov looked in that direction; but although they could have been seen even if a long distance away, these columns were not in sight. Count Orlov-Denisov fancied, and his adjutant, who was extremely long-sighted; confirmed the idea, that they were beginning to move in the French camp.

“Oh, of course it’s too late,” said Count Orlov, staring at the camp. As so often happens when the man in whom we are putting faith is no longer before our eyes, it all seemed at once perfectly clear and obvious to him that the deserter had been playing them false, that he had been telling them lies, and was only spoiling the whole attack by removing these two regiments, which he was leading away—God only knew where! As if it were possible to capture the general out of such a mass of troops.

“No doubt he was lying, the scoundrel,” said the Count.

“We can turn them back,” said one of the suite, who was feeling just the same mistrust in the undertaking as he gazed at the camp.

“Ah! Yes … what do you think, or shall we leave them? Or not?”

“Do you command them to return?”

“To return, yes, to return!” Count Orlov said, with sudden decision, looking at his watch; “it will be too late; it’s quite light.”

And an adjutant galloped into the wood after Grekov. When Grekov came back, Count Orlov-Denisov, excited by giving up this enterprise, and by vainly waiting for the infantry columns, which still did not appear, and by the enemy’s being so near (every man in his detachment was feeling the same), resolved to attack.

In a whisper he gave the command: “Mount!”

The men got into their places, crossed themselves … “In God’s name, off!”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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