Chapter 13

ON THE NIGHT of the 6th of October, the march of the retreating French army began: kitchens and shanties were broken up, waggons were packed, and troops and trains of baggage began moving.

At seven o’clock in the morning an escort of French soldiers in marching order, in shakoes, with guns, knapsacks, and huge sacks, stood before the sheds and a running fire of eager French talk, interspersed with oaths, was kept up all along the line.

In the shed they were ready, dressed and belted and shod, only waiting for the word of command to come out. The sick soldier, Sokolov, pale and thin, with blue rings round his eyes, sat alone in his place, without boots or out-of-door clothes on. His eyes, that looked prominent from the thinness of his face, gazed inquiringly at his companions, who took no notice of him, and he uttered low groans at regular intervals. It was evidently not so much his sufferings—he was ill with dysentery—as the dread and grief of being left alone that made him groan.

Pierre was shod with a pair of slippers that Karataev had made for him out of the leather cover of a tea- chest, brought him by a Frenchman for soling his boots. With a cord tied round for a belt, he went up to the sick man, and squatted on his heels beside him.

“Come, Sokolov, they are not going away altogether, you know. They have a hospital here. Very likely you will be better off than we others,” said Pierre.

“O Lord! it will be the death of me! O Lord!” the soldier groaned more loudly.

“Well, I will ask them again in a minute,” said Pierre, and getting up, he went to the door of the shed. While Pierre was going to the door, the same corporal, who had on the previous day offered Pierre a pipe, came in from outside, accompanied by two soldiers. Both the corporal and the soldiers were in marching order, with knapsacks on and shakoes, with straps buttoned, that changed their familiar faces.

The corporal had come to the door so as to shut it in accordance with the orders given him. Before getting them out, he had to count over the prisoners.

“Corporal, what is to be done with the sick man?” Pierre was beginning, but at the very moment that he spoke the words he doubted whether it were the corporal he knew or some stranger—the corporal was so unlike himself at that moment. Moreover, at the moment Pierre was speaking, the roll of drums was suddenly heard on both sides. The corporal scowled at Pierre’s words, and uttering a meaningless oath, he slammed the door. It was half-dark now in the shed; the drums beat a sharp tattoo on both sides, drowning the sick man’s groans.

“Here it is!…Here it is again!” Pierre said to himself, and an involuntary shudder ran down his back. In the changed face of the corporal, in the sound of his voice, in the stimulating and deafening din of the drums, Pierre recognised that mysterious, unsympathetic force which drove men, against their will, to do their fellow-creatures to death; that force, the effect of which he had seen at the execution. To be afraid, to try and avoid that force, to appeal with entreaties or with exhortations to the men who were serving as its instruments, was useless. That Pierre knew now. One could but wait and be patient. Pierre did not go near the sick man again, and did not look round at him. He stood at the door of the shed in silence, scowling.

When the doors of the shed were opened, and the prisoners, huddling against one another like a flock of sheep, crowded in the entry, Pierre pushed in front of them, and went up to the very captain who was, so the corporal had declared, ready to do anything for him. The captain was in marching trim, and from his face, too, there looked out the same “it” Pierre had recognised in the corporal’s words and in the roll of the drums.

Filez, filez!” the captain was saying, frowning sternly, and looking at the prisoners crowding by him.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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