Chapter 17

LIKE ALL OLD PEOPLE, Kutuzov slept little at night. He often dropped into sudden naps during the daytime, but at night he lay on his bed without undressing, and generally not asleep but thinking.

He was lying like that now on his bedstead, his huge, heavy, misshapen head leaning on his fat hand. He was thinking with his one eye wide open, gazing into the darkness.

Since Bennigsen, who was in correspondence with the Tsar and had more weight than all the rest of the staff, had avoided him, Kutuzov was more at ease so far as not being compelled to lead his soldiers into useless offensive operations. The lesson of Tarutino and the day before the battle, a memory that rankled in Kutuzov’s mind, must, he thought, have its effect on them too.

“They ought to understand that we can but lose by taking the offensive. Time and patience, these are my champions!” thought Kutuzov. He knew the apple must not be picked while it was green. It will fall of itself when ripe, but if you pick it green, you spoil the apple and the tree and set your teeth on edge. Like an experienced hunter, he knew the beast was wounded, wounded as only the whole force of Russia could wound it; but whether to death or not, was a question not yet solved. Now from the sending of Lauriston and Bertemy, and from the reports brought by the irregulars, Kutuzov was almost sure that the wound was a deadly one. But more proof was wanted; he must wait.

“They want to run and look how they have wounded him. Wait a bit, you will see. Always manœuvres, attacks,” he thought. “What for? Anything to distinguish themselves. As though there were any fun in fighting. They are like children from whom you can never get a sensible view of things because they all want to show how well they can fight. But that’s not the point now. And what skilful manœuvres all these fellows propose! They think that when they have thought of two or three contingencies (he recalled the general plan from Petersburg) that they have thought of all of them. And there is no limit to them!”

The unanswered question, whether the wound dealt at Borodino were mortal or not, had been for a whole month hanging over Kutuzov’s head. On one side, the French had taken possession of Moscow. On the other side, in all his being, Kutuzov felt beyond all doubt that the terrible blow for which, together with all the Russians, he had strained all his strength must have been mortal. But in any case proofs were wanted, and he had been waiting for them now a month, and as time went on he grew more impatient. As he lay on his bed through sleepless nights, he did the very thing these younger generals did, the very thing he found fault with in them. He imagined all possible contingencies, just like the younger generation, but with this difference that he based no conclusion on the suppositions, and that he saw these contingencies not as two or three, but as thousands. The more he pondered, the more of them he saw. He imagined all sorts of movements of Napoleon’s army, acting as a whole or in part, on Petersburg, against him, to out-flank him (that was what he was most afraid of), and also the possibility that Napoleon would fight against him with his own weapon, that he would stay on in Moscow waiting for him to move. Kutuzov even imagined Napoleon’s army marching back to Medyn and Yuhnov. But the one thing he could not foresee was what happened—the mad, convulsive stampede of Napoleon’s army during the first eleven days of its march from Moscow—the stampede that made possible what Kutuzov did not yet dare to think about, the complete annihilation of the French. Dorohov’s report of Broussier’s division, the news brought by the irregulars of the miseries of Napoleon’s army, rumours of preparations for leaving Moscow, all confirmed the supposition that the French army was beaten and preparing to take flight. But all this was merely supposition, that seemed of weight to the younger men, but not to Kutuzov. With his sixty years’ experience he knew how much weight to attach to rumours; he knew how ready men are when they desire anything to manipulate all evidence so as to confirm what they desire; and he knew how readily in that case they let everything of an opposite significance pass unheeded. And the more Kutuzov desired this supposition to be correct, the less he permitted himself to believe it. This question absorbed all his spiritual energies. All the rest was for him the mere customary performance of the routine of life. Such a customary performance and observance of routine were his conversations with the staff- officers, his letters to Madame de Staël that he wrote from Tarutino, his French novels, distribution of rewards, correspondence with Petersburg, and so on. But the destruction of the French, which he alone foresaw, was the one absorbing desire of his heart.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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