Chapter 5

THE RAIN was over, but a mist was falling and drops of water dripped from the branches of the trees. Denisov, the esaul, and Petya, in silence, followed the peasant in the pointed cap, who, stepping lightly and noiselessly in his bast shoes over roots and wet leaves, led them to the edge of the wood.

Coming out on the road, the peasant paused, looked about him, and turned toward a thin screen of trees. He stood still at a big oak, still covered with leaves, and beckoned mysteriously to them.

Denisov and Petya rode up to him. From the place where the peasant was standing the French could be seen. Just beyond the wood a field of spring corn ran sharply downhill. On the right, across a steep ravine, could be seen a little village and a manor-house with the roofs broken down. In that village and in the house and all over the high ground in the garden, by the wells and the pond, and all along the road uphill from the bridge to the village, not more than five hundred yards away, crowds of men could be seen in the shifting mist. They could distinctly hear their foreign cries at the horses pulling the baggage uphill and their calls to one another.

“Give me the prisoner here,” said Denisov, in a low voice, never taking his eyes off the French.

A Cossack got off his horse, lifted the boy down, and came with him to Denisov. Denisov, pointing to the French, asked the boy what troops they were. The boy, thrusting his chilled hands into his pockets and raising his eyebrows, looked in dismay at Denisov, and in spite of his unmistakable desire to tell all he knew, he was confused in his answers, and merely repeated Denisov’s questions. Denisov, frowning, turned away from him, and addressing the esaul, told him his own views on the matter.

Petya, turning his head rapidly, looked from the drummer to Denisov, and from the esaul to the French in the village and on the road, trying not to miss anything of importance.

“Whether Dolohov comes or not, we must take them.… Eh?” said Denisov, his eyes sparkling merrily.

“It is a convenient spot,” said the esaul.

“We will send the infantry down below, by the marshes,” Denisov went on. “They will creep up to the garden; you dash down with the Cossacks from there”—Denisov pointed to the wood beyond the village—“and I from here with my hussars. And at a shot …”

“It won’t do to go by the hollow; it’s a bog,” said the esaul. “The horses will sink in, you must skirt round more to the left.…”

While they were talking in undertones, there was the crack of a shot and a puff of white smoke in the hollow below near the pond, and the voices of hundreds of Frenchmen halfway up the hill rose in a ringing shout, as though in merry chorus. At the first minute both Denisov and the esaul darted back. They were so near that they fancied they were the cause of that shot and those shouts. But they had nothing to do with them. A man in something red was running through the marshes below. The French were evidently firing and shouting at him.

“Why, it’s our Tihon,” said the esaul.

“It’s he! it’s he!”

“The rogue,” said Denisov.

“He’ll get away!” said the esaul, screwing up his eyes.

The man they called Tihon, running up to the little river, splashed into it, so that the water spurted up round him, and disappearing for an instant, scrambled out on all fours, looking dark from the water, and ran on. The French, who had been pursuing him, stopped.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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