Chapter 6

AFTER TALKING a little while longer with the esaul about the next day’s attack, which Denisov seemed to have finally decided upon after seeing how near the French were, he turned his horse’s head and rode back.

“Now, my boy, we will go and dry ourselves,” he said to Petya.

As he came near the forester’s hut, Denisov stopped, looking into the wood before him. A man in a short jacket, bast shoes, and a Kazan hat, with a gun across his shoulder, and an axe in his belt, was striding lightly through the forest with long legs and long arms swinging at his side. Catching sight of Denisov, he hastily flung something into the bushes, and taking off his sopped hat, the brim of which drooped limply, he walked up to his commanding officer.

This was Tihon. His pock-marked and wrinkled face, with little slits of eyes, beamed with self-satisfaction and merriment. He held his head high, and looked straight at Denisov as though he were suppressing a laugh.

“Well, where have you been?” said Denisov.

“Where have I been? I have been after the French,” Tihon answered boldly and hastily, in a husky, but mellow bass.

“Why did you creep in in the daytime? Ass! Well, why didn’t you catch one?”

“Catch one I did,” said Tihon.

“Where is he, then?”

“I caught one at the very first at daybreak,” Tihon went on, setting his feet down wider apart, in their flat, turned-up bast shoes; “and I took him into the wood too. I see he’s no good. So, thinks I, better go and get another, rather more the proper article.”

“Ay, the rogue, so that’s how it is,” said Denisov to the esaul. “Why didn’t you bring that one?”

“Why, what was the use of bringing him in?” Tihon broke in, hurriedly and angrily. “A worthless fellow! Don’t I know what sort you want?”

“Ah, you brute! … Well?”

“I went to get another,” Tihon went on. “I crept up in this way in the wood, and I lay down.” With a sudden, supple movement, Tihon lay down on his stomach, to show how he had done this. “One turned up,” he went on, “I seized him like this,” Tihon jumped up swiftly and lightly. “ ‘Come along to the colonel,’ says I. He set up such a shouting, and then I saw four of them. And they rushed at me with their sabres. I went at them like this with my axe. ‘What are you about?’ says I. ‘Christ be with you,’ ” cried Tihon, waving his arms and squaring his chest with a menacing scowl.

“Oh yes, we saw from the hill how you gave them the slip, through the pools,” said the esaul, screwing up his sparkling eyes.

Petya had a great longing to laugh, but he saw that all the others refrained from laughing. He kept looking rapidly from Tihon’s face to the face of the esaul and Denisov, not knowing what to make of it all.

“Don’t play the fool,” said Denisov, coughing angrily. “Why didn’t you bring the first man?”

Tihon began scratching his back with one hand and his head with the other, and all at once his countenance expanded into a beaming, foolish grin, showing the loss of a tooth that had given him his name, Shtcherbatov

  By PanEris using Melati.

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