Chapter 7

ON LEAVING MOSCOW, Petya had parted from his parents to join his regiment, and shortly afterwards had been appointed an orderly in attendance on a general who was in command of a large detachment. From the time of securing his commission, and even more since joining a regiment in active service, and taking part in the battle of Vyazma, Petya had been in a continual state of happy excitement at being grown-up, and of intense anxiety not to miss any opportunity of real heroism. He was highly delighted with all he had seen and experienced in the army, but, at the same time, he was always fancying that wherever he was not, there the most real and heroic exploits were at that very moment being performed. And he was in constant haste to be where he was not.

On the 21st of October, when his general expressed a desire to send some one to Denisov’s company, Petya had so piteously besought him to send him, that the general could not refuse. But, as he was sending him off, the general recollected Petya’s foolhardy behaviour at the battle of Vyazma, when, instead of riding by way of the road to take a message, Petya had galloped across the lines under the fire of the French, and had there fired a couple of pistol-shots. Recalling that prank, the general explicitly forbade Petya’s taking part in any enterprise whatever that Denisov might be planning. This was why Petya had blushed and been disconcerted when Denisov asked him if he might stay. From the moment he set off till he reached the edge of the wood, Petya had fully intended to do his duty steadily, and to return at once. But when he saw the French, and saw Tihon, and learned that the attack would certainly take place that night, with the rapid transition from one view to another, characteristic of young people, he made up his mind that his general, for whom he had till that moment had the greatest respect, was a poor stick, and only a German, that Denisov was a hero, and the esaul a hero, and Tihon a hero, and that it would be shameful to leave them at a moment of difficulty.

It was getting dark when Denisov, with Petya and the esaul, reached the forester’s hut. In the half-dark they could see saddled horses, Cossacks and hussars, rigging up shanties in the clearing, and building up a glowing fire in a hollow near, where the smoke would not be seen by the French. In the porch of the little hut there was a Cossack with his sleeves tucked up, cutting up a sheep. In the hut, three officers of Denisov’s band were setting up a table made up of doors. Petya took off his wet clothes, gave them to be dried, and at once set to work to help the officers in fixing up a dining-table.

In ten minutes the table was ready and covered with a napkin. On the table was set vodka, a flask of rum, white bread, and roast mutton, and salt.

Sitting at the table with the officers, tearing the fat, savoury mutton with greasy fingers, Petya was in a childishly enthusiastic condition of tender love for all men and a consequent belief in the same feeling for himself in others.

“So what do you think, Vassily Fyodorovitch,” he said to Denisov, “it won’t matter my staying a day with you, will it?” And without waiting for an answer, he answered himself: “Why, I was told to find out, and here I am finding out … Only you must let me go into the middle … into the real … I don’t care about rewards … But I do want …” Petya clenched his teeth and looked about him, tossing his head and waving his arm.

“Into the real, real thing …” Denisov said, smiling.

“Only, please, do give me a command of something altogether, so that I really might command,” Petya went on. “Why, what would it be to you? Ah, you want a knife?” he said to an officer, who was trying to tear off a piece of mutton. And he gave him his pocket-knife.

The officer praised the knife.

“Please keep it. I have several like it …” said Petya, blushing. “Heavens! Why, I was quite forgetting,” he cried suddenly. “I have some capital raisins, you know the sort without stones. We have a new canteen- keeper, and he does get first-rate things. I bought ten pounds of them. I’m fond of sweet things. Will you have some?” … and Petya ran out to his Cossack in the porch, and brought in some panniers in which there were five pounds of raisins. “Please take some.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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