Chapter 11

RAPIDLY in the twilight the men picked out their horses, tightened saddlegirths, and formed into parties. Denisov stood by the hut, giving the last orders. The infantry of the detachment moved on along the road, hundreds of feet splashing through the mud. They quickly vanished among the trees in the mist before the dawn. The esaul gave some order to the Cossacks. Petya held his horse by the bridle, eagerly awaiting the word of command to mount. His face glowed from a dip in cold water, and his eyes gleamed. He felt a chill running down his back, and a kind of rapid, rhythmic throbbing all over.

“Well, have you everything ready?” said Denisov. “Give us our horses.”

They brought the horses up. Denisov was vexed with the Cossack because the saddlegirths were slack, and swore at him as he mounted his horse. Petya put his foot in the stirrup. The horse, as its habit was, made as though to nip at his leg; but Petya leaped into the saddle, unconscious of his own weight, and looking round at the hussars moving up from behind in the darkness, he rode up to Denisov.

“Vassily Fyodorovitch, you will trust me with some commission? Please…for God’s sake…” he said. Denisov seemed to have forgotten Petya’s existence. He looked round at him.

“One thing I beg of you,” he said sternly, “to obey me and not to put yourself forward.”

All the way Denisov did not say another word to Petya; he rode on in silence. By the time that they reached the edge of the wood, it was perceptibly getting light in the open country. Denisov whispered something to the esaul, and the Cossacks began riding by Petya and Denisov. When they had all passed on Denisov put his spurs to his horse, and rode downhill. Slipping and sinking back on their haunches, the horses slid down into the hollow with their riders. Petya kept beside Denisov. The tremor all over him was growing more intense. It was getting lighter and lighter, but the mist hid objects at a distance. When he had reached the bottom, Denisov looked back and nodded to the Cossack beside him.

“The signal,” he said. The Cossack raised his arm, and a shot rang out. At the same moment they heard the tramp of horses galloping in front, shouts from different directions, and more shots.

The instant that he heard the first tramp of hoofs and shouts, Petya gave the rein to his horse, and lashing him on, galloped forward, heedless of Denisov, who shouted to him. It seemed to Petya that it suddenly became broad daylight, as though it were midday, at the moment when he heard the shot. He galloped to the bridge. The Cossacks were galloping along the road in front. At the bridge he jostled against a Cossack who had lagged behind, and he galloped on. In front Petya saw men of some sort—the French he supposed—running across the road from right to left. One slipped in the mud under his horse’s legs.

Cossacks were crowding about a hut, doing something. A fearful scream rose out of the middle of the crowd. Petya galloped to this crowd, and the first thing he saw was the white face and trembling lower- jaw of a Frenchman, who had clutched hold of a lance aimed at his breast.

“Hurrah!…Mates…ours…” shouted Petya, and giving the rein to his excited horse, he galloped on down the village street.

He heard firing in front. Cossacks, hussars, and tattered Russian prisoners, running up from both sides of the road, were all shouting something loud and unintelligible. A gallant-looking Frenchman, in a blue coat, with a red, frowning face, and no cap, was keeping back the hussars with a bayonet. By the time that Petya galloped up, the Frenchman had fallen. “Too late again,” flashed through Petya’s brain, and he galloped to the spot where he heard the hottest fire. The shots came from the yard of the manor- house where he had been the night before with Dolohov. The French were ambushing there behind the fence in among the bushes of the overgrown garden, and firing at the Cossacks who were crowding round the gates. As he rode up to the gates, Petya caught a glimpse in the smoke of Dolohov’s white, greenish face, as he shouted something to the men. “Go round. Wait for the infantry!” he was shouting, just as Petya rode up to him.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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