Chapter 7

IT was getting dusk on the 8th of November, the last day of the battle of Krasnoe, when the soldiers reached their halting-place for the night. The whole day had been still and frosty, with now and then a few light flakes of snow. Towards evening the sky began to grow clearer. Through the snowflakes could be seen a dark, purplish, starlit sky, and the frost was growing more intense.

A regiment of musketeers, which had left Tarutino three thousand strong, but had now dwindled to nine hundred, was among the first to reach the halting-place, a village on the high road. The quartermasters, on meeting the regiment, reported that all the cottages were full of sick and dead Frenchmen, cavalrymen, and staff-officers. There was only one cottage left for the colonel of the regiment.

The colonel went on to his cottage. The regiment passed through the village, and stacked their guns up at the furthest cottages along the road.

Like a huge, many-legged monster, the regiment set to work preparing its food and lodging for the night. One party of soldiers trudged off, knee-deep in the snow, into the birch copse, on the right of the village, and the ring of axes and cutlasses, the crash of breaking branches, and the sounds of merry voices were immediately heard coming thence. Another group were busily at work all round the regimental baggage-waggons, which were drawn up all together. Some fed the horses, while others got out cooking- pots and biscuits. A third section dispersed about the village, getting the cottages ready for the staff- officers, carrying out the dead bodies of the French lying in the huts, and dragging away boards, dry wood, and straw from the thatch roofs, to furnish fuel for their fires and materials for the shelters they rigged up.

Behind the huts at the end of the village fifteen soldiers were trying with merry shouts to pull down the high wattle wall of a barn from which they had already removed the roof.

“Now then, a strong pull, all together!” shouted the voices; and in the dark the huge, snow-sprinkled boards of the wall began to give. The lower stakes of the wattle cracked more and more often, and at last the wattle wall heaved over, together with the soldiers, who were hanging onto it. A loud shout and the roar of coarse merriment followed.

“Work at it in twos! give us a lever here! that’s it. Where are you coming to?”

“Now, all together.… But wait, lads! … With a shout!” …

All were silent, and a low voice of velvety sweetness began singing a song. At the end of the third verse, as the last note died away, twenty voices roared out in chorus, “O-O-O-O-O! It’s coming! Pull away! Heave away, lads! …” but in spite of their united efforts the wall hardly moved, and in the silence that followed the men could be heard panting for breath.

“Hi, you there, of the sixth company! You devils, you! Lend us a hand … We’ll do you a good turn one day!”

Twenty men of the sixth company, who were passing, joined them, and the wattle wall, thirty-five feet in length, and seven feet in breadth, was dragged along the village street, falling over, and cutting the shoulders of the panting soldiers.

“Go on, do. … Heave away, you there.… What are you stopping for? Eh, there?” …

The merry shouts of unseemly abuse never ceased.

“What are you about?” cried a peremptory voice, as a sergeant ran up to the party. “There are gentry here; the general himself’s in the hut here, and you devils, you curs, you! I’ll teach you!” shouted the sergeant, and sent a swinging blow at the back of the first soldier he could come across. “Can’t you go quietly?”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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