“Why, do you want to do the same?” said an old soldier; reproachfully addressing the man who had talked of frozen feet.

“Well, what do you think?” the sharp-nosed soldier, called “Crow,” said suddenly, in a squeaking and quavery voice, turning himself on one elbow behind the fire. “If a man’s sleek and fat, he just grows thin, but for a thin man it’s death. Look at me, now! I have no strength left,” he said, with sudden resolution, addressing a sergeant. “Say the word for me to be sent off to the hospital. I’m one ache with rheumatism, and one only gets left behind just the same …”

“There, that’s enough; that’s enough,” said the sergeant calmly.

The soldier was silent, and the conversation went on.

“There’s a rare lot of these Frenchies have been taken to-day; but not a pair of boots on one of them, one may say, worth having; no, not worth mentioning,” one of the soldiers began, starting a new subject.

“The Cossacks had stripped them of everything. We cleaned a hut for the colonel, and carried them out. It was pitiful to see them, lads,” said the dancer. “We overhauled them. One was alive, would you believe it, muttering something in their lingo.”

“They’re a clean people, lads,” said the first. “White—why, as white as a birch-tree, and brave they are, I must say, and gentlemen too.”

“Well, what would you expect? Soldiers are taken from all classes with them.”

“And yet they don’t understand a word we say,” said the dancer, with a wondering smile. “I says to him, ‘Of what kingdom are you?’ and he mutters away his lingo. A strange people!”

“I’ll tell you a wonderful thing, mates,” went on the man who had expressed surprise at their whiteness. “The peasants about Mozhaisk were telling how, when they went to take away the dead where the great battle was, why, their bodies had been lying there a good month. Well, they lay there, as white and clean as paper, and not a smell about them.”

“Why, from the cold, eh?” asked one.

“You’re a clever one! Cold, indeed! Why, it was hot weather. If it had been from the cold, our men, too, wouldn’t have rotted. But they say, go up to one of ours, and it would all be putrefied and maggoty. They tie handkerchiefs round their noses, and drag them off, turning their faces away, so they say. They can’t help it. But they’re white as paper; not a smell about them.”

There was a general silence.

“Must be from the feeding,” said the sergeant: “they are gorged like gentry.”

No one replied.

“That peasant at Mozhaisk, where the battle was, was saying that they were fetched from ten villages round, and at work there for twenty days, and couldn’t get all the dead away. A lot of those wolves, says he …”

“That was something like a battle,” said an old soldier. “The only one worth mentioning; everything since … it’s simply tormenting folks for nothing.”

“Oh, well, uncle, we did attack them the day before yesterday. But what’s one to do? They won’t let us get at them. They were so quick at laying down their arms, and on their knees. Pardon!—they say. And that’s only one example. They have said twice that Platov had taken Polion himself. He catches

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