Book Thirteen: 1812 - Chapter IV
Bennigsen's note and the Cossack's information that the left flank of the French was unguarded were merely final indications that it was necessary to order an attack, and it was fixed for the fifth of October.
On the morning of the fourth of October Kutuzov signed the dispositions. Toll read them to Ermolov, asking him to attend to the further arrangements.
"All right--all right. I haven't time just now," replied Ermolov, and left the hut.
The dispositions drawn up by Toll were very good. As in the Austerlitz dispositions, it was written--though not in German this time:
"The First Column will march here and here," "the Second Column will march there and there," and so on; and on paper, all these columns arrived at their places at the appointed time and destroyed the enemy. Everything had been admirably thought out as is usual in dispositions, and as is always the case, not a single column reached its place at the appointed time.
When the necessary number of copies of the dispositions had been prepared, an officer was summoned and sent to deliver them to Ermolov to deal with. A young officer of the Horse Guards, Kutuzov's orderly, pleased at the importance of the mission entrusted to him, went to Ermolov's quarters.
"Gone away," said Ermolov's orderly.
The officer of the Horse Guards went to a general with whom Ermolov was often to be found.
"No, and the general's out too."
The officer, mounting his horse, rode off to someone else.
"No, he's gone out."
"If only they don't make me responsible for this delay! What a nuisance it is!" thought the officer, and he rode round the whole camp. One man said he had seen Ermolov ride past with some other generals, others said he must have returned home. The officer searched till six o'clock in the evening without even stopping to eat. Ermolov was nowhere to be found and no one knew where he was. The officer snatched a little food at a comrade's, and rode again to the vanguard to find Miloradovich. Miloradovich too was away, but here he was told that he had gone to a ball at General Kikin's and that Ermolov was probably there too.
"But where is it?"
"Why, there, over at Echkino," said a Cossack officer, pointing to a country house in the far distance.
"What, outside our line?"
"They've put two regiments as outposts, and they're having such a spree there, it's awful! Two bands and three sets of singers!"
The officer rode out beyond our lines to Echkino. While still at a distance he heard as he rode the merry sounds of a soldier's dance song proceeding from the house.
"In the meadows... in the meadows!" he heard, accompanied by whistling and the sound of a torban, drowned every now and then by shouts. These sounds made his spirits rise, but at the same time he was afraid that he would be blamed for not having executed sooner the important order entrusted to him. It was already past eight o'clock. He dismounted and went up into the porch of a large country house which had remained intact between the Russian and French forces. In the refreshment room and the hall, footmen were bustling about with wine and viands. Groups of singers stood outside the windows. The officer was admitted and immediately saw all the chief generals of the army together, and among them Ermolov's big imposing figure. They all had their coats unbuttoned and were standing in a semicircle with flushed and animated faces, laughing loudly. In the middle of the room a short handsome general with a red face was dancing the trepak with much spirit and agility.
"Ha, ha, ha! Bravo, Nicholas Ivanych! Ha, ha, ha!"
The officer felt that by arriving with important orders at such a moment he was doubly to blame, and he would have preferred to wait; but one of the generals espied him and, hearing what he had come about, informed Ermolov.
Ermolov came forward with a frown on his face and, hearing what the officer had to say, took the papers from him without a word.
"You think he went off just by chance?" said a comrade, who was on the staff that evening, to the officer of the Horse Guards, referring to Ermolov. "It was a trick. It was done on purpose to get Konovnitsyn into trouble. You'll see what a mess there'll be tomorrow."