Book Eleven: 1812 - Chapter VIII
Toward the end of the battle of Borodino, Pierre, having run down from Raevski's battery a second time, made his way through a gully to Knyazkovo with a crowd of soldiers, reached the dressing station, and seeing blood and hearing cries and groans hurried on, still entangled in the crowds of soldiers.
The one thing he now desired with his whole soul was to get away quickly from the terrible sensations amid which he had lived that day and return to ordinary conditions of life and sleep quietly in a room in his own bed. He felt that only in the ordinary conditions of life would he be able to understand himself and all he had seen and felt. But such ordinary conditions of life were nowhere to be found.
Though shells and bullets did not whistle over the road along which he was going, still on all sides there was what there had been on the field of battle. There were still the same suffering, exhausted, and sometimes strangely indifferent faces, the same blood, the same soldiers' overcoats, the same sounds of firing which, though distant now, still aroused terror, and besides this there were the foul air and the dust.
Having gone a couple of miles along the Mozhaysk road, Pierre sat down by the roadside.
Dusk had fallen, and the roar of guns died away. Pierre lay leaning on his elbow for a long time, gazing at the shadows that moved past him in the darkness. He was continually imagining that a cannon ball was flying toward him with a terrific whizz, and then he shuddered and sat up. He had no idea how long he had been there. In the middle of the night three soldiers, having brought some firewood, settled down near him and began lighting a fire.
The soldiers, who threw sidelong glances at Pierre, got the fire to burn and placed an iron pot on it into which they broke some dried bread and put a little dripping. The pleasant odor of greasy viands mingled with the smell of smoke. Pierre sat up and sighed. The three soldiers were eating and talking among themselves, taking no notice of him.
"And who may you be?" one of them suddenly asked Pierre, evidently meaning what Pierre himself had in mind, namely: "If you want to eat we'll give you some food, only let us know whether you are an honest man."
"I, I..." said Pierre, feeling it necessary to minimize his social position as much as possible so as to be nearer to the soldiers and better understood by them. "By rights I am a militia officer, but my men are not here. I came to the battle and have lost them."
"There now!" said one of the soldiers.
Another shook his head.
"Would you like a little mash?" the first soldier asked, and handed Pierre a wooden spoon after licking it clean.
Pierre sat down by the fire and began eating the mash, as they called the food in the cauldron, and he thought it more delicious than any food he had ever tasted. As he sat bending greedily over it, helping himself to large spoonfuls and chewing one after another, his was lit up by the fire and the soldiers looked at him in silence.
"Where have you to go to? Tell us!" said one of them.
"You're a gentleman, aren't you?"
"And what's your name?"
"Well then, Peter Kirilych, come along with us, we'll take you there."
In the total darkness the soldiers walked with Pierre to Mozhaysk.
By the time they got near Mozhaysk and began ascending the steep hill into the town, the cocks were already crowing. Pierre went on with the soldiers, quite forgetting that his inn was at the bottom of the hill and that he had already passed it. He would not soon have remembered this, such was his state of forgetfulness, had he not halfway up the hill stumbled upon his groom, who had been to look for him in the town and was returning to the inn. The groom recognized Pierre in the darkness by his white hat.
"Your excellency!" he said. "Why, we were beginning to despair! How is it you are on foot? And where are you going, please?"
"Oh, yes!" said Pierre.
The soldiers stopped.
"So you've found your folk?" said one of them. "Well, good-by, Peter Kirilych--isn't it?"
"Good-by, Peter Kirilych!" Pierre heard the other voices repeat.
"Good-by!" he said and turned with his groom toward the inn.
"I ought to give them something!" he thought, and felt in his pocket. "No, better not!" said another, inner voice.
There was not a room to be had at the inn, they were all occupied. Pierre went out into the yard and, covering himself up head and all, lay down in his carriage.