Book Three: 1805 - Chapter XIII
That same night, Rostov was with a platoon on skirmishing duty in front of Bagration's detachment. His hussars were placed along the line in couples and he himself rode along the line trying to master the sleepiness that kept coming over him. An enormous space, with our army's campfires dimly glowing in the fog, could be seen behind him; in front of him was misty darkness. Rostov could see nothing, peer as he would into that foggy distance: now something gleamed gray, now there was something black, now little lights seemed to glimmer where the enemy ought to be, now he fancied it was only something in his own eyes. His eyes kept closing, and in his fancy appeared--now the Emperor, now Denisov, and now Moscow memories--and he again hurriedly opened his eyes and saw close before him the head and ears of the horse he was riding, and sometimes, when he came within six paces of them, the black figures of hussars, but in the distance was still the same misty darkness. "Why not?... It might easily happen," thought Rostov, "that the Emperor will meet me and give me an order as he would to any other officer; he'll say: 'Go and find out what's there.' There are many stories of his getting to know an officer in just such a chance way and attaching him to himself! What if he gave me a place near him? Oh, how I would guard him, how I would tell him the truth, how I would unmask his deceivers!" And in order to realize vividly his love devotion to the sovereign, Rostov pictured to himself an enemy or a deceitful German, whom he would not only kill with pleasure but whom he would slap in the face before the Emperor. Suddenly a distant shout aroused him. He started and opened his eyes.
"Where am I? Oh yes, in the skirmishing line... pass and watchword--shaft, Olmutz. What a nuisance that our squadron will be in reserve tomorrow," he thought. "I'll ask leave to go to the front, this may be my only chance of seeing the Emperor. It won't be long now before I am off duty. I'll take another turn and when I get back I'll go to the general and ask him." He readjusted himself in the saddle and touched up his horse to ride once more round his hussars. It seemed to him that it was getting lighter. To the left he saw a sloping descent lit up, and facing it a black knoll that seemed as steep as a wall. On this knoll there was a white patch that Rostov could not at all make out: was it a glade in the wood lit up by the moon, or some unmelted snow, or some white houses? He even thought something moved on that white spot. "I expect it's snow... that spot... a spot--une tache," he thought. "There now... it's not a tache... Natasha... sister, black eyes... Na... tasha... (Won't she be surprised when I tell her how I've seen the Emperor?) Natasha... take my sabretache..."--"Keep to the right, your honor, there are bushes here," came the voice of an hussar, past whom Rostov was riding in the act of falling asleep. Rostov lifted his head that had sunk almost to his horse's mane and pulled up beside the hussar. He was succumbing to irresistible, youthful, childish drowsiness. "But what was I thinking? I mustn't forget. How shall I speak to the Emperor? No, that's not it--that's tomorrow. Oh yes! Natasha... sabretache... saber them...Whom? The hussars... Ah, the hussars with mustaches. Along the Tverskaya Street rode the hussar with mustaches... I thought about him too, just opposite Guryev's house... Old Guryev.... Oh, but Denisov's a fine fellow. But that's all nonsense. The chief thing is that the Emperor is here. How he looked at me and wished to say something, but dared not.... No, it was I who dared not. But that's nonsense, the chief thing is not to forget the important thing I was thinking of. Yes, Na-tasha, sabretache, oh, yes, yes! That's right!" And his head once more sank to his horse's neck. All at once it seemed to him that he was being fired at. "What? What? What?... Cut them down! What?..." said Rostov, waking up. At the moment he opened his eyes he heard in front of him, where the enemy was, the long-drawn shouts of thousands of voices. His horse and the horse of the hussar near him pricked their ears at these shouts. Over there, where the shouting came from, a fire flared up and went out again, then another, and all along the French line on the hill fires flared up and the shouting grew louder and louder. Rostov could hear the sound of French words but could not distinguish them. The din of many voices was too great; all he could hear was: "ahahah!" and "rrrr!"
"What's that? What do you make of it?" said Rostov to the hussar beside him. "That must be the enemy's camp!"
The hussar did not reply.
"Why, don't you hear it?" Rostov asked again, after waiting for a reply.
"Who can tell, your honor?" replied the hussar reluctantly.
"From the direction, it must be the enemy," repeated Rostov.
"It may be he or it may be nothing," muttered the hussar. "It's dark... Steady!" he cried to his fidgeting horse.
Rostov's horse was also getting restive: it pawed the frozen ground, pricking its ears at the noise and looking at the lights. The shouting grew still louder and merged into a general roar that only an army of several thousand men could produce. The lights spread farther and farther, probably along the line of the French camp. Rostov no longer wanted to sleep. The gay triumphant shouting of the enemy army had a stimulating effect on him. "Vive l'Empereur! L'Empereur!" he now heard distinctly.
"They can't be far off, probably just beyond the stream," he said to the hussar beside him.
The hussar only sighed without replying and coughed angrily. The sound of horse's hoofs approaching at a trot along the line of hussars was heard, and out of the foggy darkness the figure of a sergeant of hussars suddenly appeared, looming huge as an elephant.
"Your honor, the generals!" said the sergeant, riding up to Rostov.
Rostov, still looking round toward the fires and the shouts, rode with the sergeant to meet some mounted men who were riding along the line. One was on a white horse. Prince Bagration and Prince Dolgorukov with their adjutants had come to witness the curious phenomenon of the lights and shouts in the enemy's camp. Rostov rode up to Bagration, reported to him, and then joined the adjutants listening to what the generals were saying.
"Believe me," said Prince Dolgorukov, addressing Bagration, "it is nothing but a trick! He has retreated and ordered the rearguard to kindle fires and make a noise to deceive us."
"Hardly," said Bagration. "I saw them this evening on that knoll; if they had retreated they would have withdrawn from that too.... Officer!" said Bagration to Rostov, "are the enemy's skirmishers still there?"
"They were there this evening, but now I don't know, your excellency. Shall I go with some of my hussars to see?" replied Rostov.
Bagration stopped and, before replying, tried to see Rostov's face in the mist.
"Well, go and see," he said, after a pause.
Rostov spurred his horse, called to Sergeant Fedchenko and two other hussars, told them to follow him, and trotted downhill in the direction from which the shouting came. He felt both frightened and pleased to be riding alone with three hussars into that mysterious and dangerous misty distance where no one had been before him. Bagration called to him from the hill not to go beyond the stream, but Rostov pretended not to hear him and did not stop but rode on and on, continually mistaking bushes for trees and gullies for men and continually discovering his mistakes. Having descended the hill at a trot, he no longer saw either our own or the enemy's fires, but heard the shouting of the French more loudly and distinctly. In the valley he saw before him something like a river, but when he reached it he found it was a road. Having come out onto the road he reined in his horse, hesitating whether to ride along it or cross it and ride over the black field up the hillside. To keep to the road which gleamed white in the mist would have been safer because it would be easier to see people coming along it. "Follow me!" said he, crossed the road, and began riding up the hill at a gallop toward the point where the French pickets had been standing that evening.
"Your honor, there he is!" cried one of the hussars behind him. And before Rostov had time to make out what the black thing was that had suddenly appeared in the fog, there was a flash, followed by a report, and a bullet whizzing high up in the mist with a plaintive sound passed out of hearing. Another musket missed fire but flashed in the pan. Rostov turned his horse and galloped back. Four more reports followed at intervals, and the bullets passed somewhere in the fog singing in different tones. Rostov reined in his horse, whose spirits had risen, like his own, at the firing, and went back at a footpace. "Well, some more! Some more!" a merry voice was saying in his soul. But no more shots came.
Only when approaching Bagration did Rostov let his horse gallop again, and with his hand at the salute rode up to the general.
Dolgorukov was still insisting that the French had retreated and had only lit fires to deceive us.
"What does that prove?" he was saying as Rostov rode up. "They might retreat and leave the pickets."
"It's plain that they have not all gone yet, Prince," said Bagration. "Wait till tomorrow morning, we'll find out everything tomorrow."
"The picket is still on the hill, your excellency, just where it was in the evening," reported Rostov, stooping forward with his hand at the salute and unable to repress the smile of delight induced by his ride and especially by the sound of the bullets.
"Very good, very good," said Bagration. "Thank you, officer."
"Your excellency," said Rostov, "may I ask a favor?"
"What is it?"
"Tomorrow our squadron is to be in reserve. May I ask to be attached to the first squadron?"
"What's your name?"
"Oh, very well, you may stay in attendance on me."
"Count Ilya Rostov's son?" asked Dolgorukov.
But Rostov did not reply.
"Then I may reckon on it, your excellency?"
"I will give the order."
"Tomorrow very likely I may be sent with some message to the Emperor," thought Rostov.
The fires and shouting in the enemy's army were occasioned by the fact that while Napoleon's proclamation was being read to the troops the Emperor himself rode round his bivouacs. The soldiers, on seeing him, lit wisps of straw and ran after him, shouting, "Vive l'Empereur!" Napoleon's proclamation was as follows:
Soldiers! The Russian army is advancing against you to avenge the Austrian army of Ulm. They are the same battalions you broke at Hollabrunn and have pursued ever since to this place. The position we occupy is a strong one, and while they are marching to go round me on the right they will expose a flank to me. Soldiers! I will myself direct your battalions. I will keep out of fire if you with your habitual valor carry disorder and confusion into the enemy's ranks, but should victory be in doubt, even for a moment, you will see your Emperor exposing himself to the first blows of the enemy, for there must be no doubt of victory, especially on this day when what is at stake is the honor of the French infantry, so necessary to the honor of our nation.
Do not break your ranks on the plea of removing the wounded! Let every man be fully imbued with the thought that we must defeat these hirelings of England, inspired by such hatred of our nation! This victory will conclude our campaign and we can return to winter quarters, where fresh French troops who are being raised in France will join us, and the peace I shall conclude will be worthy of my people, of you, and of myself.