"I am not your 'dear sir,' Mr. Staff Officer, and you did not tell me to burn the bridge! I know the service, and it is my habit orders strictly to obey. You said the bridge would be burned, but who would it burn, I could not know by the holy spirit!"
"Ah, that's always the way!" said Nesvitski with a wave of the hand."How did you get here?" said he, turning to Zherkov.
"On the same business. But you are damp! Let me wring you out!"
"You were saying, Mr. Staff Officer . . ." continued the colonel in an offended tone.
"Colonel," interrupted the officer of the suite,"You must be quick or the enemy will bring up his guns to use grapeshot."
The colonel looked silently at the officer of the suite, at the stout staff officer, and at Zherkov, and he frowned.
"I will the bridge fire," he said in a solemn tone as if to announce that in spite of all the unpleasantness he had to endure he would still do the right thing.
Striking his horse with his long muscular legs as if it were to blame for everything, the colonel moved forward and ordered the second squadron, that in which Rostov was serving under Denisov, to return to the bridge.
"There, it's just as I thought," said Rostov to himself."He wishes to test me!" His heart contracted and the blood rushed to his face."Let him see whether I am a coward!" he thought.
Again on all the bright faces of the squadron the serious expression appeared that they had worn when under fire. Rostov watched his enemy, the colonel, closely — to find in his face confirmation of his own conjecture, but the colonel did not once glance at Rostov, and looked as he always did when at the front, solemn and stern. Then came the word of command.
"Look sharp! Look sharp!" several voices repeated around him.
Their sabers catching in the bridles and their spurs jingling, the hussars hastily dismounted, not knowing what they were to do. The men were crossing themselves. Rostov no longer looked at the colonel, he had no time. He was afraid of falling behind the hussars, so much afraid that his heart stood still. His hand trembled as he gave his horse into an orderly's charge, and he felt the blood rush to his heart with a thud. Denisov rode past him, leaning back and shouting something. Rostov saw nothing but the hussars running all around him, their spurs catching and their sabers clattering.
"Stretchers!" shouted someone behind him.
Rostov did not think what this call for stretchers meant; he ran on, trying only to be ahead of the others; but just at the bridge, not looking at the ground, he came on some sticky, trodden mud, stumbled, and fell on his hands. The others outstripped him.
"At boss zides, Captain," he heard the voice of the colonel, who, having ridden ahead, had pulled up his horse near the bridge, with a triumphant, cheerful face.
Rostov wiping his muddy hands on his breeches looked at his enemy and was about to run on, thinking that the farther he went to the front the better. But Bogdanich, without looking at or recognizing Rostov, shouted to him:
"Who's that running on the middle of the bridge? To the right! Come back, Cadet!" he cried angrily; and turning to Denisov, who, showing off his courage, had ridden on to the planks of the bridge:
"Why run risks, Captain? You should dismount," he said.
"Oh, every bullet has its billet," answered Vaska Denisov, turning in his saddle.
Meanwhile Nesvitski, Zherkov, and the officer of the suite were standing together out of range of the shots, watching, now the small group of men with yellow shakos, dark-green jackets braided with cord, and blue riding breeches, who were swarming near the bridge, and then at what was approaching in the distance from the opposite side- the blue uniforms and groups with horses, easily recognizable as artillery.
"Will they burn the bridge or not? Who'll get there first? Will they get there and fire the bridge or will the French get within grapeshot range and wipe them out?" These were the questions each man of the troops on the high ground above the bridge involuntarily asked himself with a sinking heart — watching the bridge and the hussars in the bright evening light and the blue tunics advancing from the other side with their bayonets and guns.
"Ugh. The hussars will get it hot!" said Nesvitski;"they are within grapeshot range now."
"He shouldn't have taken so many men," said the officer of the suite.
"True enough," answered Nesvitski;"two smart fellows could have done the job just as well."
"Ah, your excellency," put in Zherkov, his eyes fixed on the hussars, but still with that naive air that made it impossible to know whether he was speaking in jest or in earnest."Ah, your excellency! How you look at things! Send two men? And who then would give us the Vladimir medal and ribbon? But now, even if they do get peppered, the squadron may be recommended for honors and he may get a ribbon. Our Bogdanich knows how things are done."
"There now!" said the officer of the suite,"that's grapeshot."
He pointed to the French guns, the limbers of which were being detached and hurriedly removed.
On the French side, amid the groups with cannon, a cloud of smoke appeared, then a second and a third almost simultaneously, and at the moment when the first report was heard a fourth was seen. Then two reports one after another, and a third.
"Oh! Oh!" groaned Nesvitski as if in fierce pain, seizing the officer of the suite by the arm."Look! A man has fallen! Fallen, fallen!"
"Two, I think."
"If I were Tsar I would never go to war," said Nesvitski, turning away.
The French guns were hastily reloaded. The infantry in their blue uniforms advanced toward the bridge at a run. Smoke appeared again but at irregular intervals, and grapeshot cracked and rattled onto the bridge. But this time Nesvitski could not see what was happening there, as a dense cloud of smoke arose from it. The hussars had succeeded in setting it on fire and the French batteries were now firing at them, no longer to hinder them but because the guns were trained and there was someone to fire at.
The French had time to fire three rounds of grapeshot before the hussars got back to their horses. Two were misdirected and the shot went too high, but the last round fell in the midst of a group of hussars and knocked three of them over.
Rostov, absorbed by his relations with Bogdanich, had paused on the bridge not knowing what to do. There was no one to hew down (as he had always imagined battles to himself), nor could he help to fire the bridge because he had not brought any burning straw with him like the other soldiers. He stood looking about him, when suddenly he heard a rattle on the bridge as if nuts were being spilt, and the hussar nearest to him fell against the rails with a groan. Rostov ran up to him with the others. Again someone shouted,"Stretchers!" Four men seized the hussar and began lifting him.
"Oooh! For Christ's sake let me alone!" cried the wounded man, but still he was lifted and laid on the stretcher.
Nicholas Rostov turned away and, as if searching for something, gazed into the distance, at the waters of the Danube, at the sky, and at the sun. How beautiful the sky looked; how blue, how calm, and how deep! How bright and glorious was the setting sun! With what soft glitter the waters of the distant Danube shone. And fairer still were the faraway blue mountains beyond the river, the nunnery, the mysterious gorges, and the pine forests veiled in the mist of their summits . . . There was peace and happiness . . ."I should wishing for nothing else, nothing, if only I were there," thought Rostov."In myself alone and in that sunshine there is so much happiness; but here . . . groans, suffering, fear, and this uncertainty and hurry . . . There — they are shouting again, and again are all running back somewhere, and I shall run with them, and it, death, is here above me and around . . . Another instant and I shall never again see the sun, this water, that gorge! . . ."