War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy Book III: Chapters 9–19


Shortly after nine o'clock that evening, Weyrother drove with his plans to Kutuzov's quarters where the council of war was to be held. All the commanders of columns were summoned to the commander in chief's and with the exception of Prince Bagration, who declined to come, were all there at the appointed time.

Weyrother, who was in full control of the proposed battle, by his eagerness and briskness presented a marked contrast to the dissatisfied and drowsy Kutuzov, who reluctantly played the part of chairman and president of the council of war. Weyrother evidently felt himself to be at the head of a movement that had already become unrestrainable. He was like a horse running downhill harnessed to a heavy cart. Whether he was pulling it or being pushed by it he did not know, but rushed along at headlong speed with no time to consider what this movement might lead to. Weyrother had been twice that evening to the enemy's picket line to reconnoiter personally, and twice to the Emperors, Russian and Austrian, to report and explain, and to his headquarters where he had dictated the dispositions in German, and now, much exhausted, he arrived at Kutuzov's.

He was evidently so busy that he even forgot to be polite to the commander in chief. He interrupted him, talked rapidly and indistinctly, without looking at the man he was addressing, and did not reply to questions put to him. He was bespattered with mud and had a pitiful, weary, and distracted air, though at the same time he was haughty and self-confident.

Kutuzov was occupying a nobleman's castle of modest dimensions near Ostralitz. In the large drawing room which had become the commander in chief's office were gathered Kutuzov himself, Weyrother, and the members of the council of war. They were drinking tea, and only awaited Prince Bagration to begin the council. At last Bagration's orderly came with the news that the prince could not attend. Prince Andrew came in to inform the commander in chief of this and, availing himself of permission previously given him by Kutuzov to be present at the council, he remained in the room.

"Since Prince Bagration is not coming, we may begin," said Weyrother, hurriedly rising from his seat and going up to the table on which an enormous map of the environs of Brunn was spread out.

Kutuzov, with his uniform unbuttoned so that his fat neck bulged over his collar as if escaping, was sitting almost asleep in a low chair, with his podgy old hands resting symmetrically on its arms. At the sound of Weyrother's voice, he opened his one eye with an effort.

"Yes, yes, if you please! It is already late," said he, and nodding his head he let it droop and again closed his eye.

If at first the members of the council thought that Kutuzov was pretending to sleep, the sounds his nose emitted during the reading that followed proved that the commander in chief at that moment was absorbed by a far more serious matter than a desire to show his contempt for the dispositions or anything else — he was engaged in satisfying the irresistible human need for sleep. He really was asleep. Weyrother, with the gesture of a man too busy to lose a moment, glanced at Kutuzov and, having convinced himself that he was asleep, took up a paper and in a loud, monotonous voice began to read out the dispositions for the impending battle, under a heading which he also read out:

"Dispositions for an attack on the enemy position behind Kobelnitz and Sokolnitz, November 30, 1805."

The dispositions were very complicated and difficult. They began as follows:

"As the enemy's left wing rests on wooded hills and his right extends along Kobelnitz and Sokolnitz behind the ponds that are there, while we, on the other hand, with our left wing by far outflank his right, it is advantageous to attack the enemy's latter wing especially if we occupy the villages of Sokolnitz and Kobelnitz, whereby we can both fall on his flank and pursue him over the plain between Schlappanitz and the Thuerassa forest, avoiding the defiles of Schlappanitz and Bellowitz which cover the enemy's front. For this object it is necessary that . . . The first column marches . . . The second column marches . . . The third column marches . . ." and so on, read Weyrother.

The generals seemed to listen reluctantly to the difficult dispositions. The tall, fair-haired General Buxhowden stood, leaning his back against the wall, his eyes fixed on a burning candle, and seemed not to listen or even to wish to be thought to listen. Exactly opposite Weyrother, with his glistening wide-open eyes fixed upon him and his mustache twisted upwards, sat the ruddy Miloradovich in a military pose, his elbows turned outwards, his hands on his knees, and his shoulders raised. He remained stubbornly silent, gazing at Weyrother's face, and only turned away his eyes when the Austrian chief of staff finished reading. Then Miloradovich looked round significantly at the other generals. But one could not tell from that significant look whether he agreed or disagreed and was satisfied or not with the arrangements. Next to Weyrother sat Count Langeron who, with a subtle smile that never left his typically southern French face during the whole time of the reading, gazed at his delicate fingers which rapidly twirled by its corners a gold snuffbox on which was a portrait. In the middle of one of the longest sentences, he stopped the rotary motion of the snuffbox, raised his head, and with inimical politeness lurking in the corners of his thin lips interrupted Weyrother, wishing to say something. But the Austrian general, continuing to read, frowned angrily and jerked his elbows, as if to say:"You can tell me your views later, but now be so good as to look at the map and listen." Langeron lifted his eyes with an expression of perplexity, turned round to Miloradovich as if seeking an explanation, but meeting the latter's impressive but meaningless gaze drooped his eyes sadly and again took to twirling his snuffbox.

"A geography lesson!" he muttered as if to himself, but loud enough to be heard.

Przebyszewski, with respectful but dignified politeness, held his hand to his ear toward Weyrother, with the air of a man absorbed in attention. Dohkturov, a little man, sat opposite Weyrother, with an assiduous and modest mien, and stooping over the outspread map conscientiously studied the dispositions and the unfamiliar locality. He asked Weyrother several times to repeat words he had not clearly heard and the difficult names of villages. Weyrother complied and Dohkturov noted them down.

When the reading which lasted more than an hour was over, Langeron again brought his snuffbox to rest and, without looking at Weyrother or at anyone in particular, began to say how difficult it was to carry out such a plan in which the enemy's position was assumed to be known, whereas it was perhaps not known, since the enemy was in movement. Langeron's objections were valid but it was obvious that their chief aim was to show General Weyrother — who had read his dispositions with as much self-confidence as if he were addressing school children- that he had to do, not with fools, but with men who could teach him something in military matters.

When the monotonous sound of Weyrother's voice ceased, Kutuzov opened his eye as a miller wakes up when the soporific drone of the mill wheel is interrupted. He listened to what Langeron said, as if remarking,"So you are still at that silly business!" quickly closed his eye again, and let his head sink still lower.

Langeron, trying as virulently as possible to sting Weyrother's vanity as author of the military plan, argued that Bonaparte might easily attack instead of being attacked, and so render the whole of this plan perfectly worthless. Weyrother met all objections with a firm and contemptuous smile, evidently prepared beforehand to meet all objections be they what they might.

"If he could attack us, he would have done so today," said he.

"So you think he is powerless?" said Langeron.

"He has forty thousand men at most," replied Weyrother, with the smile of a doctor to whom an old wife wishes to explain the treatment of a case.

"In that case he is inviting his doom by awaiting our attack," said Langeron, with a subtly ironical smile, again glancing round for support to Miloradovich who was near him.

But Miloradovich was at that moment evidently thinking of anything rather than of what the generals were disputing about.

"Ma foi!" said he,"tomorrow we shall see all that on the battlefield."

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