War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy Book X: Chapters 1–14

"To his Honor Baron Asch, from General-in-Chief Prince Bolkonski," he announced with such solemnity and significance that the official turned to him and took the letters.

A few minutes later the Governor received Alpatych and hurriedly said to him:

"Inform the prince and princess that I knew nothing: I acted on the highest instructions — here . . ." and he handed a paper to Alpatych."Still, as the prince is unwell my advice is that they should go to Moscow. I am just starting myself. Inform them . . ."

But the Governor did not finish: a dusty perspiring officer ran into the room and began to say something in French. The Governor's face expressed terror.

"Go," he said, nodding his head to Alpatych, and began questioning the officer.

Eager, frightened, helpless glances were turned on Alpatych when he came out of the Governor's room. Involuntarily listening now to the firing, which had drawn nearer and was increasing in strength, Alpatych hurried to his inn. The paper handed to him by the Governor said this:

"I assure you that the town of Smolensk is not in the slightest danger as yet and it is unlikely that it will be threatened with any. I from the one side and Prince Bagration from the other are marching to unite our forces before Smolensk, which junction will be effected on the 22nd instant, and both armies with their united forces will defend our compatriots of the province entrusted to your care till our efforts shall have beaten back the enemies of our Fatherland, or till the last warrior in our valiant ranks has perished. From this you will see that you have a perfect right to reassure the inhabitants of Smolensk, for those defended by two such brave armies may feel assured of victory." (Instructions from Barclay de Tolly to Baron Asch, the civil governor of Smolensk, 1812.)

People were anxiously roaming about the streets.

Carts piled high with household utensils, chairs, and cupboards kept emerging from the gates of the yards and moving along the streets. Loaded carts stood at the house next to Ferapontov's and women were wailing and lamenting as they said good-by. A small watchdog ran round barking in front of the harnessed horses.

Alpatych entered the innyard at a quicker pace than usual and went straight to the shed where his horses and trap were. The coachman was asleep. He woke him up, told him to harness, and went into the passage. From the host's room came the sounds of a child crying, the despairing sobs of a woman, and the hoarse angry shouting of Ferapontov. The cook began running hither and thither in the passage like a frightened hen, just as Alpatych entered.

"He's done her to death. Killed the mistress! . . . Beat her . . . dragged her about so! . . ."

"What for?" asked Alpatych.

"She kept begging to go away. She's a woman! 'Take me away,' says she, 'don't let me perish with my little children! Folks,' she says, 'are all gone, so why,' she says, 'don't we go?' And he began beating and pulling her about so!"

At these words Alpatych nodded as if in approval, and not wishing to hear more went to the door of the room opposite the innkeeper's, where he had left his purchases.

"You brute, you murderer!" screamed a thin, pale woman who, with a baby in her arms and her kerchief torn from her head, burst through the door at that moment and down the steps into the yard.

Ferapontov came out after her, but on seeing Alpatych adjusted his waistcoat, smoothed his hair, yawned, and followed Alpatych into the opposite room.

"Going already?" said he.

Alpatych, without answering or looking at his host, sorted his packages and asked how much he owed.

"We'll reckon up! Well, have you been to the Governor's?" asked Ferapontov."What has been decided?"

Alpatych replied that the Governor had not told him anything definite.

"With our business, how can we get away?" said Ferapontov."We'd have to pay seven rubles a cartload to Dorogobuzh and I tell them they're not Christians to ask it! Selivanov, now, did a good stroke last Thursday — sold flour to the army at nine rubles a sack. Will you have some tea?" he added.

While the horses were being harnessed Alpatych and Ferapontov over their tea talked of the price of corn, the crops, and the good weather for harvesting.

"Well, it seems to be getting quieter," remarked Ferapontov, finishing his third cup of tea and getting up."Ours must have got the best of it. The orders were not to let them in. So we're in force, it seems . . . . They say the other day Matthew Ivanych Platov drove them into the river Marina and drowned some eighteen thousand in one day."

Alpatych collected his parcels, handed them to the coachman who had come in, and settled up with the innkeeper. The noise of wheels, hoofs, and bells was heard from the gateway as a little trap passed out.

It was by now late in the afternoon. Half the street was in shadow, the other half brightly lit by the sun. Alpatych looked out of the window and went to the door. Suddenly the strange sound of a far-off whistling and thud was heard, followed by a boom of cannon blending into a dull roar that set the windows rattling.

He went out into the street: two men were running past toward the bridge. From different sides came whistling sounds and the thud of cannon balls and bursting shells falling on the town. But these sounds were hardly heard in comparison with the noise of the firing outside the town and attracted little attention from the inhabitants. The town was being bombarded by a hundred and thirty guns which Napoleon had ordered up after four o'clock. The people did not at once realize the meaning of this bombardment.

At first the noise of the falling bombs and shells only aroused curiosity. Ferapontov's wife, who till then had not ceased wailing under the shed, became quiet and with the baby in her arms went to the gate, listening to the sounds and looking in silence at the people.

The cook and a shop assistant came to the gate. With lively curiosity everyone tried to get a glimpse of the projectiles as they flew over their heads. Several people came round the corner talking eagerly.

"What force!" remarked one."Knocked the roof and ceiling all to splinters!"

"Routed up the earth like a pig," said another.

"That's grand, it bucks one up!" laughed the first."Lucky you jumped aside, or it would have wiped you out!"

Others joined those men and stopped and told how cannon balls had fallen on a house close to them. Meanwhile still more projectiles, now with the swift sinister whistle of a cannon ball, now with the agreeable intermittent whistle of a shell, flew over people's heads incessantly, but not one fell close by, they all flew over. Alpatych was getting into his trap. The innkeeper stood at the gate.

"What are you staring at?" he shouted to the cook, who in her red skirt, with sleeves rolled up, swinging her bare elbows, had stepped to the corner to listen to what was being said.

"What marvels!" she exclaimed, but hearing her master's voice she turned back, pulling down her tucked-up skirt.

Once more something whistled, but this time quite close, swooping downwards like a little bird; a flame flashed in the middle of the street, something exploded, and the street was shrouded in smoke.

"Scoundrel, what are you doing?" shouted the innkeeper, rushing to the cook.

At that moment the pitiful wailing of women was heard from different sides, the frightened baby began to cry, and people crowded silently with pale faces round the cook. The loudest sound in that crowd was her wailing.

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