"Oh-h-h! Dear souls, dear kind souls! Don't let me die! My good souls! . . ."
Five minutes later no one remained in the street. The cook, with her thigh broken by a shell splinter, had been carried into the kitchen. Alpatych, his coachman, Ferapontov's wife and children and the house porter were all sitting in the cellar, listening. The roar of guns, the whistling of projectiles, and the piteous moaning of the cook, which rose above the other sounds, did not cease for a moment. The mistress rocked and hushed her baby and when anyone came into the cellar asked in a pathetic whisper what had become of her husband who had remained in the street. A shopman who entered told her that her husband had gone with others to the cathedral, whence they were fetching the wonder-working icon of Smolensk.
Toward dusk the cannonade began to subside. Alpatych left the cellar and stopped in the doorway. The evening sky that had been so clear was clouded with smoke, through which, high up, the sickle of the new moon shone strangely. Now that the terrible din of the guns had ceased a hush seemed to reign over the town, broken only by the rustle of footsteps, the moaning, the distant cries, and the crackle of fires which seemed widespread everywhere. The cook's moans had now subsided. On two sides black curling clouds of smoke rose and spread from the fires. Through the streets soldiers in various uniforms walked or ran confusedly in different directions like ants from a ruined ant-hill. Several of them ran into Ferapontov's yard before Alpatych's eyes. Alpatych went out to the gate. A retreating regiment, thronging and hurrying, blocked the street.
Noticing him, an officer said:"The town is being abandoned. Get away, get away!" and then, turning to the soldiers, shouted:
"I'll teach you to run into the yards!"
Alpatych went back to the house, called the coachman, and told him to set off. Ferapontov's whole household came out too, following Alpatych and the coachman. The women, who had been silent till then, suddenly began to wail as they looked at the fires — the smoke and even the flames of which could be seen in the failing twilight — and as if in reply the same kind of lamentation was heard from other parts of the street. Inside the shed Alpatych and the coachman arranged the tangled reins and traces of their horses with trembling hands.
As Alpatych was driving out of the gate he saw some ten soldiers in Ferapontov's open shop, talking loudly and filling their bags and knapsacks with flour and sunflower seeds. Just then Ferapontov returned and entered his shop. On seeing the soldiers he was about to shout at them, but suddenly stopped and, clutching at his hair, burst into sobs and laughter:
"Loot everything, lads! Don't let those devils get it!" he cried, taking some bags of flour himself and throwing them into the street.
Some of the soldiers were frightened and ran away, others went on filling their bags. On seeing Alpatych, Ferapontov turned to him:
"Russia is done for!" he cried."Alpatych, I'll set the place on fire myself. We're done for! . . ." and Ferapontov ran into the yard.
Soldiers were passing in a constant stream along the street blocking it completely, so that Alpatych could not pass out and had to wait. Ferapontov's wife and children were also sitting in a cart waiting till it was possible to drive out.
Night had come. There were stars in the sky and the new moon shone out amid the smoke that screened it. On the sloping descent to the Dnieper Alpatych's cart and that of the innkeeper's wife, which were slowly moving amid the rows of soldiers and of other vehicles, had to stop. In a side street near the crossroads where the vehicles had stopped, a house and some shops were on fire. This fire was already burning itself out. The flames now died down and were lost in the black smoke, now suddenly flared up again brightly, lighting up with strange distinctness the faces of the people crowding at the crossroads. Black figures flitted about before the fire, and through the incessant crackling of the flames talking and shouting could be heard. Seeing that his trap would not be able to move on for some time, Alpatych got down and turned into the side street to look at the fire. Soldiers were continually rushing backwards and forwards near it, and he saw two of them and a man in a frieze coat dragging burning beams into another yard across the street, while others carried bundles of hay.
Alpatych went up to a large crowd standing before a high barn which was blazing briskly. The walls were all on fire and the back wall had fallen in, the wooden roof was collapsing, and the rafters were alight. The crowd was evidently watching for the roof to fall in, and Alpatych watched for it too.
"Alpatych!" a familiar voice suddenly hailed the old man.
"Mercy on us! Your excellency!" answered Alpatych, immediately recognizing the voice of his young prince.
Prince Andrew in his riding cloak, mounted on a black horse, was looking at Alpatych from the back of the crowd.
"Why are you here?" he asked.
"Your . . . your excellency," stammered Alpatych and broke into sobs."Are we really lost? Master! . . ."
"Why are you here?" Prince Andrew repeated.
At that moment the flames flared up and showed his young master's pale worn face. Alpatych told how he had been sent there and how difficult it was to get away.
"Are we really quite lost, your excellency?" he asked again.
Prince Andrew without replying took out a notebook and raising his knee began writing in pencil on a page he tore out. He wrote to his sister:
"Smolensk is being abandoned. Bald Hills will be occupied by the enemy within a week. Set off immediately for Moscow. Let me know at once when you will start. Send by special messenger to Usvyazh."
Having written this and given the paper to Alpatych, he told him how to arrange for departure of the prince, the princess, his son, and the boy's tutor, and how and where to let him know immediately. Before he had had time to finish giving these instructions, a chief of staff followed by a suite galloped up to him.
"You are a colonel?" shouted the chief of staff with a German accent, in a voice familiar to Prince Andrew."Houses are set on fire in your presence and you stand by! What does this mean? You will answer for it!" shouted Berg, who was now assistant to the chief of staff of the commander of the left flank of the infantry of the first army, a place, as Berg said,"very agreeable and well en evidence."
Prince Andrew looked at him and without replying went on speaking to Alpatych.
"So tell them that I shall await a reply till the tenth, and if by the tenth I don't receive news that they have all got away I shall have to throw up everything and come myself to Bald Hills."
"Prince," said Berg, recognizing Prince Andrew,"I only spoke because I have to obey orders, because I always do obey exactly . . . . You must please excuse me," he went on apologetically.
Something cracked in the flames. The fire died down for a moment and wreaths of black smoke rolled from under the roof. There was another terrible crash and something huge collapsed.
"Ou-rou-rou!" yelled the crowd, echoing the crash of the collapsing roof of the barn, the burning grain in which diffused a cakelike aroma all around. The flames flared up again, lighting the animated, delighted, exhausted faces of the spectators.
The man in the frieze coat raised his arms and shouted:
"It's fine, lads! Now it's raging . . . It's fine!"
"That's the owner himself," cried several voices.
"Well then," continued Prince Andrew to Alpatych,"report to them as I have told you"; and not replying a word to Berg who was now mute beside him, he touched his horse and rode down the side street.