War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy Book XIV


The men rapidly picked out their horses in the semidarkness, tightened their saddle girths, and formed companies. Denisov stood by the watchman's hut giving final orders. The infantry of the detachment passed along the road and quickly disappeared amid the trees in the mist of early dawn, hundreds of feet splashing through the mud. The esaul gave some orders to his men. Petya held his horse by the bridle, impatiently awaiting the order to mount. His face, having been bathed in cold water, was all aglow, and his eyes were particularly brilliant. Cold shivers ran down his spine and his whole body pulsed rhythmically.

"Well, is ev'wything weady?" asked Denisov."Bwing the horses."

The horses were brought. Denisov was angry with the Cossack because the saddle girths were too slack, reproved him, and mounted. Petya put his foot in the stirrup. His horse by habit made as if to nip his leg, but Petya leaped quickly into the saddle unconscious of his own weight and, turning to look at the hussars starting in the darkness behind him, rode up to Denisov.

"Vasili Dmitrich, entrust me with some commission! Please . . . for God's sake . . . !" said he.

Denisov seemed to have forgotten Petya's very existence. He turned to glance at him.

"I ask one thing of you," he said sternly,"to obey me and not shove yourself forward anywhere."

He did not say another word to Petya but rode in silence all the way. When they had come to the edge of the forest it was noticeably growing light over the field. Denisov talked in whispers with the esaul and the Cossacks rode past Petya and Denisov. When they had all ridden by, Denisov touched his horse and rode down the hill. Slipping onto their haunches and sliding, the horses descended with their riders into the ravine. Petya rode beside Denisov, the pulsation of his body constantly increasing. It was getting lighter and lighter, but the mist still hid distant objects. Having reached the valley, Denisov looked back and nodded to a Cossack beside him.

"The signal!" said he.

The Cossack raised his arm and a shot rang out. In an instant the tramp of horses galloping forward was heard, shouts came from various sides, and then more shots.

At the first sound of trampling hoofs and shouting, Petya lashed his horse and loosening his rein galloped forward, not heeding Denisov who shouted at him. It seemed to Petya that at the moment the shot was fired it suddenly became as bright as noon. He galloped to the bridge. Cossacks were galloping along the road in front of him. On the bridge he collided with a Cossack who had fallen behind, but he galloped on. In front of him soldiers, probably Frenchmen, were running from right to left across the road. One of them fell in the mud under his horse's feet.

Cossacks were crowding about a hut, busy with something. From the midst of that crowd terrible screams arose. Petya galloped up, and the first thing he saw was the pale face and trembling jaw of a Frenchman, clutching the handle of a lance that had been aimed at him.

"Hurrah! . . . Lads! . . . ours!" shouted Petya, and giving rein to his excited horse he galloped forward along the village street.

He could hear shooting ahead of him. Cossacks, hussars, and ragged Russian prisoners, who had come running from both sides of the road, were shouting something loudly and incoherently. A gallant-looking Frenchman, in a blue overcoat, capless, and with a frowning red face, had been defending himself against the hussars. When Petya galloped up the Frenchman had already fallen."Too late again!" flashed through Petya's mind and he galloped on to the place from which the rapid firing could be heard. The shots came from the yard of the landowner's house he had visited the night before with Dolokhov. The French were making a stand there behind a wattle fence in a garden thickly overgrown with bushes and were firing at the Cossacks who crowded at the gateway. Through the smoke, as he approached the gate, Petya saw Dolokhov, whose face was of a pale-greenish tint, shouting to his men."Go round! Wait for the infantry!" he exclaimed as Petya rode up to him.

"Wait? . . . Hurrah-ah-ah!" shouted Petya, and without pausing a moment galloped to the place whence came the sounds of firing and where the smoke was thickest.

A volley was heard, and some bullets whistled past, while others plashed against something. The Cossacks and Dolokhov galloped after Petya into the gateway of the courtyard. In the dense wavering smoke some of the French threw down their arms and ran out of the bushes to meet the Cossacks, while others ran down the hill toward the pond. Petya was galloping along the courtyard, but instead of holding the reins he waved both his arms about rapidly and strangely, slipping farther and farther to one side in his saddle. His horse, having galloped up to a campfire that was smoldering in the morning light, stopped suddenly, and Petya fell heavily on to the wet ground. The Cossacks saw that his arms and legs jerked rapidly though his head was quite motionless. A bullet had pierced his skull.

After speaking to the senior French officer, who came out of the house with a white handkerchief tied to his sword and announced that they surrendered, Dolokhov dismounted and went up to Petya, who lay motionless with outstretched arms.

"Done for!" he said with a frown, and went to the gate to meet Denisov who was riding toward him.

"Killed?" cried Denisov, recognizing from a distance the unmistakably lifeless attitude — very familiar to him — in which Petya's body was lying.

"Done for!" repeated Dolokhov as if the utterance of these words afforded him pleasure, and he went quickly up to the prisoners, who were surrounded by Cossacks who had hurried up."We won't take them!" he called out to Denisov.

Denisov did not reply; he rode up to Petya, dismounted, and with trembling hands turned toward himself the bloodstained, mud-bespattered face which had already gone white.

"I am used to something sweet. Raisins, fine ones . . . take them all!" he recalled Petya's words. And the Cossacks looked round in surprise at the sound, like the yelp of a dog, with which Denisov turned away, walked to the wattle fence, and seized hold of it.

Among the Russian prisoners rescued by Denisov and Dolokhov was Pierre Bezukhov.

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