Six months have already passed since the first cannon-ball whistled from the bastions of Sevastopol, and ploughed the earth in the works of the enemy, and since that day thousands of bombs, cannon-balls, and rifle-balls have been flying incessantly from the bastions into the trenches and from the trenches into the bastions, and the angel of death has never ceased to hover over them.
Thousands of men have been disappointed in satisfying their ambition; thousands have succeeded in satisfying theirs, in becoming swollen with pride; thousands repose in the embrace of death. How many red coffins and canvas canopies there have been! And still the same sounds are echoed from the bastions, and still on clear evenings the French peer from their camp, with involuntary tremor, at the yellow, furrowed bastions of Sevastopol, at the black forms of our sailors moving about upon them, and count the embrasures and the iron cannon which project angrily from them; the under officer still gazes through his telescope, from the heights of the telegraph station, at the dark figures of the French at their batteries, at their tents, at the columns moving over the green hill, and at the puffs of smoke which issue forth from the trenches,—and a crowd of men, formed of divers races, still streams in throngs from various quarters, with the same ardor as ever, and with desires differing even more greatly than their races, towards this fateful spot. And the question, unsolved by the diplomats, has still not been solved by powder and blood.
On the boulevard of the besieged city of Sevastopol, not far from the pavilion, the regimental band was playing, and throngs of military men and of women moved gayly through the streets. The brilliant sun of spring had risen in the morning over the works of the English, had passed over the bastions, then over the city, over the Nikolaevsky barracks, and, illuminating all with equal cheer, had now sunk into the blue and distant sea, which was lighted with a silvery gleam as it heaved in peace.
A tall, rather bent infantry officer, who was drawing upon his hand a glove which was presentable, if not entirely white, came out of one of the small naval huts, built on the left side of the Morskaya[C] street, and, staring thoughtfully at the ground, took his way up the slope to the boulevard.
The expression of this officer's homely countenance did not indicate any great mental capacity, but rather simplicity, judgment, honor, and a tendency to solid worth. He was badly built, not graceful, and he seemed to be constrained in his movements. He was dressed in a little worn cap, a cloak of a rather peculiar shade of lilac, from beneath whose edge the gold of a watch-chain was visible; in trousers with straps, and brilliantly polished calfskin boots. He must have been either a German—but his features clearly indicate his purely Russian descent—or an adjutant, or a regimental quartermaster, only in that case he would have had spurs, or an officer who had exchanged from the cavalry for the period of the campaign, or possibly from the Guards. He was, in fact, an officer who had exchanged from the cavalry, and as he ascended the boulevard, at the present moment, he was meditating upon a letter which he had just received from a former comrade, now a retired land-owner in the Government of T., and his wife, pale, blue-eyed Natasha, his great friend. He recalled one passage of the letter, in which his comrade said:—
“When our Invalid[D] arrives, Pupka (this was the name by which the retired uhlan called his wife) rushes headlong into the vestibule, seizes the paper, and runs with it to the seat in the arbor, in the drawing-room (in which, if you remember, you and I passed such delightful winter evenings when the regiment was stationed in our town), and reads your heroic deeds with such ardor as it is impossible for you to imagine. She often speaks of you. ‘There is Mikhaïloff,’ she says, ‘he's such a love of a man. I am ready to kiss him when I see him. He fights on the bastions, and he will surely receive the Cross of St. George, and he will be talked about in the newspapers ...’ and so on, and so on ... so that I am really beginning to be jealous of you.”
In another place he writes: “The papers reach us frightfully late, and, although there is plenty of news conveyed by word of mouth, not all of it can be trusted. For instance, the young ladies with the music, acquaintances of yours, were saying yesterday that Napoleon was already captured by our Cossacks, and that he had been sent to Petersburg; but you will comprehend how much I believe of this. Moreover, a traveller from Petersburg told us (he has been sent on special business by the minister, is a very agreeable person, and, now that there is no one in town, he is more of a resource to us than you can well imagine ...) well, he declares it to be a fact that our troops have taken Eupatoria, so that the French have no communication whatever with Balaklava, and that in this engagement two hundred of ours were killed, but that the French lost fifteen thousand. My wife was in such raptures over this that she caroused all night, and she declares that her instinct tells her that you certainly took part in that affair, and that you distinguished yourself.”
In spite of these words, and of the expressions which I have purposely put in italics, and the whole tone of the letter, Staff-Captain Mikhaïloff recalled, with inexpressibly sad delight, his pale friend in the provinces, and how she had sat with him in the arbor in the evening, and talked about sentiment, and he thought of his good comrade, the uhlan, and of how the latter had grown angry and had lost the game when they had played cards for kopek stakes in his study, and how the wife had laughed at them ... he recalled the friendship of these two people for himself (perhaps it seemed to him to lie chiefly on the side of his pale feminine friend); all these faces with their surroundings flitted before his mind's eye, in a wonderfully sweet, cheerfully rosy light, and, smiling at his reminiscences, he placed his hand on the pocket which contained the letter so dear to him.
From reminiscences Captain Mikhaïloff involuntarily proceeded to dreams and hopes. “And what will be the joy and amazement of Natasha,” he thought, as he paced along the narrow lane, “... when she suddenly reads in the Invalid a description of how I was the first to climb upon the cannon, and that I have received the George! I shall certainly be promoted to a full captaincy, by virtue of seniority. Then it is quite possible that I may get the grade of major in the line, this very year, because many of our brothers have already been killed, and many more will be in this campaign. And after that there will be more affairs on hand, and a regiment will be entrusted to me, since I am an experienced man ... lieutenant-colonel ... the Order of St. Anna on my neck ... colonel!...” and he was already a general, granting an interview to Natasha, the widow of his comrade, who, according to his dreams, would have died by that time, when the sounds of the music on the boulevard penetrated more distinctly to his ears, the crowds of people caught his eye, and he found himself on the boulevard, a staff-captain of infantry as before.
He went, first of all, to the pavilion, near which were standing the musicians, for whom other soldiers of the same regiment were holding the notes, in the absence of stands, and about whom a ring of cadets, nurses, and children had formed, intent rather on seeing than on hearing. Around the pavilion stood, sat, or walked sailors, adjutants, and officers in white gloves. Along the grand avenue of the boulevard paced officers of every sort, and women of every description, rarely in bonnets, mostly with kerchiefs on their heads (some had neither bonnets nor kerchiefs), but no one was old, and it was worthy of note that all were gay young creatures. Beyond, in the shady and fragrant alleys of white acacia, isolated groups walked and sat.
No one was especially delighted to encounter Captain Mikhaïloff on the boulevard, with the exception, possibly, of the captain of his regiment, Obzhogoff, and Captain Suslikoff, who pressed his hand warmly; but the former was dressed in camel's-hair trousers, no gloves, a threadbare coat, and his face was very red and covered with perspiration, and the second shouted so loudly and incoherently that it was mortifying to walk with them, particularly in the presence of the officers in white gloves (with one of whom, an adjutant, Staff-Captain Mikhaïloff exchanged bows; and he might have bowed to another staff-officer, since he had met him twice at the house of a mutual acquaintance). Besides, what pleasure was it to him to promenade with these two gentlemen, Obzhogoff and Suslikoff, when he had met them and shaken hands with them six times that day already? It was not for this that he had come.
He wanted to approach the adjutant with whom he had exchanged bows, and to enter into conversation with these officers, not for the sake of letting Captains Obzhogoff and Suslikoff and Lieutenant Pashtetzky see him talking with them, but simply because they were agreeable people, and, what was more, they knew the news, and would have told it.
But why is Captain Mikhaïloff afraid, and why cannot he make up his mind to approach them? “What if they should, all at once, refuse to recognize me,” he thinks, “or, having bowed to me, what if they continue their conversation among themselves, as though I did not exist, or walk away from me entirely, and leave me standing there alone among the aristocrats.” The word aristocrats (in the sense of a higher, select circle, in any rank of life) has acquired for some time past with us, in Russia, a great popularity, and has penetrated into every locality and into every class of society whither vanity has penetrated—among merchants, among officials, writers, and officers, to Saratoff, to Mamaduish, to Vinnitz, everywhere where men exist.
To Captain Obzhogoff, Staff-Captain Mikhaïloff was an aristocrat. To Staff-Captain Mikhaïloff, Adjutant Kalugin was an aristocrat, because he was an adjutant, and was on such a footing with the other adjutants as to call them “thou”! To Adjutant Kalugin, Count Nordoff was an aristocrat, because he was an adjutant on the Emperor's staff.
Vanity! vanity! and vanity everywhere, even on the brink of the grave, and among men ready to die for the highest convictions. Vanity! It must be that it is a characteristic trait, and a peculiar malady of our century. Why was nothing ever heard among the men of former days, of this passion, any more than of the small-pox or the cholera? Why did Homer and Shakespeare talk of love, of glory, of suffering, while the literature of our age is nothing but an endless narrative of snobs and vanity?
The staff-captain walked twice in indecision past the group of his aristocrats, and the third time he exerted an effort over himself and went up to them. This group consisted of four officers: Adjutant Kalugin, an acquaintance of Mikhaïloff's, Adjutant Prince Galtsin, who was something of an aristocrat even for Kalugin himself, Colonel Neferdoff, one of the so-called hundred and twenty-two men of the world (who had entered the service for this campaign, from the retired list), and Captain of Cavalry Praskukhin, also one of the hundred and twenty-two. Luckily for Mikhaïloff, Kalugin was in a very fine humor (the general had just been talking to him in a very confidential way, and Prince Galtsin, who had just arrived from Petersburg, was stopping with him); he did not consider it beneath his dignity to give his hand to Captain Mikhaïloff, which Praskukhin, however, could not make up his mind to do, though he had met Mikhaïloff very frequently on the bastion, had drunk the latter's wine and vodka, and was even indebted to him twenty rubles and a half at preference. As he did not yet know Prince Galtsin very well, he did not wish to convict himself, in the latter's presence, of an acquaintance with a simple staff-captain of infantry. He bowed slightly to the latter.
“Well, Captain,” said Kalugin, “when are we to go to the bastion again? Do you remember how we met each other on the Schvartz redoubt—it was hot there, hey?”
“Yes, it was hot,” said Mikhaïloff, recalling how he had, that night, as he was making his way along the trenches to the bastion, encountered Kalugin, who was walking along like a hero, valiantly clanking his sword. “I ought to have gone there to-morrow, according to present arrangements; but we have a sick man,” pursued Mikhaïloff, “one officer, as....”
He was about to relate how it was not his turn, but, as the commander of the eighth company was ill, and the company had only a cornet left, he had regarded it as his duty to offer himself in the place of Lieutenant Nepshisetzky, and was, therefore, going to the bastion to-day. But Kalugin did not hear him out.
“I have a feeling that something is going to happen within a few days,” he said to Prince Galtsin.
“And won't there be something to-day?” asked Mikhaïloff, glancing first at Kalugin, then at Galtsin.
No one made him any reply. Prince Galtsin merely frowned a little, sent his eyes past the other's cap, and, after maintaining silence for a moment, said:—
“That's a magnificent girl in the red kerchief. You don't know her, do you, captain?”
“She lives near my quarters; she is the daughter of a sailor,” replied the staff-captain.
“Come on; let's have a good look at her.”
And Prince Galtsin linked one arm in that of Kalugin, the other in that of the staff-captain, being convinced in advance that he could afford the latter no greater gratification, which was, in fact, quite true.
The staff-captain was superstitious, and considered it a great sin to occupy himself with women before a battle; but on this occasion he feigned to be a vicious man, which Prince Galtsin and Kalugin evidently did not believe, and which greatly amazed the girl in the red kerchief, who had more than once observed how the staff-captain blushed as he passed her little window. Praskukhin walked behind, and kept touching Prince Galtsin with his hand, and making various remarks in the French tongue; but as a fourth person could not walk on the small path, he was obliged to walk alone, and it was only on the second round that he took the arm of the brave and well known naval officer Servyagin, who had stepped up and spoken to him, and who was also desirous of joining the circle of aristocrats. And the gallant and famous beau joyfully thrust his honest and muscular hand through the elbow of a man who was known to all, and even well known to Servyagin, as not too nice. When Praskukhin, explaining to the prince his acquaintance with that sailor, whispered to him that the latter was well known for his bravery, Prince Galtsin, having been on the fourth bastion on the previous evening, having seen a bomb burst twenty paces from him, considering himself no less a hero than this gentleman, and thinking that many a reputation is acquired undeservedly, paid no particular attention to Servyagin.
It was so agreeable to Staff-Captain Mikhaïloff to walk about in this company that he forgot the dear letter from T——, and the gloomy thoughts which had assailed him in connection with his impending departure for the bastion. He remained with them until they began to talk exclusively among themselves, avoiding his glances, thereby giving him to understand that he might go, and finally deserted him entirely. But the staff-captain was content, nevertheless, and as he passed Yunker[E] Baron Pesth, who had been particularly haughty and self-conceited since the preceding night, which was the first that he had spent in the bomb-proof of the fifth bastion, and consequently considered himself a hero, he was not in the least offended at the presumptuous expression with which the yunker straightened himself up and doffed his hat before him.
When later the staff-captain crossed the threshold of his quarters, entirely different thoughts entered his mind. He looked around his little chamber, with its uneven earth floor, and saw the windows all awry, pasted over with paper, his old bed, with a rug nailed over it, upon which was depicted a lady on horseback, and over which hung two Tula pistols, the dirty couch of a cadet who lived with him, and which was covered with a chintz coverlet; he saw his Nikita, who, with untidy, tallowed hair, rose from the floor, scratching his head; he saw his ancient cloak, his extra pair of boots, and a little bundle, from which peeped a bit of cheese and the neck of a porter bottle filled with vodka, which had been prepared for his use on the bastion, and all at once he remembered that he was obliged to go with his company that night to the fortifications.
“It is certainly foreordained that I am to be killed to-night,” thought the captain.... “I feel it. And the principal point is that I need not have gone, but that I offered myself. And the man who thrusts himself forward is always killed. And what's the matter with that accursed Nepshisetsky? It is quite possible that he is not sick at all; and they will kill another man for his sake, they will infallibly kill him. However, if they don't kill me, I shall be promoted probably. I saw how delighted the regimental commander was when I asked him to allow me to go, if Lieutenant Nepshisetsky was ill. If I don't turn out a major, then I shall certainly get the Vladímir cross. This is the thirteenth time that I have been to the bastion. Ah, the thirteenth is an unlucky number. They will surely kill me, I feel that I shall be killed; but some one had to go, it was impossible for the lieutenant of the corps to go. And, whatever happens, the honor of the regiment, the honor of the army, depends on it. It was my duty to go ... yes, my sacred duty. But I have a foreboding.”
The captain forgot that this was not the first time that a similar foreboding had assailed him, in a greater or less degree, when it had been necessary to go to the bastion, and he did not know that every one who sets out on an affair experiences this foreboding with more or less force. Having calmed himself with this conception of duty, which was especially and strongly developed in the staff-captain, he seated himself at the table, and began to write a farewell letter to his father. Ten minutes later, having finished his letter, he rose from the table, his eyes wet with tears, and, mentally reciting all the prayers he knew, he set about dressing. His coarse, drunken servant indolently handed him his new coat (the old one, which the captain generally wore when going to the bastion, was not mended).
“Why is not my coat mended? You never do anything but sleep, you good-for-nothing!” said Mikhaïloff, angrily.
“Sleep!” grumbled Nikita. “You run like a dog all day long; perhaps you stop—but you must not sleep, even then!”
“You are drunk again, I see.”
“I didn't get drunk on your money, so you needn't scold.”
“Hold your tongue, blockhead!” shouted the captain, who was ready to strike the man. He had been absent-minded at first, but now he was, at last, out of patience, and embittered by the rudeness of Nikita, whom he loved, even spoiled, and who had lived with him for twelve years.
“Blockhead? Blockhead?” repeated the servant. “Why do you call me a blockhead, sir? Is this a time for that sort of thing? It is not good to curse.”
Mikhaïloff recalled whither he was on the point of going, and felt ashamed of himself.
“You are enough to put a saint out of patience, Nikita,” he said, in a gentle voice. “Leave that letter to my father on the table, and don't touch it,” he added, turning red.
“Yes, sir,” said Nikita, melting under the influence of the wine which he had drunk, as he had said, “at his own expense,” and winking his eyes with a visible desire to weep.
But when the captain said: “Good-by, Nikita,” on the porch, Nikita suddenly broke down into repressed sobs, and ran to kiss his master's hand.... “Farewell, master!” he exclaimed, sobbing. The old sailor's wife, who was standing on the porch, could not, in her capacity of a woman, refrain from joining in this touching scene, so she began to wipe her eyes with her dirty sleeve, and to say something about even gentlemen having their trials to bear, and that she, poor creature, had been left a widow. And she related for the hundredth time to drunken Nikita the story of her woes; how her husband had been killed in the first bombardment, and how her little house had been utterly ruined (the one in which she was now living did not belong to her), and so on. When his master had departed, Nikita lighted his pipe, requested the daughter of their landlord to go for some vodka, and very soon ceased to weep, but, on the contrary, got into a quarrel with the old woman about some small bucket, which, he declared, she had broken.
“But perhaps I shall only be wounded,” meditated the captain, as he marched through the twilight to the bastion with his company. “But where? How? Here or here?” he thought, indicating his belly and his breast.... “If it should be here (he thought of the upper portion of his leg), it might run round. Well, but if it were here, and by a splinter, that would finish me.”
The captain reached the fortifications safely through the trenches, set his men to work, with the assistance of an officer of sappers, in the darkness, which was complete, and seated himself in a pit behind the breastworks. There was not much firing; only once in a while the lightning flashed from our batteries, then from his, and the brilliant fuse of a bomb traced an arc of flame against the dark, starry heavens. But all the bombs fell far in the rear and to the right of the rifle-pits in which the captain sat. He drank his vodka, ate his cheese, lit his cigarette, and, after saying his prayers, he tried to get a little sleep.
Prince Galtsin, Lieutenant-Colonel Neferdoff, and Praskukhin, whom no one had invited, to whom no one spoke, but who never left them, all went to drink tea with Adjutant Kalugin.
“Well, you did not finish telling me about Vaska Mendel,” said Kalugin, as he took off his cloak, seated himself by the window in a soft lounging-chair, and unbuttoned the collar of his fresh, stiffly starched cambric shirt: “How did he come to marry?”
“That's a joke, my dear fellow! There was a time, I assure you, when nothing else was talked of in Petersburg,” said Prince Galtsin, with a laugh, as he sprang up from the piano, and seated himself on the window beside Kalugin. “It is simply ludicrous, and I know all the details of the affair.”
And he began to relate—in a merry, and skilful manner—a love story, which we will omit, because it possesses no interest for us. But it is worthy of note that not only Prince Galtsin, but all the gentlemen who had placed themselves here, one on the window-sill, another with his legs coiled up under him, a third at the piano, seemed totally different persons from what they were when on the boulevard; there was nothing of that absurd arrogance and haughtiness which they and their kind exhibit in public to the infantry officers; here they were among their own set and natural, especially Kalugin and Prince Galtsin, and were like very good, amiable, and merry children. The conversation turned on their companions in the service in Petersburg, and on their acquaintances.
“What of Maslovsky?”
“Which? the uhlan of the body-guard or of the horse-guard?”
“I know both of them. The one in the horse-guards was with me when he was a little boy, and had only just left school. What is the elder one? a captain of cavalry?”
“Oh, yes! long ago.”
“And is he still going about with his gypsy maid?”
“No, he has deserted her ...” and so forth, and so forth, in the same strain.
Then Prince Galtsin seated himself at the piano, and sang a gypsy song in magnificent style. Praskukhin began to sing second, although no one had asked him, and he did it so well that they requested him to accompany the prince again, which he gladly consented to do.
The servant came in with the tea, cream, and cracknels on a silver salver.
“Serve the prince,” said Kalugin.
“Really, it is strange to think,” said Galtsin, taking a glass, and walking to the window, “that we are in a beleaguered city; tea with cream, and such quarters as I should be only too happy to get in Petersburg.”
“Yes, if it were not for that,” said the old lieutenant-colonel, who was dissatisfied with everything, “this constant waiting for something would be simply unendurable ... and to see how men are killed, killed every day,—and there is no end to it, and under such circumstances it would not be comfortable to live in the mud.”
“And how about our infantry officers?” said Kalugin. “They live in the bastions with the soldiers in the casemates and eat beet soup with the soldiers—how about them?”
“How about them? They don't change their linen for ten days at a time, and they are heroes—wonderful men.”
At this moment an officer of infantry entered the room.
“I ... I was ordered ... may I present myself to the gen ... to His Excellency from General N.?” he inquired, bowing with an air of embarrassment.
Kalugin rose, but, without returning the officer's salute, he asked him, with insulting courtesy and strained official smile, whether they[F] would not wait awhile; and, without inviting him to be seated or paying any further attention to him, he turned to Prince Galtsin and began to speak to him in French, so that the unhappy officer, who remained standing in the middle of the room, absolutely did not know what to do with himself.
“It is on very important business, sir,” said the officer, after a momentary pause.
“Ah! very well, then,” said Kalugin, putting on his cloak, and accompanying him to the door.
“Eh bien, messieurs, I think there will be hot work to-night,” said Kalugin in French, on his return from the general's.
“Hey? What? A sortie?” They all began to question him.
“I don't know yet—you will see for yourselves,” replied Kalugin, with a mysterious smile.
“And my commander is on the bastion—of course, I shall have to go,” said Praskukhin, buckling on his sword.
But no one answered him: he must know for himself whether he had to go or not.
Praskukhin and Neferdoff went off, in order to betake themselves to their posts. “Farewell, gentlemen!” “Au revoir, gentlemen! We shall meet again to-night!” shouted Kalugin from the window when Praskukhin and Neferdoff trotted down the street, bending over the bows of their Cossack saddles. The trampling of their Cossack horses soon died away in the dusky street.
“No, tell me, is something really going to take place to-night?” said Galtsin, in French, as he leaned with Kalugin on the window-sill, and gazed at the bombs which were flying over the bastions.
“I can tell you, you see ... you have been on the bastions, of course?” (Galtsin made a sign of assent, although he had been only once to the fourth bastion.) “Well, there was a trench opposite our lunette”, and Kalugin, who was not a specialist, although he considered his judgment on military affairs particularly accurate, began to explain the position of our troops and of the enemy's works and the plan of the proposed affair, mixing up the technical terms of fortifications a good deal in the process.
“But they are beginning to hammer away at our casemates. Oho! was that ours or his? there, it has burst,” they said, as they leaned on the window-sill, gazing at the fiery line of the bomb, which exploded in the air, at the lightning of the discharges, at the dark blue sky, momentarily illuminated, and at the white smoke of the powder, and listened to the sounds of the firing, which grew louder and louder.
“What a charming sight? is it not?” said Kalugin, in French, directing the attention of his guest to the really beautiful spectacle. “Do you know, you cannot distinguish the stars from the bombs at times.”
“Yes, I was just thinking that that was a star; but it darted down ... there, it has burst now. And that big star yonder, what is it called? It is just exactly like a bomb.”
“Do you know, I have grown so used to these bombs that I am convinced that a starlight night in Russia will always seem to me to be all bombs; one gets so accustomed to them.”
“But am not I to go on this sortie?” inquired Galtsin, after a momentary silence.
“Enough of that, brother! Don't think of such a thing! I won't let you go!” replied Kalugin. “Your turn will come, brother!”
“Seriously? So you think that it is not necessary to go? Hey?...”
At that moment, a frightful crash of rifles was heard in the direction in which these gentlemen were looking, above the roar of the cannon, and thousands of small fires, flaring up incessantly, without intermission, flashed along the entire line.
“That's it, when the real work has begun!” said Kalugin.—“That is the sound of the rifles, and I cannot hear it in cold blood; it takes a sort of hold on your soul, you know. And there is the hurrah!” he added, listening to the prolonged and distant roar of hundreds of voices, “A-a-aa!” which reached him from the bastion.
“What is this hurrah, theirs or ours?”
“I don't know; but it has come to a hand-to-hand fight, for the firing has ceased.”
At that moment, an officer followed by his Cossack galloped up to the porch, and slipped down from his horse.
“From the bastion. The general is wanted.”
“Let us go. Well, now, what is it?”
“They have attacked the lodgements ... have taken them ... the French have brought up their heavy reserves ... they have attacked our forces ... there were only two battalions,” said the panting officer, who was the same that had come in the evening, drawing his breath with difficulty, but stepping to the door with perfect unconcern.
“Well, have they retreated?” inquired Galtsin.
“No,” answered the officer, angrily. “The battalion came up and beat them back; but the commander of the regiment is killed, and many officers, and I have been ordered to ask for re-enforcements....”
And with these words he and Kalugin went off to the general, whither we will not follow them.
Five minutes later, Kalugin was mounted on the Cossack's horse (and with that peculiar, quasi-Cossack seat, in which, as I have observed, all adjutants find something especially captivating, for some reason or other), and rode at a trot to the bastion, in order to give some orders, and to await the news of the final result of the affair. And Prince Galtsin, under the influence of that oppressive emotion which the signs of a battle near at hand usually produce on a spectator who takes no part in it, went out into the street, and began to pace up and down there without any object.
The soldiers were bearing the wounded on stretchers, and supporting them by their arms. It was completely dark in the streets; now and then, a rare light flashed in the hospital or from the spot where the officers were seated. The same thunder of cannon and exchange of rifle-shots was borne from the bastions, and the same fires flashed against the dark heavens. Now and then, you could hear the trampling hoofs of an orderly's horse, the groan of a wounded man, the footsteps and voices of the stretcher-bearers, or the conversation of some of the frightened female inhabitants, who had come out on their porches to view the cannonade.
Among the latter were our acquaintances Nikita, the old sailor's widow, with whom he had already made his peace, and her ten-year-old daughter. “Lord, Most Holy Mother of God!” whispered the old woman to herself with a sigh, as she watched the bombs, which, like balls of fire, sailed incessantly from one side to the other. “What a shame, what a shame! I-i-hi-hi! It was not so in the first bombardment. See, there it has burst, the cursed thing! right above our house in the suburbs.”
“No, it is farther off, in aunt Arinka's garden, that they all fall,” said the little girl.
“And where, where is my master now!” said Nikita, with a drawl, for he was still rather drunk. “Oh, how I love that master of mine!—I don't know myself!—I love him so that if, which God forbid, they should kill him in this sinful fight, then, if you will believe it, aunty, I don't know myself what I might do to myself in that case—by Heavens, I don't! He is such a master that words will not do him justice! Would I exchange him for one of those who play cards? That is simply—whew! that's all there is to say!” concluded Nikita, pointing at the lighted window of his master's room, in which, as the staff-captain was absent, Yunker Zhvadchevsky had invited his friends to a carouse, on the occasion of his receiving the cross: Sub-Lieutenant Ugrovitch and Sub-Lieutenant Nepshisetsky, who was ill with a cold in the head.
“Those little stars! They dart through the sky like stars, like stars!” said the little girl, breaking the silence which succeeded Nikita's words. “There, there! another has dropped! Why do they do it, mamma?”
“They will ruin our little cabin entirely,” said the old woman, sighing, and not replying to her little daughter's question.
“And when uncle and I went there to-day, mamma,” continued the little girl, in a shrill voice, “there was such a big cannon-ball lying in the room, near the cupboard; it had broken through the wall and into the room ... and it is so big that you couldn't lift it.”
“Those who had husbands and money have gone away,” said the old woman, “and now they have ruined my last little house. See, see how they are firing, the wretches. Lord, Lord!”
“And as soon as we came out, a bomb flew at us, and burst and scattered the earth about, and a piece of the shell came near striking uncle and me.”
Prince Galtsin met more and more wounded men, in stretchers and on foot, supporting each other, and talking loudly.
“When they rushed up, brothers,” said one tall soldier, who had two guns on his shoulder, in a bass voice, “when they rushed up and shouted, ‘Allah, Allah!’[G] they pressed each other on. You kill one, and another takes his place—you can do nothing. You never saw such numbers as there were of them....”
But at this point in his story Galtsin interrupted him.
“You come from the bastion?”
“Just so, Your Honor!”
“Well, what has been going on there? Tell me.”
“Why, what has been going on? They attacked in force, Your Honor; they climbed over the wall, and that's the end of it. They conquered completely, Your Honor.”
“How conquered? You repulsed them, surely?”
“How could we repulse them, when he came up with his whole force? They killed all our men, and there was no help given us.”
The soldier was mistaken, for the trenches were behind our forces; but this is a peculiar thing, which any one may observe: a soldier who has been wounded in an engagement always thinks that the day has been lost, and that the encounter has been a frightfully bloody one.
“Then, what did they mean by telling me that you had repulsed them?” said Galtsin, with irritation. “Perhaps the enemy was repulsed after you left? Is it long since you came away?”
“I have this instant come from there, Your Honor,” replied the soldier. “It is hardly possible. The trenches remained in his hands ... he won a complete victory.”
“Well, and are you not ashamed to have surrendered the trenches? This is horrible!” said Galtsin, angered by such indifference.
“What, when he was there in force?” growled the soldier.
“And, Your Honor,” said a soldier on a stretcher, who had just come up with them, “how could we help surrendering, when nearly all of us had been killed? If we had been in force, we would only have surrendered with our lives. But what was there to do? I ran one man through, and then I was struck.... O-oh! softly, brothers! steady, brothers! go more steadily!... O-oh!” groaned the wounded man.
“There really seem to be a great many extra men coming this way,” said Galtsin, again stopping the tall soldier with the two rifles. “Why are you walking off? Hey there, halt!”
The soldier halted, and removed his cap with his left hand.
“Where are you going, and why?” he shouted at him sternly. “He ...”
But, approaching the soldier very closely at that moment, he perceived that the latter's right arm was bandaged, and covered with blood far above the elbow.
“I am wounded, Your Honor!”
“It must have been a bullet, here!” said the soldier, pointing at his arm, “but I cannot tell yet. My head has been broken by something,” and, bending over, he showed the hair upon the back of it all clotted together with blood.
“And whose gun is that second one you have?”
“A choice French one, Your Honor! I captured it. And I should not have come away if it had not been to accompany this soldier; he might fall down,” he added, pointing at the soldier, who was walking a little in front, leaning upon his gun, and dragging his left foot heavily after him.
Prince Galtsin all at once became frightfully ashamed of his unjust suspicions. He felt that he was growing crimson, and turned away, without questioning the wounded men further, and, without looking after them, he went to the place where the injured men were being cared for.
Having forced his way with difficulty to the porch, through the wounded men who had come on foot, and the stretcher-bearers, who were entering with the wounded and emerging with the dead, Galtsin entered the first room, glanced round, and involuntarily turned back, and immediately ran into the street. It was too terrible.
The vast, dark, lofty hall, lighted only by the four or five candles, which the doctors were carrying about to inspect the wounded, was literally full. The stretcher-bearers brought in the wounded, ranged them one beside another on the floor, which was already so crowded that the unfortunate wretches hustled each other and sprinkled each other with their blood, and then went forth for more. The pools of blood which were visible on the unoccupied places, the hot breaths of several hundred men, and the steam which rose from those who were toiling with the stretchers produced a peculiar, thick, heavy, offensive atmosphere, in which the candles burned dimly in the different parts of the room. The dull murmur of diverse groans, sighs, death-rattles, broken now and again by a shriek, was borne throughout the apartment. Sisters of charity, with tranquil faces, and with an expression not of empty, feminine, tearfully sickly compassion, but of active, practical sympathy, flitted hither and thither among the blood-stained cloaks and shirts, stepping over the wounded, with medicine, water, bandages, lint.
Doctors, with their sleeves rolled up, knelt beside the wounded, beside whom the assistant surgeons held the candles, inspecting, feeling, and probing the wounds, in spite of the terrible groans and entreaties of the sufferers. One of the doctors was seated at a small table by the door, and, at the moment when Galtsin entered the room, he was just writing down “No. 532.”
“Iván Bogaeff, common soldier, third company of the S—— regiment, fractura femoris complicata!” called another from the extremity of the hall, as he felt of the crushed leg.... “Turn him over.”
“O-oi, my fathers, good fathers!” shrieked the soldier, beseeching them not to touch him.
“Semyon Neferdoff, lieutenant-colonel of the N—— regiment of infantry. Have a little patience, colonel: you can only be attended to this way; I will let you alone,” said a third, picking away at the head of the unfortunate colonel, with some sort of a hook.
“Ai! stop! Oi! for God's sake, quick, quick, for the sake a-a-a-a!...”
“Perforatio pectoris ... Sevastyan Sereda, common soldier ... of what regiment? however, you need not write that: moritur. Carry him away,” said the doctor, abandoning the soldier, who was rolling his eyes, and already emitting the death-rattle.
Forty stretcher-bearers stood at the door, awaiting the task of transporting to the hospital the men who had been attended to, and the dead to the chapel, and gazed at this picture in silence, only uttering a heavy sigh from time to time....
On his way to the bastion, Kalugin met numerous wounded men; but, knowing from experience that such a spectacle has a bad effect on the spirits of a man on the verge of an action, he not only did not pause to interrogate them, but, on the contrary, he tried not to pay any heed to them. At the foot of the hill he encountered an orderly, who was galloping from the bastion at full speed.
“Zobkin! Zobkin! Stop a minute!”
“Well, what is it?”
“Where are you from?”
“From the lodgements.”
“Well, how are things there! Hot?”
And the orderly galloped on.
In fact, although there was not much firing from the rifles, the cannonade had begun with fresh vigor and greater heat than ever.
“Ah, that's bad!” thought Kalugin, experiencing a rather unpleasant sensation, and there came to him also a presentiment, that is to say, a very usual thought—the thought of death.
But Kalugin was an egotist and gifted with nerves of steel; in a word, he was what is called brave. He did not yield to his first sensation, and began to arouse his courage; he recalled to mind a certain adjutant of Napoleon, who, after having given the command to advance, galloped up to Napoleon, his head all covered with blood.
“You are wounded?” said Napoleon to him. “I beg your pardon, Sire, I am dead,”—and the adjutant fell from his horse, and died on the spot.
This seemed very fine to him, and he fancied that he somewhat resembled this adjutant; then he gave his horse a blow with the whip; and assumed still more of that knowing Cossack bearing, glanced at his orderly, who was galloping behind him, standing upright in his stirrups, and thus in dashing style he reached the place where it was necessary to dismount. Here he found four soldiers, who were smoking their pipes as they sat on the stones.
“What are you doing here?” he shouted at them.
“We have been carrying a wounded man from the field, Your Honor, and have sat down to rest,” one of them replied, concealing his pipe behind his back, and pulling off his cap.
“Resting indeed! March off to your posts!”
And, in company with them, he walked up the hill through the trenches, encountering wounded men at every step.
On attaining the crest of the hill, he turned to the left, and, after taking a few steps, found himself quite alone. Splinters whizzed near him, and struck in the trenches. Another bomb rose in front of him, and seemed to be flying straight at him. All of a sudden he felt terrified; he ran off five paces at full speed, and lay down on the ground. But when the bomb burst, and at a distance from him, he grew dreadfully vexed at himself, and glanced about as he rose, to see whether any one had perceived him fall, but there was no one about.
When fear has once made its way into the mind, it does not speedily give way to another feeling. He, who had boasted that he would never bend, hastened along the trench with accelerated speed, and almost on his hands and knees. “Ah! this is very bad!” he thought, as he stumbled. “I shall certainly be killed!” And, conscious of how difficult it was for him to breathe, and that the perspiration was breaking out all over his body, he was amazed at himself, but he no longer strove to conquer his feelings.
All at once steps became audible in advance of him. He quickly straightened himself up, raised his head, and, boldly clanking his sword, began to proceed at a slower pace than before. He did not know himself. When he joined the officer of sappers and the sailor who were coming to meet him, and the former called to him, “Lie down,” pointing to the bright speck of a bomb, which, growing ever brighter and brighter, swifter and swifter, as it approached, crashed down in the vicinity of the trench, he only bent his head a very little, involuntarily, under the influence of the terrified shout, and went his way.
“Whew! what a brave man!” ejaculated the sailor, who had calmly watched the exploding bomb, and, with practised glance, at once calculated that its splinters could not strike inside the trench; “he did not even wish to lie down.”
Only a few steps remained to be taken, across an open space, before Kalugin would reach the casemate of the commander of the bastion, when he was again attacked by dimness of vision and that stupid sensation of fear; his heart began to beat more violently, the blood rushed to his head, and he was obliged to exert an effort over himself in order to reach the casemate.
“Why are you so out of breath?” inquired the general, when Kalugin had communicated to him his orders.
“I have been walking very fast, Your Excellency!”
“Will you not take a glass of wine?”
Kalugin drank the wine, and lighted a cigarette. The engagement had already come to an end; only the heavy cannonade continued, going on from both sides.
In the casemate sat General N., the commander of the bastion, and six other officers, among whom was Praskukhin, discussing various details of the conflict. Seated in this comfortable apartment, with blue hangings, with a sofa, a bed, a table, covered with papers, a wall clock, and the holy pictures, before which burned a lamp, and gazing upon these signs of habitation, and at the arshin-thick (twenty-eight inches) beams which formed the ceiling, and listening to the shots, which were deadened by the casemate, Kalugin positively could not understand how he had twice permitted himself to be overcome with such unpardonable weakness. He was angry with himself, and he longed for danger, in order that he might subject himself to another trial.
“I am glad that you are here, captain,” he said to a naval officer, in the cloak of staff-officer, with a large moustache and the cross of St. George, who entered the casemate at that moment, and asked the general to give him some men, that he might repair the two embrasures on his battery, which had been demolished. “The general ordered me to inquire,” continued Kalugin, when the commander of the battery ceased to address the general, “whether your guns can fire grape-shot into the trenches.”
“Only one of my guns will do that,” replied the captain, gruffly.
“Let us go and see, all the same.”
The captain frowned, and grunted angrily:—
“I have already passed the whole night there, and I came here to try and get a little rest,” said he. “Cannot you go alone? My assistant, Lieutenant Kartz, is there, and he will show you everything.”
The captain had now been for six months in command of this, one of the most dangerous of the batteries—and even when there were no casemates he had lived, without relief, in the bastion and among the sailors, from the beginning of the siege, and he bore a reputation among them for bravery. Therefore his refusal particularly struck and amazed Kalugin. “That's what reputation is worth!” he thought.
“Well, then, I will go alone, if you will permit it,” he said, in a somewhat bantering tone to the captain, who, however, paid not the slightest heed to his words.
But Kalugin did not reflect that he had passed, in all, at different times, perhaps fifty hours on the bastion, while the captain had lived there for six months. Kalugin was actuated, moreover, by vanity, by a desire to shine, by the hope of reward, of reputation, and by the charm of risk; but the captain had already gone through all that: he had been vain at first, he had displayed valor, he had risked his life, he had hoped for fame and guerdon, and had even obtained them, but these actuating motives had already lost their power over him, and he regarded the matter in another light; he fulfilled his duty with punctuality, but understanding quite well how small were the chances for his life which were left him, after a six-months residence in the bastion, he no longer risked these casualties, except in case of stern necessity, so that the young lieutenant, who had entered the battery only a week previous, and who was now showing it to Kalugin, in company with whom he took turns in leaning out of the embrasure, or climbing out on the ramparts, seemed ten times as brave as the captain.
After inspecting the battery, Kalugin returned to the casemate, and ran against the general in the dark, as the latter was ascending to the watch-tower with his staff-officers.
“Captain Praskukhin!” said the general, “please to go to the first lodgement and say to the second battery of the M—— regiment, which is at work there, that they are to abandon their work, to evacuate the place without making any noise, and to join their regiment, which is standing at the foot of the hill in reserve.... Do you understand? Lead them to their regiment yourself.”
And Praskukhin set out for the lodgement on a run.
The firing was growing more infrequent.
“Is this the second battalion of the M—— regiment?” asked Praskukhin, hastening up to the spot, and running against the soldiers who were carrying earth in sacks.
“Where is the commander?”
Mikhaïloff, supposing that the inquiry was for the commander of the corps, crawled out of his pit, and, taking Praskukhin for the colonel, he stepped up to him with his hand at his visor.
“The general has given orders ... that you ... are to be so good as to go ... as quickly as possible ... and, in particular, as quietly as possible, to the rear ... not to the rear exactly, but to the reserve,” said Praskukhin, glancing askance at the enemy's fires.
On recognizing Praskukhin and discovering the state of things, Mikhaïloff dropped his hand, gave his orders, and the battalion started into motion, gathered up their guns, put on their cloaks, and set out.
No one who has not experienced it can imagine the delight which a man feels when he takes his departure, after a three-hours bombardment, from such a dangerous post as the lodgements. Several times in the course of those three hours, Mikhaïloff had, not without reason, considered his end as inevitable, and had grown accustomed to the conviction that he should infallibly be killed, and that he no longer belonged to this world. In spite of this, however, he had great difficulty in keeping his feet from running away with him when he issued from the lodgements at the head of his corps, in company with Praskukhin.
“Au revoir,” said the major, the commander of another battalion, who was to remain in the lodgements, and with whom he had shared his cheese, as they sat in the pit behind the breastworks—“a pleasant journey to you.”
“Thanks, I hope you will have good luck after we have gone. The firing seems to be holding up.”
But no sooner had he said this than the enemy, who must have observed the movement in the lodgements, began to fire faster and faster. Our guns began to reply to him, and again a heavy cannonade began. The stars were gleaming high, but not brilliantly in the sky. The night was dark—you could hardly see your hand before you; only the flashes of the discharges and the explosions of the bombs illuminated objects for a moment. The soldiers marched on rapidly, in silence, involuntarily treading close on each other's heels; all that was audible through the incessant firing was the measured sound of their footsteps on the dry road, the noise of their bayonets as they came in contact, or the sigh and prayer of some young soldier, “Lord, Lord! what is this!” Now and then the groan of a wounded man arose, and the shout, “Stretcher!” (In the company commanded by Mikhaïloff, twenty-six men were killed in one night, by the fire of the artillery alone.) The lightning flashed against the distant horizon, the sentry in the bastion shouted, “Can-non!” and the ball, shrieking over the heads of the corps, tore up the earth, and sent the stones flying.
“Deuce take it! how slowly they march,” thought Praskukhin, glancing back continually, as he walked beside Mikhaïloff. “Really, it will be better for me to run on in front; I have already given the order.... But no, it might be said later on that I was a coward. What will be will be; I will march with them.”
“Now, why is he walking behind me?” thought Mikhaïloff, on his side. “So far as I have observed, he always brings ill-luck. There it comes, flying straight for us, apparently.”
After traversing several hundred paces, they encountered Kalugin, who was going to the casemates, clanking his sword boldly as he walked, in order to learn, by the general's command, how the work was progressing there. But on meeting Mikhaïloff, it occurred to him that, instead of going thither, under that terrible fire, which he was not ordered to do, he could make minute inquiries of the officer who had been there. And, in fact, Mikhaïloff furnished him with a detailed account of the work. After walking a short distance with them, Kalugin turned into the trench, which led to the casemate.
“Well, what news is there?” inquired the officer, who was seated alone at the table, and eating his supper.
“Well, nothing, apparently, except that there will not be any further conflict.”
“How so? On the contrary, the general has but just gone up to the top of the works. A regiment has already arrived. Yes, there it is ... do you hear? The firing has begun again. Don't go. Why should you?” added the officer, perceiving the movement made by Kalugin.
“But I must be there without fail, in the present instance,” thought Kalugin, “but I have already subjected myself to a good deal of danger to-day; the firing is terrible.”
“Well, after all, I had better wait for him here,” he said.
In fact, the general returned, twenty minutes later, accompanied by the officers, who had been with him; among their number was the yunker, Baron Pesth, but Praskukhin was not with them. The lodgements had been captured and occupied by our forces.
After receiving a full account of the engagement, Kalugin and Pesth went out of the casemates.
“There is blood on your cloak; have you been having a hand-to-hand fight?” Kalugin asked him.
“Oh, 'tis frightful! Just imagine....”
And Pesth began to relate how he had led his company, how the commander of the company had been killed, how he had spitted a Frenchman, and how, if it had not been for him, the battle would have been lost.
The foundations for this tale, that the company commander had been killed, and that Pesth had killed a Frenchman, were correct; but, in giving the details, the yunker had invented facts and bragged.
He bragged involuntarily, because, during the whole engagement, he had been in a kind of mist, and had forgotten himself to such a degree that everything which happened seemed to him to have happened somewhere, sometime, and with some one, and very naturally he had endeavored to bring out these details in a light which should be favorable to himself. But what had happened in reality was this:—
The battalion to which the yunker had been ordered for the sortie had stood under fire for two hours, near a wall; then the commander of the battalion said something, the company commanders made a move, the battalion got under way, issued forth from behind the breastworks, marched forward a hundred paces, and came to a halt in columns. Pesth had been ordered to take his stand on the right flank of the second company.
The yunker stood his ground, absolutely without knowing where he was, or why he was there, and, with restrained breath, and with a cold chill running down his spine, he had stared stupidly straight ahead into the dark beyond, in the expectation of something terrible. But, since there was no firing in progress, he did not feel so much terrified as he did queer and strange at finding himself outside the fortress, in the open plain. Again the battalion commander ahead said something. Again the officers had conversed in whispers, as they communicated the orders, and the black wall of the first company suddenly disappeared. They had been ordered to lie down. The second company lay down also, and Pesth, in the act, pricked his hand on something sharp. The only man who did not lie down was the commander of the second company. His short form, with the naked sword which he was flourishing, talking incessantly the while, moved about in front of the troop.
“Children! my lads! ... look at me! Don't fire at them, but at them with your bayonets, the dogs! When I shout, Hurrah! follow me close ... the chief thing is to be as close together as possible ... let us show what we are made of! Do not let us cover ourselves with shame—shall we, hey, my children? For our father the Tsar!”
“What is our company commander's surname?” Pesth inquired of a yunker, who was lying beside him. “What a brave fellow he is!”
“Yes, he's always that way in a fight ...” answered the yunker. “His name is Lisinkovsky.”
At that moment, a flame flashed up in front of the company. There was a crash, which deafened them all, stones and splinters flew high in the air (fifty seconds, at least, later a stone fell from above and crushed the foot of a soldier). This was a bomb from an elevated platform, and the fact that it fell in the midst of the company proved that the French had caught sight of the column.
“So they are sending bombs!... Just let us get at you, and you shall feel the bayonet of a three-sided Russian, curse you!” shouted the commander of the company, in so loud a tone that the battalion commander was forced to order him to be quiet and not to make so much noise.
After this the first company rose to their feet, and after it the second. They were ordered to fix bayonets, and the battalion advanced. Pesth was so terrified that he absolutely could not recollect whether they advanced far, or whither, or who did what. He walked like a drunken man. But all at once millions of fires flashed from all sides, there was a whistling and a crashing. He shrieked and ran, because they were all shrieking and running. Then he stumbled and fell upon something. It was the company commander (who had been wounded at the head of his men and who, taking the yunker for a Frenchman, seized him by the leg). Then when he had freed his leg, and risen to his feet, some man ran against his back in the dark and almost knocked him down again; another man shouted, “Run him through! what are you staring at!”
Then he seized a gun, and ran the bayonet into something soft. “Ah, Dieu!” exclaimed some one in a terribly piercing voice, and then only did Pesth discover that he had transfixed a Frenchman. The cold sweat started out all over his body. He shook as though in a fever, and flung away the gun. But this lasted only a moment; it immediately occurred to him that he was a hero. He seized the gun again, and, shouting “Hurrah!” with the crowd, he rushed away from the dead Frenchman. After having traversed about twenty paces, he came to the trench. There he found our men and the company commander.
“I have run one man through!” he said to the commander.
“You're a brave fellow, Baron.”
“But, do you know, Praskukhin has been killed,” said Pesth, accompanying Kalugin, on the way back.
“It cannot be!”
“But it can. I saw him myself.”
“Farewell; I am in a hurry.”
“I am well content,” thought Kalugin, as he returned home; “I have had luck for the first time when on duty. That was a capital engagement, and I am alive and whole. There will be some fine presentations, and I shall certainly get a golden sword. And I deserve it too.”
After reporting to the general all that was necessary, he went to his room, in which sat Prince Galtsin, who had returned long before, and who was reading a book, which he had found on Kalugin's table, while waiting for him.
It was with a wonderful sense of enjoyment that Kalugin found himself at home again, out of all danger, and, having donned his night-shirt and lain down on the sofa, he began to relate to Galtsin the particulars of the affair, communicating them, naturally, from a point of view which made it appear that he, Kalugin, was a very active and valiant officer, to which, in my opinion, it was superfluous to refer, seeing that every one knew it and that no one had any right to doubt it, with the exception, perhaps, of the deceased Captain Praskukhin, who, in spite of the fact that he had considered it a piece of happiness to walk arm in arm with Kalugin, had told a friend, only the evening before, in private, that Kalugin was a very fine man, but that, between you and me, he was terribly averse to going to the bastions.
No sooner had Praskukhin, who had been walking beside Mikhaïloff, taken leave of Kalugin, and, betaking himself to a safer place, had begun to recover his spirits somewhat, than he caught sight of a flash of lightning behind him flaring up vividly, heard the shout of the sentinel, “Mortar!” and the words of the soldiers who were marching behind, “It's flying straight at the bastion!”
Mikhaïloff glanced round. The brilliant point of the bomb seemed to be suspended directly over his head in such a position that it was absolutely impossible to determine its course. But this lasted only for a second. The bomb came faster and faster, nearer and nearer, the sparks of the fuse were already visible, and the fateful whistle was audible, and it descended straight in the middle of the battalion.
“Lie down!” shouted a voice.
Mikhaïloff and Praskukhin threw themselves on the ground. Praskukhin shut his eyes, and only heard the bomb crash against the hard earth somewhere in the vicinity. A second passed, which seemed an hour—and the bomb had not burst. Praskukhin was alarmed; had he felt cowardly for nothing? Perhaps the bomb had fallen at a distance, and it merely seemed to him that the fuse was hissing near him. He opened his eyes, and saw with satisfaction that Mikhaïloff was lying motionless on the earth, at his very feet. But then his eyes encountered for a moment the glowing fuse of the bomb, which was twisting about at a distance of an arshin from him.
A cold horror, which excluded every other thought and feeling, took possession of his whole being. He covered his face with his hands.
Another second passed—a second in which a whole world of thoughts, feelings, hopes, and memories flashed through his mind.
“Which will be killed, Mikhaïloff or I? Or both together? And if it is I, where will it strike? If in the head, then all is over with me; but if in the leg, they will cut it off, and I shall ask them to be sure to give me chloroform,—and I may still remain among the living. But perhaps no one but Mikhaïloff will be killed; then I will relate how we were walking along together, and how he was killed and his blood spurted over me. No, it is nearer to me ... it will kill me!”
Then he remembered the twenty rubles which he owed Mikhaïloff, and recalled another debt in Petersburg, which ought to have been paid long ago; the gypsy air which he had sung the previous evening recurred to him. The woman whom he loved appeared to his imagination in a cap with lilac ribbons, a man who had insulted him five years before, and whom he had not paid off for his insult, came to his mind, though inextricably interwoven with these and with a thousand other memories the feeling of the moment—the fear of death—never deserted him for an instant.
“But perhaps it will not burst,” he thought, and, with the decision of despair, he tried to open his eyes. But at that instant, through the crevice of his eyelids, his eyes were smitten with a red fire, and something struck him in the centre of the breast, with a frightful crash; he ran off, he knew not whither, stumbled over his sword, which had got between his legs, and fell over on his side.
“Thank God! I am only bruised,” was his first thought, and he tried to touch his breast with his hands; but his arms seemed fettered, and pincers were pressing his head. The soldiers flitted before his eyes, and he unconsciously counted them: “One, two, three soldiers; and there is an officer, wrapped up in his cloak,” he thought. Then a flash passed before his eyes, and he thought that something had been fired off; was it the mortars, or the cannon? It must have been the cannon. And there was still another shot; and there were more soldiers; five, six, seven soldiers were passing by him. Then suddenly he felt afraid that they would crush him. He wanted to shout to them that he was bruised; but his mouth was so dry that his tongue clove to his palate and he was tortured by a frightful thirst.
He felt that he was wet about the breast: this sensation of dampness reminded him of water, and he even wanted to drink this, whatever it was. “I must have brought the blood when I fell,” he thought, and, beginning to give way more and more to terror, lest the soldiers who passed should crush him, he collected all his strength, and tried to cry: “Take me with you!” but, instead of this, he groaned so terribly that it frightened him to hear himself. Then more red fires flashed in his eyes—and it seemed to him as though the soldiers were laying stones upon him; the fires danced more and more rarely, the stones which they piled on him oppressed him more and more.
He exerted all his strength, in order to cast off the stones; he stretched himself out, and no longer saw or heard or thought or felt anything. He had been killed on the spot by a splinter of shell, in the middle of the breast.
Mikhaïloff, on catching sight of the bomb, fell to the earth, and, like Praskukhin, he went over in thought and feeling an incredible amount in those two seconds while the bomb lay there unexploded. He prayed to God mentally, and kept repeating: “Thy will be done!”
“And why did I enter the military service?” he thought at the same time; “and why, again, did I exchange into the infantry, in order to take part in this campaign? Would it not have been better for me to remain in the regiment of Uhlans, in the town of T., and pass the time with my friend Natasha? And now this is what has come of it.”
And he began to count, “One, two, three, four,” guessing that if it burst on the even number, he would live, but if on the uneven number, then he should be killed. “All is over; killed,” he thought, when the bomb burst (he did not remember whether it was on the even or the uneven number), and he felt a blow, and a sharp pain in his head. “Lord, forgive my sins,” he murmured, folding his hands, then rose, and fell back senseless.
His first sensation, when he came to himself, was the blood which was flowing from his nose, and a pain in his head, which had become much less powerful. “It is my soul departing,” he thought.—“What will it be like there? Lord, receive my soul in peace!—But one thing is strange,” he thought,—“and that is that, though dying, I can still hear so plainly the footsteps of the soldiers and the report of the shots.”
“Send some bearers ... hey there ... the captain is killed!” shouted a voice over his head, which he recognized as the voice of his drummer Ignatieff.
Some one grasped him by the shoulders. He made an effort to open his eyes, and saw overhead the dark blue heavens, the clusters of stars, and two bombs, which were flying over him, one after the other; he saw Ignatieff, the soldiers with the stretcher, the walls of the trench, and all at once he became convinced that he was not yet in the other world.
He had been slightly wounded in the head with a stone. His very first impression was one resembling regret; he had so beautifully and so calmly prepared himself for transit yonder that a return to reality, with its bombs, its trenches, and its blood, produced a disagreeable effect on him; his second impression was an involuntary joy that he was alive, and the third a desire to leave the bastion as speedily as possible. The drummer bound up his commander's head with his handkerchief, and, taking him under the arm, he led him to the place where the bandaging was going on.
“But where am I going, and why?” thought the staff-captain, when he recovered his senses a little.—“It is my duty to remain with my men,—the more so as they will soon be out of range of the shots,” some voice whispered to him.
“Never mind, brother,” he said, pulling his arm away from the obliging drummer. “I will not go to the field-hospital; I will remain with my men.”
And he turned back.
“You had better have your wound properly attended to, Your Honor,” said Ignatieff. “In the heat of the moment, it seems as if it were a trifle; but it will be the worse if not attended to. There is some inflammation rising there ... really, now, Your Honor.”
Mikhaïloff paused for a moment in indecision, and would have followed Ignatieff's advice, in all probability, had he not called to mind how many severely wounded men there must needs be at the field-hospital. “Perhaps the doctor will smile at my scratch,” thought the staff-captain, and he returned with decision to his men, wholly regardless of the drummer's admonitions.
“And where is Officer Praskukhin, who was walking with me?” he asked the lieutenant, who was leading the corps when they met.
“I don't know—killed, probably,” replied the lieutenant, reluctantly.
“How is it that you do not know whether he was killed or wounded? He was walking with us. And why have you not carried him with you?”
“How could it be done, brother, when the place was so hot for us!”
“Ah, how could you do such a thing, Mikhaïl Ivánowitch!” said Mikhaïloff, angrily.—“How could you abandon him if he was alive; and if he was dead, you should still have brought away his body.”
“How could he be alive when, as I tell you, I went up to him and saw!” returned the lieutenant.—“As you like, however! Only, his own men might carry him off. Here, you dogs! the cannonade has abated,” he added....
Mikhaïloff sat down, and clasped his head, which the motion caused to pain him terribly.
“Yes, I must go and get him, without fail; perhaps he is still alive,” said Mikhaïloff. “It is our duty, Mikhaïl Ivánowitch!”
Mikhaïl Ivánowitch made no reply.
“He did not take him at the time, and now the soldiers must be sent alone—and how can they be sent? their lives may be sacrificed in vain, under that hot fire,” thought Mikhaïloff.
“Children! we must go back—and get the officer who was wounded there in the ditch,” he said, in not too loud and commanding a tone, for he felt how unpleasant it would be to the soldiers to obey his order,—and, in fact, as he did not address any one in particular by name, no one set out to fulfil it.
“It is quite possible that he is already dead, and it is not worth while to subject the men to unnecessary danger; I alone am to blame for not having seen to it. I will go myself and learn whether he is alive. It is my duty,” said Mikhaïloff to himself.
“Mikhaïl Ivánowitch! Lead the men forward, and I will overtake you,” he said, and, pulling up his cloak with one hand, and with the other constantly touching the image of Saint Mitrofaniy, in which he cherished a special faith, he set off on a run along the trench.
Having convinced himself that Praskukhin was dead, he dragged himself back, panting, and supporting with his hand the loosened bandage and his head, which began to pain him severely. The battalion had already reached the foot of the hill, and a place almost out of range of shots, when Mikhaïloff overtook it. I say, almost out of range, because some stray bombs struck here and there.
“At all events, I must go to the hospital to-morrow, and put down my name,” thought the staff-captain, as the medical student assisting the doctors bound his wound.
Hundreds of bodies, freshly smeared with blood, of men who two hours previous had been filled with divers lofty or petty hopes and desires, now lay, with stiffened limbs, in the dewy, flowery valley which separated the bastion from the trench, and on the level floor of the chapel for the dead in Sevastopol; hundreds of men crawled, twisted, and groaned, with curses and prayers on their parched lips, some amid the corpses in the flower-strewn vale, others on stretchers, on cots, and on the blood-stained floor of the hospital.
And still, as on the days preceding, the dawn glowed, over Sapun Mountain, the twinkling stars paled, the white mist spread abroad from the dark sounding sea, the red glow illuminated the east, long crimson cloudlets darted across the blue horizon; and still, as on days preceding, the powerful, all-beautiful sun rose up, giving promise of joy, love, and happiness to all who dwell in the world.
On the following day, the band of the chasseurs was playing again on the boulevard, and again officers, cadets, soldiers, and young women were promenading in festive guise about the pavilion and through the low-hanging alleys of fragrant white acacias in bloom.
Kalugin, Prince Galtsin, and some colonel or other were walking arm-in-arm near the pavilion, and discussing the engagement of the day before. As always happens in such cases, the chief governing thread of the conversation was not the engagement itself, but the part which those who were narrating the story of the affair took in it.
Their faces and the sound of their voices had a serious, almost melancholy expression, as though the loss of the preceding day had touched and saddened them deeply; but, to tell the truth, as none of them had lost any one very near to him, this expression of sorrow was an official expression, which they merely felt it to be their duty to exhibit.
On the contrary, Kalugin and the colonel were ready to see an engagement of the same sort every day, provided that they might receive a gold sword or the rank of major-general—notwithstanding the fact that they were very fine fellows.
I like it when any warrior who destroys millions to gratify his ambition is called a monster. Only question any Lieutenant Petrushkoff, and Sub-Lieutenant Antonoff, and so on, on their word of honor, and every one of them is a petty Napoleon, a petty monster, and ready to bring on a battle on the instant, to murder a hundred men, merely for the sake of receiving an extra cross or an increase of a third in his pay.
“No, excuse me,” said the colonel; “it began first on the left flank. I was there myself.”
“Possibly,” answered Kalugin. “I was farther on the right; I went there twice. Once I was in search of the general, and the second time I went merely to inspect the lodgements. It was a hot place.”
“Yes, of course, Kalugin knows,” said Prince Galtsin to the colonel. “You know that V. told me to-day that you were a brave fellow....”
“But the losses, the losses were terrible,” said the colonel. “I lost four hundred men from my regiment. It's a wonder that I escaped from there alive.”
At this moment, the figure of Mikhaïloff, with his head bandaged, appeared at the other extremity of the boulevard, coming to meet these gentlemen.
“What, are you wounded, captain?” said Kalugin.
“Yes, slightly, with a stone,” replied Mikhaïloff.
“Has the flag been lowered yet?”[H] inquired Prince Galtsin, gazing over the staff-captain's cap, and addressing himself to no one in particular.
“Non, pas encore,” answered Mikhaïloff, who wished to show that he understood and spoke French.
“Is the truce still in force?” said Galtsin, addressing him courteously in Russian, and thereby intimating—so it seemed to the captain—It must be difficult for you to speak French, so why is it not better to talk in your own tongue simply?... And with this the adjutants left him. The staff-captain again felt lonely, as on the preceding evening, and, exchanging salutes with various gentlemen,—some he did not care, and others he did not dare, to join,—he seated himself near Kazarsky's monument, and lighted a cigarette.
Baron Pesth also had come to the boulevard. He had been telling how he had gone over to arrange the truce, and had conversed with the French officers, and he declared that one had said to him, “If daylight had held off another half-hour, these ambushes would have been retaken;” and that he had replied, “Sir, I refrain from saying no, in order not to give you the lie,” and how well he had said it, and so on.
But, in reality, although he had had a hand in the truce, he had not dared to say anything very particular there, although he had been very desirous of talking with the French (for it is awfully jolly to talk with Frenchmen). Yunker Baron Pesth had marched up and down the line for a long time, incessantly inquiring of the Frenchmen who were near him: “To what regiment do you belong?” They answered him; and that was the end of it.
When he walked too far along the line, the French sentry, not suspecting that this soldier understood French, cursed him. “He has come to spy out our works, the cursed ...” said he; and, in consequence, Yunker Baron Pesth, taking no further interest in the truce, went home, and thought out on the way thither those French phrases, which he had now repeated. Captain Zoboff was also on the boulevard, talking loudly, and Captain Obzhogoff, in a very dishevelled condition, and an artillery captain, who courted no one, and was happy in the love of the yunkers, and all the faces which had been there on the day before, and all still actuated by the same motives. No one was missing except Praskukhin, Neferdoff, and some others, whom hardly any one remembered or thought of now, though their bodies were not yet washed, laid out, and interred in the earth.
White flags had been hung out from our bastion, and from the trenches of the French, and in the blooming valley between them lay disfigured corpses, shoeless, in garments of gray or blue, which laborers were engaged in carrying off and heaping upon carts. The odor of the dead bodies filled the air. Throngs of people had poured out of Sevastopol, and from the French camp, to gaze upon this spectacle, and they pressed one after the other with eager and benevolent curiosity.
Listen to what these people are saying.
Here, in a group of Russians and French who have come together, is a young officer, who speaks French badly, but well enough to make himself understood, examining a cartridge-box of the guards.
“And what is this bird here for?” says he.
“Because it is a cartridge-box belonging to a regiment of the guards, Monsieur, and bears the Imperial eagle.”
“And do you belong to the guard?”
“Pardon, Monsieur, I belong to the sixth regiment of the line.”
“And this—bought where?” asks the officer, pointing to a cigar-holder of yellow wood, in which the Frenchman was smoking his cigarette.
“At Balaklava, Monsieur. It is very plain, of palm-wood.”
“Pretty!” says the officer, guided in his conversation not so much by his own wishes as by the words which he knows.
“If you will have the kindness to keep it as a souvenir of this meeting, you will confer an obligation on me.”
And the polite Frenchman blows out the cigarette, and hands the holder over to the officer with a little bow. The officer gives him his, and all the members of the group, Frenchmen as well as Russians, appear very much pleased and smile.
Then a bold infantryman, in a pink shirt, with his cloak thrown over his shoulders, accompanied by two other soldiers, who, with their hands behind their backs, were standing behind him, with merry, curious countenances, stepped up to a Frenchman, and requested a light for his pipe. The Frenchman brightened his fire, stirred up his short pipe, and shook out a light for the Russian.
“Tobacco good!” said the soldier in the pink shirt; and the spectators smile.
“Yes, good tobacco, Turkish tobacco,” says the Frenchman. “And your tobacco—Russian?—good?”
“Russian, good,” says the soldier in the pink shirt: whereupon those present shake with laughter. “The French not good—bon jour, Monsieur,” says the soldier in the pink shirt, letting fly his entire charge of knowledge in the language at once, as he laughs and taps the Frenchman on the stomach. The French join in the laugh.
“They are not handsome, these beasts of Russians,” says a zouave, amid the crowd of Frenchmen.
“What are they laughing about?” says another black-complexioned one, with an Italian accent, approaching our men.
“Caftan good,” says the audacious soldier, staring at the zouave's embroidered coat-skirts, and then there is another laugh.
“Don't leave your lines; back to your places, sacré nom!” shouts a French corporal, and the soldiers disperse with evident reluctance.
In the meantime, our young cavalry officer is making the tour of the French officers. The conversation turns on some Count Sazonoff, “with whom I was very well acquainted, Monsieur,” says a French officer, with one epaulet—“he is one of those real Russian counts, of whom we are so fond.”
“There is a Sazonoff with whom I am acquainted,” said the cavalry officer, “but he is not a count, so far as I know, at least; a little dark-complexioned man, of about your age.”
“Exactly, Monsieur, that is the man. Oh, how I should like to see that dear count! If you see him, pray, present my compliments to him—Captain Latour,” says he, bowing.
“Isn't this a terrible business that we are conducting here? It was hot work last night, wasn't it?” says the cavalry officer, wishing to continue the conversation, and pointing to the dead bodies.
“Oh, frightful, Monsieur! But what brave fellows your soldiers are—what brave fellows! It is a pleasure to fight with such valiant fellows.”
“It must be admitted that your men do not hang back, either,” says the cavalry-man, with a bow, and the conviction that he is very amiable.
But enough of this.
Let us rather observe this lad of ten, clad in an ancient cap, his father's probably, shoes worn on bare feet, and nankeen breeches, held up by a single suspender, who had climbed over the wall at the very beginning of the truce, and has been roaming about the ravine, staring with dull curiosity at the French, and at the bodies which are lying on the earth, and plucking the blue wild-flowers with which the valley is studded. On his way home with a large bouquet, he held his nose because of the odor which the wind wafted to him, and paused beside a pile of corpses, which had been carried off the field, and stared long at one terrible headless body, which chanced to be the nearest to him. After standing there for a long while, he stepped up closer, and touched with his foot the stiffened arm of the corpse which protruded. The arm swayed a little. He touched it again, and with more vigor. The arm swung back, and then fell into place again. And at once the boy uttered a shriek, hid his face in the flowers, and ran off to the fortifications as fast as he could go.
Yes, white flags are hung out from the bastion and the trenches, the flowery vale is filled with dead bodies, the splendid sun sinks into the blue sea, and the blue sea undulates and glitters in the golden rays of the sun. Thousands of people congregate, gaze, talk, and smile at each other. And why do not Christian people, who profess the one great law of love and self-sacrifice, when they behold what they have wrought, fall in repentance upon their knees before Him who, when he gave them life, implanted in the soul of each of them, together with a fear of death, a love of the good and the beautiful, and, with tears of joy and happiness, embrace each other like brothers? No! But it is a comfort to think that it was not we who began this war, that we are only defending our own country, our father-land. The white flags have been hauled in, and again the weapons of death and suffering are shrieking; again innocent blood is shed, and groans and curses are audible.
I have now said all that I wish to say at this time. But a heavy thought overmasters me. Perhaps it should not have been said; perhaps what I have said belongs to one of those evil truths which, unconsciously concealed in the soul of each man, should not be uttered, lest they become pernicious, as a cask of wine should not be shaken, lest it be thereby spoiled.
Where is the expression of evil which should be avoided? Where is the expression of good which should be imitated in this sketch? Who is the villain, who the hero? All are good, and all are evil.
Neither Kalugin, with his brilliant bravery—bravoure de gentilhomme—and his vanity, the instigator of all his deeds; nor Praskukhin, the empty-headed, harmless man, though he fell in battle for the faith, the throne, and his native land; nor Mikhaïloff, with his shyness; nor Pesth, a child with no firm convictions or principles, can be either the heroes or the villains of the tale.
The hero of my tale, whom I love with all the strength of my soul, whom I have tried to set forth in all his beauty, and who has always been, is, and always will be most beautiful, is—the truth.
[D] Military Gazette.
[E] A civilian, without military training, attached to a regiment as a non-commissioned officer, who may eventually become a regular officer.
[F] A polite way of referring to the general in the plural.
[G] A The Russian soldiers, who had been fighting the Turks, were so accustomed to this cry of the enemy that they always declared that the French also cried “Allah.”—Author's Note.
[H] This sentence is in French.