At the end of August, along the rocky highway to Sevastopol, between Duvanka and Bakhtchisaraï, through the thick, hot dust, at a foot-pace, drove an officer's light cart, that peculiar telyezhka, not now to be met with, which stands about half-way between a Jewish britchka, a Russian travelling-carriage, and a basket-wagon. In the front of the wagon, holding the reins, squatted the servant, clad in a nankeen coat and an officer's cap, which had become quite limp; seated behind, on bundles and packages covered with a military coat, was an infantry officer, in a summer cloak.
As well as could be judged from his sitting position, the officer was not tall in stature, but extremely thick, and that not so much from shoulder to shoulder as from chest to back; he was broad and thick, and his neck and the base of the head were excessively developed and swollen. His waist, so called, a receding strip in the centre of the body, did not exist in his case; but neither had he any belly; on the contrary, he was rather thin than otherwise, particularly in the face, which was overspread with an unhealthy yellowish sunburn. His face would have been handsome had it not been for a certain bloated appearance, and the soft, yet not elderly, heavy wrinkles that flowed together and enlarged his features, imparting to the whole countenance a general expression of coarseness and of lack of freshness. His eyes were small, brown, extremely searching, even bold; his moustache was very thick, but the ends were kept constantly short by his habit of gnawing them; and his chin, and his cheek-bones in particular were covered with a remarkably strong, thick, and black beard, of two days' growth.
The officer had been wounded on the 10th of May, by a splinter, in the head, on which he still wore a bandage, and, having now felt perfectly well for the last week, he had come out of the Simferopol Hospital, to rejoin his regiment, which was stationed somewhere in the direction from which shots could be heard; but whether that was in Sevastopol itself, on the northern defences, or at Inkermann, he had not so far succeeded in ascertaining with much accuracy from any one.
Shots were still audible near at hand, especially at intervals, when the hills did not interfere, or when borne on the wind with great distinctness and frequency, and apparently near at hand. Then it seemed as though some explosion shook the air, and caused an involuntary shudder. Then, one after the other, followed less resounding reports in quick succession, like a drum-beat, interrupted at times by a startling roar. Then, everything mingled in a sort of reverberating crash, resembling peals of thunder, when a thunder-storm is in full force, and the rain has just begun to pour down in floods, every one said; and it could be heard that the bombardment was progressing frightfully.
The officer kept urging on his servant, and seemed desirous of arriving as speedily as possible. They were met by a long train of the Russian-peasant type, which had carried provisions into Sevastopol, and was now returning with sick and wounded soldiers in gray coats, sailors in black paletots, volunteers in red fezes, and bearded militia-men. The officer's light cart had to halt in the thick, immovable cloud of dust raised by the carts, and the officer, blinking and frowning with the dust that stuffed his eyes and ears, gazed at the faces of the sick and wounded as they passed.
“Ah, there's a sick soldier from our company,” said the servant, turning to his master, and pointing to the wagon which was just on a line with them, full of wounded, at the moment.
On the cart, towards the front, a bearded Russian, in a lamb's-wool cap, was seated sidewise, and, holding the stock of his whip under his elbow, was tying on the lash. Behind him in the cart, about five soldiers, in different positions, were shaking about. One, though pale and thin, with his arm in a bandage, and his cloak thrown on over his shirt, was sitting up bravely in the middle of the cart, and tried to touch his cap on seeing the officer, but immediately afterwards (recollecting, probably, that he was wounded) he pretended that he only wanted to scratch his head. Another, beside him, was lying flat on the bottom of the wagon; all that was visible was two hands, as they clung to the rails of the wagon, and his knees uplifted limp as mops, as they swayed about in various directions. A third, with a swollen face and a bandaged head, on which was placed his soldier's cap, sat on one side, with his legs dangling over the wheel, and, with his elbows resting on his knees, seemed immersed in thought. It was to him that the passing officer addressed himself.
“Dolzhnikoff!” he exclaimed.
“Here,” replied the soldier, opening his eyes, and pulling off his cap, in such a thick and halting bass voice that it seemed as though twenty soldiers had uttered an exclamation at one and the same time.
“When were you wounded, brother?”
The leaden and swimming eyes of the soldier grew animated; he evidently recognized his officer.
“I wish Your Honor health!” he began again, in the same abrupt bass as before.
“Where is the regiment stationed now?”
“It was stationed in Sevastopol, but they were to move on Wednesday, Your Honor.”
“I don't know; it must have been to the Sivernaya, Your Honor! To-day, Your Honor,” he added, in a drawling voice, as he put on his cap, “they have begun to fire clear across, mostly with bombs, that even go as far as the bay; they are fighting horribly to-day, so that—”
It was impossible to hear what the soldier said further; but it was evident, from the expression of his countenance and from his attitude, that he was uttering discouraging remarks, with the touch of malice of a man who is suffering.
The travelling officer, Lieutenant Kozeltzoff, was no common officer. He was not one of those that live so and so and do thus and so because others live and do thus; he did whatever he pleased, and others did the same, and were convinced that it was well. He was rather richly endowed by nature with small gifts: he sang well, played on the guitar, talked very cleverly, and wrote very easily, particularly official documents, in which he had practised his hand in his capacity of adjutant of the battalion; but the most noticeable trait in his character was his egotistical energy, which, although chiefly founded on this array of petty talents, constituted in itself a sharp and striking trait. His egotism was of the sort that is most frequently found developed in masculine and especially in military circles, and which had become a part of his life to such a degree that he understood no other choice than to domineer or to humiliate himself; and his egotism was the mainspring even of his private impulses; he liked to usurp the first place over people with whom he put himself on a level.
“Well! it's absurd of me to listen to what a Moskva[I] chatters!” muttered the lieutenant, experiencing a certain weight of apathy in his heart, and a dimness of thought, which the sight of the transport full of wounded and the words of the soldier, whose significance was emphasized and confirmed by the sounds of the bombardment, had left with him. “That Moskva is ridiculous! Drive on, Nikolaeff! go ahead! Are you asleep?” he added, rather fretfully, to the servant, as he re-arranged the skirts of his coat.
The reins were tightened, Nikolaeff clacked his lips, and the wagon moved on at a trot.
“We will only halt a minute for food, and will proceed at once, this very day,” said the officer.
As he entered the street of the ruined remains of the stone wall, forming the Tatar houses of Duvanka, Lieutenant Kozeltzoff was stopped by a transport of bombs and grape-shot, which were on their way to Sevastopol, and had accumulated on the road. Two infantry soldiers were seated in the dust, on the stones of a ruined garden-wall by the roadside, devouring a watermelon and bread.
“Have you come far, fellow-countryman?” said one of them, as he chewed his bread, to the soldier, with a small knapsack on his back, who had halted near them.
“I have come from my government to join my regiment,” replied the soldier, turning his eyes away from the watermelon, and readjusting the sack on his back. “There we were, two weeks ago, at work on the hay, a whole troop of us; but now they have drafted all of us, and we don't know where our regiment is at the present time. They say that our men went on the Korabelnaya last week. Have you heard anything, gentlemen?”
“It's stationed in the town, brother,” said the second, an old soldier of the reserves, digging away with his clasp-knife at the white, unripe melon. “We have just come from there, this afternoon. It's terrible, my brother!”
“How so, gentlemen?”
“Don't you hear how they are firing all around to-day, so that there is not a whole spot anywhere? It is impossible to say how many of our brethren have been killed.” And the speaker waved his hand and adjusted his cap.
The passing soldier shook his head thoughtfully, gave a clack with his tongue, then pulled his pipe from his boot-leg, and, without filling it, stirred up the half-burned tobacco, lit a bit of tinder from the soldier who was smoking, and raised his cap.
“There is no one like God, gentlemen! Good-bye,” said he, and, with a shake of the sack on his back, he went his way.
“Hey, there! you'd better wait,” said the man who was digging out the watermelon, with an air of conviction.
“It makes no difference!” muttered the traveller, threading his way among the wheels of the assembled transports.
The posting-station was full of people when Kozeltzoff drove up to it. The first person whom he encountered, on the porch itself, was a thin and very young man, the superintendent, who continued his altercation with two officers, who had followed him out.
“It's not three days only, but ten that you will have to wait. Even generals wait, my good sirs!” said the superintendent, with a desire to administer a prick to the travellers; “and I am not going to harness up for you.”
“Then don't give anybody horses, if there are none! But why furnish them to some lackey or other with baggage?” shouted the elder of the two officers, with a glass of tea in his hand, and plainly avoiding the use of pronouns,[J] but giving it to be understood that he might very easily address the superintendent as “thou.”
“Judge for yourself, now, Mr. Superintendent,” said the younger officer, with some hesitation. “We don't want to go for our own pleasure. We must certainly be needed, since we have been called for. And I certainly shall report to the general. But this, of course,—you know that you are not paying proper respect to the military profession.”
“You are always spoiling things,” the elder man interrupted, with vexation. “You only hinder me; you must know how to talk to them. Here, now, he has lost his respect. Horses this very instant, I say!”
“I should be glad to give them to you, bátiushka,[K] but where am I to get them?”
After a brief silence, the superintendent began to grow irritated, and to talk, flourishing his hands the while.
“I understand, bátiushka. And I know all about it myself. But what are you going to do? Only give me”—here a ray of hope gleamed across the faces of the officers—“only give me a chance to live until the end of the month, and you won't see me here any longer. I'd rather go on the Malakhoff tower, by Heavens! than stay here. Let them do what they please about it! There's not a single sound team in the station this day, and the horses haven't seen a wisp of hay these three days.” And the superintendent disappeared behind the gate.
Kozeltzoff entered the room in company with the officers.
“Well,” said the elder officer, quite calmly, to the younger one, although but a second before he had appeared to be greatly irritated, “we have been travelling these three weeks, and we will wait a little longer. There's no harm done. We shall get there at last.”
The dirty, smoky apartment was so filled with officers and trunks that it was with difficulty that Kozeltzoff found a place near the window, where he seated himself; he began to roll himself a cigarette, as he glanced at the faces and lent an ear to the conversations.
To the right of the door, near a crippled and greasy table, upon which stood two samovárs, whose copper had turned green in spots, here and there, and where sugar was portioned out in various papers, sat the principal group. A young officer, without moustache, in a new, short, wadded summer coat, was pouring water into the teapot.
Four such young officers were there, in different corners of the room. One of them had placed a cloak under his head, and was fast asleep on the sofa. Another, standing by the table, was cutting up some roast mutton for an officer without an arm, who was seated at the table.
Two officers, one in an adjutant's cloak, the other in an infantry cloak, a thin one however, and with a satchel strapped over his shoulder, were sitting near the oven bench, and it was evident, from the very way in which they stared at the rest, and from the manner in which the one with the satchel smoked his cigar, that they were not line officers on duty at the front, and that they were delighted at it.
Not that there was any scorn apparent in their manner, but there was a certain self-satisfied tranquillity, founded partly on money and partly on their close intimacy with generals, a certain consciousness of superiority which even extended to a desire to hide it.
A thick-lipped young doctor and an officer of artillery, with a German cast of countenance, were seated almost on the feet of the young officer who was sleeping on the sofa, and counting over their money.
There were four officers' servants, some dozing and others busy with the trunks and packages near the door.
Among all these faces, Kozeltzoff did not find a single familiar one; but he began to listen with curiosity to the conversation. The young officers, who, as he decided from their looks alone, had but just come out of the military academy, pleased him, and, what was the principal point, they reminded him that his brother had also come from the academy, and should have joined recently one of the batteries of Sevastopol.
But the officer with the satchel, whose face he had seen before somewhere, seemed bold and repulsive to him. He even left the window, and, going to the stove-bench, seated himself on it, with the thought that he would put the fellow down if he took it into his head to say anything. In general, purely as a brave “line” officer, he did not like “the staff,” such as he had recognized these two officers to be at the first glance.
“But this is dreadfully annoying,” said one of the young officers, “to be so near, and yet not be able to get there. Perhaps there will be an action this very day, and we shall not be there.”
In the sharp voice and the mottled freshness of the color that swept across the youthful face of this officer as he spoke there was apparent the sweet young timidity of the man who is constantly afraid lest his every word shall not turn out exactly right.
The one-armed officer glanced at him with a smile.
“You will get there soon enough, I assure you,” he said.
The young officer looked with respect at the haggard face of the armless officer, so unexpectedly illuminated by a smile, held his peace for a while, and busied himself once more with his tea. In fact, the one-armed officer's face, his attitude, and, most of all, the empty sleeve of his coat, expressed much of that tranquil indifference that may be explained in this way—that he looked upon every conversation and every occurrence as though saying, “That is all very fine; I know all about that, and I can do a little of that myself, if I only choose.”
“What is our decision to be?” said the young officer again to his companion in the short coat. “Shall we pass the night here, or shall we proceed with our own horses?”
His comrade declined to proceed.
“Just imagine, captain,” said the one who was pouring the tea, turning to the one-armed man, and picking up the knife that the latter had dropped, “they told us that horses were frightfully dear in Sevastopol, so we bought a horse in partnership at Simferopol.”
“They made you pay pretty high for it, I fancy.”
“Really, I do not know, captain; we paid ninety rubles for it and the team. Is that very dear?” he added, turning to all the company, and to Kozeltzoff, who was staring at him.
“It was not dear, if the horse is young,” said Kozeltzoff.
“Really! but they told us that it was dear. Only, she limps a little, but that will pass off. They told us that she was very strong.”
“What academy are you from?” asked Kozeltzoff, who wished to inquire for his brother.
“We are just from the academy of the nobility; there are six of us, and we are on our way to Sevastopol at our own desire,” said the talkative young officer. “But we do not know where our battery is; some say that it is in Sevastopol, others that it is at Odessa.”
“Was it not possible to find out at Simferopol?” asked Kozeltzoff.
“They do not know there. Just imagine, one of our comrades went to the headquarters there, and they were impertinent to him. You can imagine how disagreeable that was! Would you like to have me make you a cigarette,” he said at that moment to the one-armed officer, who was just pulling out his cigarette-machine.
He waited on the latter with a sort of servile enthusiasm.
“And are you from Sevastopol also?” he went on. “Oh, good Heavens, how wonderful that is! How much we did think of you, and of all our heroes, in Petersburg,” he said, turning to Kozeltzoff with respect and good-natured flattery.
“And now, perhaps, you may have to go back?” inquired the lieutenant.
“That is just what we are afraid of. You can imagine that, after having bought the horse, and provided ourselves with all the necessaries,—a coffee-pot with a spirit-lamp, and other indispensable trifles,—we have no money left,” he said, in a low voice, as he glanced at his companions; “so that, if we do have to go back, we don't know what is to be done.”
“Have you received no money for travelling expenses?” inquired Kozeltzoff.
“No,” replied he, in a whisper; “they only promised to give it to us here.”
“Have you the certificate?”
“I know that—the principal thing—is the certificate; but a senator in Moscow,—he's my uncle,—when I was at his house, said that they would give it to us here; otherwise, he would have given me some himself. So they will give it to us here?”
“Most certainly they will.”
“I too think that they will,” he said, in a tone which showed that, after having made the same identical inquiry in thirty posting-stations, and having everywhere received different answers, he no longer believed any one implicitly.
“Who ordered beet-soup?” called out the slatternly mistress of the house, a fat woman of forty, as she entered the room with a bowl of soup.
The conversation ceased at once, and all who were in the room fixed their eyes on the woman.
“Ah, it was Kozeltzoff who ordered it,” said the young officer. “He must be waked. Get up for your dinner,” he said, approaching the sleeper on the sofa, and jogging his elbow.
A young lad of seventeen, with merry black eyes and red cheeks, sprang energetically from the sofa, and stood in the middle of the room, rubbing his eyes.
“Ah, excuse me, please,” he said to the doctor, whom he had touched in rising.
Lieutenant Kozeltzoff recognized his brother immediately, and stepped up to him.
“Don't you know me?” he said with a smile.
“A-a-a-!” exclaimed the younger brother; “this is astonishing!” And he began to kiss his brother.
They kissed twice, but stopped at the third repetition as though the thought had occurred to both of them:—
“Why is it necessary to do it exactly three times?”
“Well, how delighted I am!” said the elder, looking at his brother. “Let us go out on the porch; we can have a talk.”
“Come, come, I don't want any soup. You eat it, Federsohn!” he said to his comrade.
“But you wanted something to eat.”
“I don't want anything.”
When they emerged on the porch, the younger kept asking his brother: “Well, how are you; tell me all about it.” And still he kept on saying how glad he was to see him, but he told nothing himself.
When five minutes had elapsed, during which time they had succeeded in becoming somewhat silent, the elder brother inquired why the younger had not gone into the guards, as they had all expected him to do.
He wanted to get to Sevastopol as speedily as possible, he said; for if things turned out favorably there, he could get advancement more rapidly there than in the guards. There it takes ten years to reach the grade of colonel, while here Todleben had risen in two years from lieutenant-colonel to general. Well, and if one did get killed, there was nothing to be done.
“What a fellow you are!” said his brother, smiling.
“But the principal thing, do you know, brother,” said the younger, smiling and blushing as though he were preparing to say something very disgraceful, “all this is nonsense, and the principal reason why I asked it was that I was ashamed to live in Petersburg when men are dying for their country here. Yes, and I wanted to be with you,” he added, with still greater shamefacedness.
“How absurd you are!” said the elder brother, pulling out his cigarette-machine, and not even glancing at him. “It's a pity, though, that we can't be together.”
“Now, honestly, is it so terrible in the bastions?” inquired the younger man, abruptly.
“It is terrible at first, but you get used to it afterwards. It's nothing. You will see for yourself.”
“And tell me still another thing. What do you think?—will Sevastopol be taken? I think that it will not.”
“But one thing is annoying. Just imagine what bad luck! A whole bundle was stolen from us on the road, and it had my shako in it, so that now I am in a dreadful predicament; and I don't know how I am to show myself.”
The younger Kozeltzoff, Vladímir, greatly resembled his brother Mikháïl, but he resembled him as a budding rose-bush resembles one that is out of flower. His hair was chestnut also, but it was thick and lay in curls on his temples. On the soft white back of his neck there was a blond lock; a sign of good luck, so the nurses say. The full-blooded crimson of youth did not stand fixed on the soft, white hue of his face, but flashed up and betrayed all the movements of his mind. He had the same eyes as his brother, but they were more widely opened, and clearer, which appeared the more peculiar because they were veiled frequently by a slight moisture. A golden down was sprouting on his cheeks, and over his ruddy lips, which were often folded into a shy smile, displaying teeth of dazzling whiteness. He was a well formed and broad-shouldered fellow, in unbuttoned coat, from beneath which was visible a red shirt with collar turned back. As he stood before his brother, leaning his elbows on the railing of the porch, with cigarette in hand and innocent joy in his face and gesture, he was so agreeable and comely a youth that any one would have gazed at him with delight. He was extremely pleased with his brother, he looked at him with respect and pride, fancying him his hero; but in some ways, so far as judgments on worldly culture, ability to talk French, behavior in the society of distinguished people, dancing, and so on, he was somewhat ashamed of him, looked down on him, and even cherished a hope of improving him if such a thing were possible.
All his impressions, so far, were from Petersburg, at the house of a lady who was fond of good-looking young fellows, and who had had him spend his holidays with her, and from Moscow, at the house of a senator, where he had once danced at a great ball.
Having nearly talked their fill and having arrived at the feeling that you frequently experience, that there is little in common between you, though you love one another, the brothers were silent for a few moments.
“Pick up your things and we will set out at once,” said the elder.
The younger suddenly blushed, stammered, and became confused.
“Are we to go straight to Sevastopol?” he inquired, after a momentary pause.
“Why, yes. You can't have many things, and we can manage to carry them, I think.”
“Very good! we will start at once,” said the younger, with a sigh, and he went inside.
But he paused in the vestibule without opening the door, dropped his head gloomily, and began to reflect.
“Straight to Sevastopol, on the instant, within range of the bombs—frightful! It's no matter, however; it must have come sometime. Now, at all events, with my brother—”
The fact was that it was only now, at the thought that, once seated in the cart, he should enter Sevastopol without dismounting from it, and that no chance occurrence could any longer detain him, that the danger which he was seeking clearly presented itself to him, and he was troubled at the very thought of its nearness. He managed to control himself in some way, and entered the room; but a quarter of an hour elapsed, and still he had not rejoined his brother, so that the latter opened the door at last, in order to call him. The younger Kozeltzoff, in the attitude of a naughty school-boy, was saying something to an officer named P. When his brother opened the door, he became utterly confused.
“Immediately. I'll come out in a minute!” he cried, waving his hand at his brother. “Wait for me there, please.”
A moment later he emerged, in fact, and approached his brother, with a deep sigh.
“Just imagine! I cannot go with you, brother,” he said.
“What? What nonsense is this?”
“I will tell you the whole truth, Misha! Not one of us has any money, and we are all in debt to that staff-captain whom you saw there. It is horribly mortifying!”
The elder brother frowned, and did not break the silence for a long while.
“Do you owe much?” he asked, glancing askance at his brother.
“A great deal—no, not a great deal; but I am dreadfully ashamed of it. He has paid for me for three stages, and all his sugar is gone, so that I do not know—yes, and we played at preference. I am a little in his debt there, too.”
“This is bad, Volodya! Now, what would you have done if you had not met me?” said the elder, sternly, without looking at his brother.
“Why, I was thinking, brother, that I should get that travelling-money at Sevastopol, and that I would give him that. Surely, that can be done; and it will be better for me to go with him to-morrow.”
The elder brother pulled out his purse, and, with fingers that shook a little, he took out two ten-ruble notes and one for three rubles.
“This is all the money I have,” said he. “How much do you owe?”
Kozeltzoff did not speak the exact truth when he said that this was all the money he had. He had, besides, four gold pieces sewn into his cuff, in case of an emergency; but he had taken a vow not to touch them.
It appeared that Kozeltzoff, what with preference and sugar, was in debt to the amount of eight rubles only. The elder brother gave him this sum, merely remarking that one should not play preference when one had no money.
“What did you play for?”
The younger brother answered not a word. His brother's question seemed to him to cast a reflection on his honor. Vexation at himself, a shame at his conduct, which could give rise to such a suspicion, and the insult from his brother, of whom he was so fond, produced upon his sensitive nature so deeply painful an impression that he made no reply. Sensible that he was not in a condition to restrain the sobs which rose in his throat, he took the money without glancing at it, and went back to his comrades.
Nikolaeff, who had fortified himself at Duvanka, with two jugs of vodka, purchased from a soldier who was peddling it on the bridge, gave the reins a jerk, and the team jolted away over the stony road, shaded here and there, which led along the Belbek to Sevastopol; but the brothers, whose legs jostled each other, maintained a stubborn silence, although they were thinking of each other every instant.
“Why did he insult me?” thought the younger. “Could he not have held his tongue about that? It is exactly as though he thought that I was a thief; yes, and now he is angry, apparently, so that we have quarrelled for good. And how splendid it would have been for us to be together in Sevastopol. Two brothers, on friendly terms, both fighting the foe! one of them, the elder, though not very cultivated, yet a valiant warrior, and the other younger, but a brave fellow too. In a week's time I would have showed them that I am not such a youngster after all! I shall cease to blush, there will be manliness in my countenance, and, though my moustache is not very large now, it would grow to a good size by that time;” and he felt of the down which was making its appearance round the edges of his mouth. “Perhaps we shall arrive to-day, and get directly into the conflict, my brother and I. He must be obstinate and very brave, one of those who do not say much, but act better than others. I should like to know,” he continued, “whether he is squeezing me against the side of the wagon on purpose or not. He probably is conscious that I feel awkward, and he is pretending not to notice me. We shall arrive to-day,” he went on with his argument, pressing close to the side of the wagon, and fearing to move lest his brother should observe that he was uncomfortable, “and, all at once, we shall go straight to the bastion. We shall both go together, I with my equipments, and my brother with his company. All of a sudden, the French throw themselves on us. I begin to fire, and fire on them. I kill a terrible number; but they still continue to run straight at me. Now, it is impossible to fire any longer, and there is no hope for me; all at once my brother rushes out in front with his sword, and I grasp my gun, and we rush on with the soldiers. The French throw themselves on my brother. I hasten up; I kill one Frenchman, then another, and I save my brother. I am wounded in one arm; I seize my gun with the other, and continue my flight; but my brother is slain by my side by the bullets. I halt for a moment, and gaze at him so sorrowfully; then I straighten myself up and shout: ‘Follow me! We will avenge him! I loved my brother more than any one in the world,’ I shall say, ‘and I have lost him. Let us avenge him! Let us annihilate the foe, or let us all die together there!’ All shout, and fling themselves after me. Then the whole French army makes a sortie, including even Pelissier himself. We all fight; but, at last, I am wounded a second, a third time, and I fall, nearly dead. Then, all rush up to me. Gortchakoff comes up and asks what I would like. I say that I want nothing—except that I may be laid beside my brother; that I wish to die with him. They carry me, and lay me down by the side of my brother's bloody corpse. Then I shall raise myself, and merely say: ‘Yes, you did not understand how to value two men who really loved their father-land; now they have both fallen,—and may God forgive you!’ and I shall die.
Who knows in what measure these dreams will be realized?
“Have you ever been in a hand to hand fight?” he suddenly inquired of his brother, quite forgetting that he had not meant to speak to him.
“No, not once,” answered the elder. “Our regiment has lost two thousand men, all on the works; and I, also, was wounded there. War is not carried on in the least as you fancy, Volodya.”
The word “Volodya” touched the younger brother. He wanted to come to an explanation with his brother, who had not the least idea that he had offended Volodya.
“You are not angry with me, Misha?” he said, after a momentary silence.
“No, because—because we had such a—nothing.”
“Not in the least,” replied the elder, turning to him, and slapping him on the leg.
“Then forgive me, Misha, if I have wounded you.”
And the younger brother turned aside, in order to hide the tears that suddenly started to his eyes.
“Is this Sevastopol already?” asked the younger brother, as they ascended the hill.
And before them appeared the bay, with its masts of ships, its shipping, and the sea, with the hostile fleet, in the distance; the white batteries on the shore, the barracks, the aqueducts, the docks and the buildings of the town, and the white and lilac clouds of smoke rising incessantly over the yellow hills, which surrounded the town and stood out against the blue sky, in the rosy rays of the sun, which was reflected by the waves, and sinking towards the horizon of the shadowy sea.
Volodya, without a shudder, gazed upon this terrible place of which he had thought so much; on the contrary, he did so with an æsthetic enjoyment, and a heroic sense of self-satisfaction at the idea that here he was—he would be there in another half-hour, that he would behold that really charmingly original spectacle—and he stared with concentrated attention from that moment until they arrived at the north fortification, at the baggage-train of his brother's regiment, where they were to ascertain with certainty the situations of the regiment and the battery.
The officer in charge of the train lived near the so-called new town (huts built of boards by the sailors' families), in a tent, connecting with a tolerably large shed, constructed out of green oak-boughs, that were not yet entirely withered.
The brothers found the officer seated before a greasy table, upon which stood a glass of cold tea, a tray with vodka, crumbs of dry sturgeon roe, and bread, clad only in a shirt of a dirty yellow hue, and engaged in counting a huge pile of bank-bills on a large abacus.
But before describing the personality of the officer, and his conversation, it is indispensable that we should inspect with more attention the interior of his shed, and become a little acquainted, at least, with his mode of life and his occupations. The new shed, like those built for generals and regimental commanders, was large, closely wattled, and comfortably arranged, with little tables and benches, made of turf. The sides and roof were hung with three rugs, to keep the leaves from showering down, and, though extremely ugly, they were new, and certainly costly.
Upon the iron bed, which stood beneath the principal rug, with a young amazon depicted on it, lay a plush coverlet, of a brilliant crimson, a torn and dirty pillow, and a raccoon cloak. On the table stood a mirror, in a silver frame, a silver brush, frightfully dirty, a broken horn comb, full of greasy hair, a silver candlestick, a bottle of liqueur, with a huge gold and red label, a gold watch, with a portrait of Peter I., two gold pens, a small box, containing pills of some sort, a crust of bread, and some old, castaway cards, and there were bottles, both full and empty, under the bed.
This officer had charge of the commissariat of the regiment and the fodder of the horses. With him lived his great friend, the commissioner who had charge of the operations.
At the moment when the brothers entered, the latter was asleep in the booth, and the commissary officer was making up his accounts of the government money, in anticipation of the end of the month. The commissary officer had a very comely and warlike exterior. His stature was tall, his moustache huge, and he possessed a respectable amount of plumpness. The only disagreeable points about him were a certain perspiration and puffiness of the whole face, which almost concealed his small gray eyes (as though he was filled up with porter), and an excessive lack of cleanliness, from his thin, greasy hair to his big, bare feet, thrust into some sort of ermine slippers.
“Money, money!” said Kozeltzoff number one, entering the shed, and fixing his eyes, with involuntary greed, upon the pile of bank-notes. “You might lend me half of that, Vasíly Mikhaïlitch!”
The commissary officer cringed at the sight of his visitors, and, sweeping up his money, he bowed to them without rising.
“Oh, if it only belonged to me! It's government money, my dear fellow. And who is this you have with you?” said he, thrusting the money into a coffer which stood beside him, and staring at Volodya.
“This is my brother, who has just come from the military academy. We have both come to learn from you where our regiment is stationed.”
“Sit down, gentlemen,” said the officer, rising, and going into the shed, without paying any heed to his guests. “Won't you have something to drink? Some porter, for instance?” said he.
“Don't put yourself out, Vasíly Mikhaïlitch.”
Volodya was impressed by the size of the commissary officer, by his carelessness of manner, and by the respect with which his brother addressed him.
“It must be that this is one of their very fine officers, whom every one respects. Really, he is simple, but hospitable and brave,” he thought, seating himself in a timid and modest manner on the sofa.
“Where is our regiment stationed, then?” called out his elder brother into the board hut.
He repeated his query.
“Zeifer has been here to-day. He told me that they had removed to the fifth bastion.”
“Is that true?”
“If I say so, it must be true; but the deuce only knows anyway! He would think nothing of telling a lie. Won't you have some porter?” said the commissary officer, still from the tent.
“I will if you please,” said Kozeltzoff.
“And will you have a drink, Osip Ignatievitch?” went on the voice in the tent, apparently addressing the sleeping commissioner. “You have slept enough; it's five o'clock.”
“Why do you worry me? I am not asleep,” answered a shrill, languid little voice.
“Come, get up! we find it stupid without you.”
And the commissary officer came out to his guests.
“Fetch some Simferopol porter!” he shouted.
A servant entered the booth, with a haughty expression of countenance, as it seemed to Volodya, and, having jostled Volodya, he drew forth the porter from beneath the bench.
The bottle of porter was soon emptied, and the conversation had proceeded in the same style for rather a long time when the flap of the tent flew open and out stepped a short, fresh-colored man, in a blue dressing-gown with tassels, in a cap with a red rim and a cockade. At the moment of his appearance, he was smoothing his small black moustache, and, with his gaze fixed on the rugs, he replied to the greetings of the officer with a barely perceptible movement of the shoulders.
“I will drink a small glassful too!” said he, seating himself by the table. “What is this, have you come from Petersburg, young man?” he said, turning courteously to Volodya.
“Yes, sir, I am on my way to Sevastopol.”
“Did you make the application yourself?”
“What queer tastes you have, gentlemen! I do not understand it!” continued the commissioner. “It strikes me that I should be ready just now to travel on foot to Petersburg, if I could get away. By Heavens, I am tired of this cursed life!”
“What is there about it that does not suit you?” said the elder Kozeltzoff, turning to him. “You're the very last person to complain of life here!”
The commissioner cast a look upon him, and then turned away.
“This danger, these privations, it is impossible to get anything here,” he continued, addressing Volodya. “And why you should take such a freak, gentlemen, I really cannot understand. If there were any advantages to be derived from it, but there is nothing of the sort. It would be a nice thing, now, wouldn't it, if you, at your age, were to be left a cripple for life!”
“Some need the money, and some serve for honor's sake!” said the elder Kozeltzoff, in a tone of vexation, joining the discussion once more.
“What's the good of honor, when there's nothing to eat!” said the commissioner with a scornful laugh, turning to the commissary, who also laughed at this. “Give us something from ‘Lucia’; we will listen,” he said, pointing to the music-box. “I love it.”
“Well, is that Vasíly Mikhaïlitch a fine man?” Volodya asked his brother when they emerged, at dusk, from the booth, and pursued their way to Sevastopol.
“Not at all; but such a niggard that it is a perfect terror! And I can't bear the sight of that commissioner, and I shall give him a thrashing one of these days.”
Volodya was not precisely out of sorts when, nearly at nightfall, they reached the great bridge over the bay, but he felt a certain heaviness at his heart. All that he had heard and seen was so little in consonance with the impressions which had recently passed away; the huge, light examination hall, with its polished floor, the kind and merry voices and laughter of his comrades, the new uniform, his beloved tsar, whom he had been accustomed to see for the last seven years, and who, when he took leave of them, had called them his children, with tears in his eyes,—and everything that he had seen so little resembled his very beautiful, rainbow-hued, magnificent dreams.
“Well, here we are at last!” said the elder brother, when they arrived at the Mikhaïlovsky battery, and dismounted from their cart. “If they let us pass the bridge, we will go directly to the Nikolaevsky barracks. You stay there until morning, and I will go to the regiment and find out where your battery is stationed, and to-morrow I will come for you.”
“But why? It would be better if we both went together,” said Volodya; “I will go to the bastion with you. It won't make any difference; I shall have to get used to it. If you go, then I can too.”
“Better not go.”
“No, if you please; I do know, at least, that....”
“My advice is, not to go; but if you choose....”
The sky was clear and dark; the stars, and the fires of the bombs in incessant movement and discharges, were gleaming brilliantly through the gloom. The large white building of the battery, and the beginning of the bridge stood out in the darkness. Literally, every second several discharges of artillery and explosions, following each other in quick succession or occurring simultaneously, shook the air with increasing thunder and distinctness. Through this roar, and as though repeating it, the melancholy dash of the waves was audible. A faint breeze was drawing in from the sea, and the air was heavy with moisture. The brothers stepped upon the bridge. A soldier struck his gun awkwardly against his arm, and shouted:—
“Who goes there?”
“The orders are not to let any one pass!”
“What of that! We have business! We must pass!”
“Ask the officer.”
The officer, who was drowsing as he sat on an anchor, rose up and gave the order to let them pass.
“You can go that way, but not this. Where are you driving to, all in a heap!” he cried to the transport wagons piled high with gabions, which had clustered about the entrance.
As they descended to the first pontoon, the brothers encountered soldiers who were coming thence, and talking loudly.
“If he has received his ammunition money, then he has squared his accounts in full—that's what it is!”
“Eh, brothers!” said another voice, “when you get over on the Severnaya you will see the world, by heavens! The air is entirely different.”
“You may say more!” said the first speaker. “A cursed shell flew in there the other day, and it tore the legs off of two sailors, so that....”
The brothers traversed the first pontoon, while waiting for the wagon, and halted on the second, which was already flooded with water in parts. The breeze, which had seemed weak inland, was very powerful here, and came in gusts; the bridge swayed to and fro, and the waves, beating noisily against the beams, and tearing at the cables and anchors, flooded the planks. At the right the gloomily hostile sea roared and darkled, as it lay separated by an interminable level black line from the starry horizon, which was light gray in its gleam; lights flashed afar on the enemy's fleet; on the left towered the black masts of one of our vessels, and the waves could be heard as they beat against her hull; a steamer was visible, as it moved noisily and swiftly from the Severnaya.
The flash of a bomb, as it burst near it, illuminated for a moment the lofty heaps of gabions on the deck, two men who were standing on it, and the white foam and the spurts of greenish waves, as the steamer ploughed through them. On the edge of the bridge, with his legs dangling in the water, sat a man in his shirt-sleeves, who was repairing something connected with the bridge. In front, over Sevastopol, floated the same fires, and the terrible sounds grew louder and louder. A wave rolled in from the sea, flowed over the right side of the bridge, and wet Volodya's feet; two soldiers passed them, dragging their feet through the water. Something suddenly burst with a crash and lighted up the bridge ahead of them, the wagon driving over it, and a man on horseback. The splinters fell into the waves with a hiss, and sent up the water in splashes.
“Ah, Mikhaïlo Semyónitch!” said the rider, stopping, reining in his horse in front of the elder Kozeltzoff, “have you fully recovered already?”
“As you see. Whither is God taking you?”
“To the Severnaya, for cartridges; I am on my way to the adjutant of the regiment ... we expect an assault to-morrow, at any hour.”
“And where is Martzoff?”
“He lost a leg yesterday; he was in the town, asleep in his room.... Perhaps you know it?”
“The regiment is in the fifth bastion, isn't it?”
“Yes; it has taken the place of the M—— regiment. Go to the field-hospital; some of our men are there, and they will show you the way.”
“Well, and are my quarters on the Morskaya still intact?”
“Why, my good fellow, they were smashed to bits long ago by the bombs. You will not recognize Sevastopol now; there's not a single woman there now, nor any inns nor music; the last establishment took its departure yesterday. It has become horribly dismal there now.... Farewell!”
And the officer rode on his way at a trot.
All at once, Volodya became terribly frightened; it seemed to him as though a cannon-ball or a splinter of bomb would fly in their direction, and strike him directly on the head. This damp darkness, all these sounds, especially the angry splashing of the waves, seemed to be saying to him that he ought not to go any farther, that nothing good awaited him yonder, that he would never again set foot on the ground upon this side of the bay, that he must turn about at once, and flee somewhere or other, as far as possible from this terrible haunt of death. “But perhaps it is too late now, everything is settled,” thought he, trembling partly at this thought and partly because the water had soaked through his boots and wet his feet.
Volodya heaved a deep sigh, and went a little apart from his brother.
“Lord, will they kill me—me in particular? Lord, have mercy on me!” said he, in a whisper, and he crossed himself.
“Come, Volodya, let us go on!” said the elder brother, when their little cart had driven upon the bridge. “Did you see that bomb?”
On the bridge, the brothers met wagons filled with the wounded, with gabions, and one loaded with furniture, which was driven by a woman. On the further side no one detained them.
Clinging instinctively to the walls of the Nikolaevsky battery, the brothers listened in silence to the noise of the bombs, exploding overhead, and to the roar of the fragments, showering down from above, and came to that spot in the battery where the image was. There they learned that the fifth light battery, to which Volodya had been assigned, was stationed on the Korabelnaya, and they decided that he should go, in spite of the danger, and pass the night with the elder in the fifth bastion, and that he should from there join his battery the next day. They turned into the corridor, stepping over the legs of the sleeping soldiers, who were lying all along the walls of the battery, and at last they arrived at the place where the wounded were attended to.
As they entered the first room, surrounded with cots on which lay the wounded, and permeated with that frightful and disgusting hospital odor, they met two Sisters of Mercy, who were coming to meet them.
One woman, of fifty, with black eyes, and a stern expression of countenance, was carrying bandages and lint, and was giving strict orders to a young fellow, an assistant surgeon, who was following her; the other, a very pretty girl of twenty, with a pale and delicate little fair face, gazed in an amiably helpless way from beneath her white cap, held her hands in the pockets of her apron, as she walked beside the elder woman, and seemed to be afraid to quit her side.
Kozeltzoff addressed to them the question whether they knew where Martzoff was—the man whose leg had been torn off on the day before.
“He belonged to the P—— regiment, did he not?” inquired the elder. “Is he a relative of yours?”
“No, a comrade.”
“Show them the way,” said she, in French, to the young sister. “Here, this way,” and she approached a wounded man, in company with the assistant.
“Come along; what are you staring at?” said Kozeltzoff to Volodya, who, with uplifted eyebrows and somewhat suffering expression of countenance, could not tear himself away, but continued to stare at the wounded. “Come, let us go.”
Volodya went off with his brother, still continuing to gaze about him, however, and repeating unconsciously:—
“Ah, my God! Ah, my God!”
“He has probably not been here long?” inquired the sister of Kozeltzoff, pointing at Volodya, who, groaning and sighing, followed them through the corridor.
“He has but just arrived.”
The pretty little sister glanced at Volodya, and suddenly burst out crying. “My God! my God! when will there be an end to all this?” she said, with the accents of despair. They entered the officer's hut. Martzoff was lying on his back, with his muscular arms, bare to the elbow, thrown over his head, and with the expression on his yellow face of a man who is clenching his teeth in order to keep from shrieking with pain. His whole leg, in its stocking, was thrust outside the coverlet, and it could be seen how he was twitching his toes convulsively inside it.
“Well, how goes it, how do you feel?” asked the sister, raising his bald head with her slender, delicate fingers, on one of which Volodya noticed a gold ring, and arranging his pillow. “Here are some of your comrades come to inquire after you.”
“Badly, of course,” he answered, angrily. “Let me alone! it's all right,”—the toes in his stocking moved more rapidly than ever. “How do you do? What is your name? Excuse me,” he said, turning to Kozeltzoff.... “Ah, yes, I beg your pardon! one forgets everything here,” he said, when the latter had mentioned his name. “You and I lived together,” he added, without the slightest expression of pleasure, glancing interrogatively at Volodya.
“This is my brother, who has just arrived from Petersburg to-day.”
“Hm! Here I have finished my service,” he said, with a frown. “Ah, how painful it is!... The best thing would be a speedy end.”
He drew up his leg, and covered his face with his hands, continuing to move his toes with redoubled swiftness.
“You must leave him,” said the sister, in a whisper, while the tears stood in her eyes; “he is in a very bad state.”
The brothers had already decided on the north side to go to the fifth bastion; but, on emerging from the Nikolaevsky battery, they seemed to have come to a tacit understanding not to subject themselves to unnecessary danger, and, without discussing the subject, they determined to go their ways separately.
“Only, how are you to find your way, Volodya?” said the elder. “However, Nikolaeff will conduct you to the Korabelnaya, and I will go my way alone, and will be with you to-morrow.”
Nothing more was said at this last leave-taking between the brothers.
The thunder of the cannon continued with the same power as before, but Yekaterinskaya street, along which Volodya walked, followed by the taciturn Nikolaeff, was quiet and deserted. All that he could see, through the thick darkness, was the wide street with the white walls of large houses, battered in many places, and the stone sidewalk beneath his feet; now and then, he met soldiers and officers. As he passed along the left side of the street, near the Admiralty building, he perceived, by the light of a bright fire burning behind the wall, the acacias planted along the sidewalk, with green guards beneath, and the wretchedly dusty leaves of these acacias.
He could plainly hear his own steps and those of Nikolaeff, who followed him, breathing heavily. He thought of nothing; the pretty little Sister of Mercy, Martzoff's leg with the toes twitching in its stocking, the bombs, the darkness, and divers pictures of death floated hazily through his mind. All his young and sensitive soul shrank together, and was borne down by his consciousness of loneliness, and the indifference of every one to his fate in the midst of danger.
“They will kill me, I shall be tortured, I shall suffer, and no one will weep.” And all this, instead of the hero's life, filled with energy and sympathy, of which he had cherished such glorious dreams. The bombs burst and shrieked nearer and ever nearer. Nikolaeff sighed more frequently, without breaking the silence. On crossing the bridge leading to the Korabelnaya, he saw something fly screaming into the bay, not far from him, which lighted up the lilac waves for an instant with a crimson glow, then disappeared, and threw on high a cloud of foam.
“See there, it was not put out!” said Nikolaeff, hoarsely.
“Yes,” answered Volodya, involuntarily, and quite unexpectedly to himself, in a thin, piping voice.
They encountered litters with wounded men, then more regimental transports with gabions; they met a regiment on Korabelnaya street; men on horseback passed them. One of them was an officer, with his Cossack. He was riding at a trot, but, on catching sight of Volodya, he reined in his horse near him, looked into his face, turned and rode on, giving the horse a blow of his whip.
“Alone, alone; it is nothing to any one whether I am in existence or not,” thought the lad, and he felt seriously inclined to cry.
After ascending the hill, past a high white wall, he entered a street of small ruined houses, incessantly illuminated by bombs. A drunken and dishevelled woman, who was coming out of a small door in company with a sailor, ran against him.
“If he were only a fine man,” she grumbled,—“Pardon, Your Honor the officer.”
The poor boy's heart sank lower and lower, and more and more frequently flashed the lightnings against the dark horizon, and the bombs screamed and burst about him with ever increasing frequency. Nikolaeff sighed, and all at once he began to speak, in what seemed to Volodya a frightened and constrained tone.
“What haste we made to get here from home. It was nothing but travelling. A pretty place to be in a hurry to get to!”
“What was to be done, if my brother was well again,” replied Volodya, in hope that he might banish by conversation the frightful feeling that was taking possession of him.
“Well, what sort of health is it when he is thoroughly ill! Those who are really well had better stay in the hospital at such a time. A vast deal of joy there is about it, isn't there? You will have a leg or an arm torn off, and that's all you will get! It's not far removed from a downright sin! And here in the town it's not at all like the bastion, and that is a perfect terror. You go and you say your prayers the whole way. Eh, you beast, there you go whizzing past!” he added, directing his attention to the sound of a splinter of shell whizzing by near them. “Now, here,” Nikolaeff went on, “I was ordered to show Your Honor the way. My business, of course, is to do as I am bid; but the cart has been abandoned to some wretch of a soldier, and the bundle is undone.... Go on and on; but if any of the property disappears, Nikolaeff will have to answer for it.”
After proceeding a few steps further, they came out on a square. Nikolaeff held his peace, but sighed.
“Yonder is your artillery, Your Honor!” he suddenly said. “Ask the sentinel; he will show you.”
And Volodya, after he had taken a few steps more, ceased to hear the sound of Nikolaeff's sighs behind him.
All at once, he felt himself entirely and finally alone. This consciousness of solitude in danger, before death, as it seemed to him, lay upon his heart like a terribly cold and heavy stone.
He halted in the middle of the square, glanced about him, to see whether he could catch sight of any one, grasped his head, and uttered his thought aloud in his terror:—“Lord! Can it be that I am a coward, a vile, disgusting, worthless coward ... can it be that I so lately dreamed of dying with joy for my father-land, my tsar? No, I am a wretched, an unfortunate, a wretched being!” And Volodya, with a genuine sentiment of despair and disenchantment with himself, inquired of the sentinel for the house of the commander of the battery, and set out in the direction indicated.
The residence of the commander of the battery, which the sentinel had pointed out to him, was a small, two-story house, with an entrance on the court-yard. In one of the windows, which was pasted over with paper, burned the feeble flame of a candle. A servant was seated on the porch, smoking his pipe; he went in and announced Volodya to the commander, and then led him in. In the room, between the two windows, and beneath a shattered mirror, stood a table, heaped with official documents, several chairs, and an iron bedstead, with a clean pallet, and a small bed-rug by its side.
Near the door stood a handsome man, with a large moustache,—a sergeant, in sabre and cloak, on the latter of which hung a cross and a Hungarian medal. Back and forth in the middle of the room paced a short staff-officer of forty, with swollen cheeks bound up, and dressed in a thin old coat.
“I have the honor to report myself, Cornet Kozeltzoff, 2d, ordered to the fifth light battery,” said Volodya, uttering the phrase which he had learned by heart, as he entered the room.
The commander of the battery responded dryly to his greeting, and, without offering his hand, invited him to be seated.
Volodya dropped timidly into a chair, beside the writing-table, and began to twist in his fingers the scissors, which his hand happened to light upon. The commander of the battery put his hands behind his back, and, dropping his head, pursued his walk up and down the room, in silence, only bestowing an occasional glance at the hands which were twirling the scissors, with the aspect of a man who is trying to recall something.
The battery commander was a rather stout man, with a large bald spot on the crown of his head, a thick moustache, which drooped straight down and concealed his mouth, and pleasant brown eyes. His hands were handsome, clean, and plump; his feet small and well turned, and they stepped out in a confident and rather dandified manner, proving that the commander was not a timid man.
“Yes,” he said, coming to a halt in front of the sergeant; “a measure must be added to the grain to-morrow, or our horses will be getting thin. What do you think?”
“Of course, it is possible to do so, Your Excellency! Oats are very cheap just now,” replied the sergeant, twitching his fingers, which he held on the seams of his trousers, but which evidently liked to assist in the conversation. “Our forage-master, Franchuk, sent me a note yesterday, from the transports, Your Excellency, saying that we should certainly be obliged to purchase oats; they say they are cheap. Therefore, what are your orders?”
“To buy, of course. He has money, surely.” And the commander resumed his tramp through the room. “And where are your things?” he suddenly inquired of Volodya, as he paused in front of him.
Poor Volodya was so overwhelmed by the thought that he was a coward, that he espied scorn for himself in every glance, in every word, as though they had been addressed to a pitiable poltroon. It seemed to him that the commander of the battery had already divined his secret, and was making sport of him. He answered, with embarrassment, that his effects were on the Grafskaya, and that his brother had promised to send them to him on the morrow.
But the lieutenant-colonel was not listening to him, and, turning to the sergeant, he inquired:—
“Where are we to put the ensign?”
“The ensign, sir?” said the sergeant, throwing Volodya into still greater confusion by the fleeting glance which he cast upon him, and which seemed to say, “What sort of an ensign is this?”—“He can be quartered downstairs, with the staff-captain, Your Excellency,” he continued, after a little reflection. “The captain is at the bastion just now, and his cot is empty.”
“Will that not suit you, temporarily?” said the commander.—“I think you must be tired, but we will lodge you better to-morrow.”
Volodya rose and bowed.
“Will you not have some tea?” said the commander, when he had already reached the door. “The samovár can be brought in.”
Volodya saluted and left the room. The lieutenant-colonel's servant conducted him downstairs, and led him into a bare, dirty chamber, in which various sorts of rubbish were lying about, and where there was an iron bedstead without either sheets or coverlet. A man in a red shirt was fast asleep on the bed, covered over with a thick cloak.
Volodya took him for a soldier.
“Piotr Nikolaïtch!” said the servant, touching the sleeper on the shoulder. “The ensign is to sleep here.... This is our yunker,” he added, turning to the ensign.
“Ah, don't trouble him, please,” said Volodya; but the yunker, a tall, stout, young man, with a handsome but very stupid face, rose from the bed, threw on his cloak, and, evidently not having had a good sleep, left the room.
“No matter; I'll lie down in the yard,” he growled out.
Left alone with his own thoughts, Volodya's first sensation was a fear of the incoherent, forlorn state of his own soul. He wanted to go to sleep, and forget all his surroundings, and himself most of all. He extinguished the candle, lay down on the bed, and, taking off his coat, he wrapped his head up in it, in order to relieve his terror of the darkness, with which he had been afflicted since his childhood. But all at once the thought occurred to him that a bomb might come and crush in the roof and kill him. He began to listen attentively; directly overhead, he heard the footsteps of the battery commander.
“Anyway, if it does come,” he thought, “it will kill any one who is upstairs first, and then me; at all events, I shall not be the only one.”
This thought calmed him somewhat.
“Well, and what if Sevastopol should be taken unexpectedly, in the night, and the French make their way hither? What am I to defend myself with?”
He rose once more, and began to pace the room. His terror of the actual danger outweighed his secret fear of the darkness. There was nothing heavy in the room except the samovár and a saddle. “I am a scoundrel, a coward, a miserable coward!” the thought suddenly occurred to him, and again he experienced that oppressive sensation of scorn and disgust, even for himself. Again he threw himself on the bed, and tried not to think.
Then the impressions of the day involuntarily penetrated his imagination, in consequence of the unceasing sounds, which made the glass in the solitary window rattle, and again the thought of danger recurred to him: now he saw visions of wounded men and blood, now of bombs and splinters, flying into the room, then of the pretty little Sister of Mercy, who was applying a bandage to him, a dying man, and weeping over him, then of his mother, accompanying him to the provincial town, and praying, amid burning tears, before the wonder-working images, and once more sleep appeared an impossibility to him.
But suddenly the thought of Almighty God, who can do all things, and who hears every supplication, came clearly into his mind. He knelt down, crossed himself, and folded his hands as he had been taught to do in his childhood, when he prayed. This gesture, all at once, brought back to him a consoling feeling, which he had long since forgotten.
“If I must die, if I must cease to exist, ‘thy will be done, Lord,’” he thought; “let it be quickly; but if bravery is needed, and the firmness which I do not possess, give them to me; deliver me from shame and disgrace, which I cannot bear, but teach me what to do in order to fulfil thy will.”
His childish, frightened, narrow soul was suddenly encouraged; it cleared up, and caught sight of broad, brilliant, and new horizons. During the brief period while this feeling lasted, he felt and thought many other things, and soon fell asleep quietly and unconcernedly, to the continuous sounds of the roar of the bombardment and the rattling of the window-panes.
Great Lord! thou alone hast heard, and thou alone knowest those ardent, despairing prayers of ignorance, of troubled repentance, those petitions for the healing of the body and the enlightenment of the mind, which have ascended to thee from that terrible precinct of death, from the general who, a moment before, was thinking of his cross of the George on his neck, and conscious in his terror of thy near presence, to the simple soldier writhing on the bare earth of the Nikolaevsky battery, and beseeching thee to bestow upon him there the reward, unconsciously presaged, for all his sufferings.
The elder Kozeltzoff, meeting on the street a soldier belonging to his regiment, betook himself at once, in company with the man, to the fifth bastion.
“Keep under the wall, Your Honor,” said the soldier.
“It's dangerous, Your Honor; there's one passing over,” said the soldier, listening to the sound of a screaming cannon-ball, which struck the dry road, on the other side of the street.
Kozeltzoff, paying no heed to the soldier, walked bravely along the middle of the street.
These were the same streets, the same fires, even more frequent now, the sounds, the groans, the encounters with the wounded, and the same batteries, breastworks, and trenches, which had been there in the spring, when he was last in Sevastopol; but, for some reason, all this was now more melancholy, and, at the same time, more energetic, the apertures in the houses were larger, there were no longer any lights in the windows, with the exception of the Kushtchin house (the hospital), not a woman was to be met with, the earlier tone of custom and freedom from care no longer rested over all, but, instead, a certain impress of heavy expectation, of weariness and earnestness.
But here is the last trench already, and here is the voice of a soldier of the P—— regiment, who has recognized the former commander of his company, and here stands the third battalion in the gloom, clinging close to the wall, and lighted up now and then, for a moment, by the discharges, and a sound of subdued conversation, and the rattling of guns.
“Where is the commander of the regiment?” inquired Kozeltzoff.
“In the bomb-proofs with the sailors, Your Honor,” replied the soldier, ready to be of service. “I will show you the way, if you like.”
From trench to trench the soldier led Kozeltzoff, to the small ditch in the trench. In the ditch sat a sailor, smoking his pipe; behind him a door was visible, through whose cracks shone a light.
“Can I enter?”
“I will announce you at once,” and the sailor went in through the door.
Two voices became audible on the other side of the door.
“If Prussia continues to observe neutrality,” said one voice, “then Austria also....”
“What difference does Austria make,” said the second, “when the Slavic lands ... well, ask him to come in.”
Kozeltzoff had never been in this casemate. He was struck by its elegance. The floor was of polished wood, screens shielded the door. Two bedsteads stood against the wall, in one corner stood a large ikon of the mother of God, in a gilt frame, and before her burned a rose-colored lamp.
On one of the beds, a naval officer, fully dressed, was sleeping. On the other, by a table upon which stood two bottles of wine, partly empty, sat the men who were talking—the new regimental commander and his adjutant.
Although Kozeltzoff was far from being a coward, and was certainly not guilty of any wrongdoing so far as his superior officers were concerned, nor towards the regimental commander, yet he felt timid before the colonel, who had been his comrade not long before, so proudly did this colonel rise and listen to him.
“It is strange,” thought Kozeltzoff, as he surveyed his commander, “it is only seven weeks since he took the regiment, and how visible already is his power as regimental commander, in everything about him—in his dress, his bearing, his look. Is it so very long,” thought he, “since this Batrishtcheff used to carouse with us, and he wore a cheap cotton shirt, and ate by himself, never inviting any one to his quarters, his eternal meat-balls and curd-patties? But now! and that expression of cold pride in his eyes, which says to you, ‘Though I am your comrade, because I am a regimental commander of the new school, yet, believe me, I am well aware that you would give half your life merely for the sake of being in my place!’”
“You have been a long time in recovering,” said the colonel to Kozeltzoff, coldly, with a stare.
“I was ill, colonel! The wound has not closed well even now.”
“Then there was no use in your coming,” said the colonel, casting an incredulous glance at the captain's stout figure. “You are, nevertheless, in a condition to fulfil your duty?”
“Certainly I am, sir.”
“Well I'm very glad of that, sir. You will take the ninth company from Ensign Zaitzoff—the one you had before; you will receive your orders immediately.”
“I obey, sir.”
“Take care to send me the regimental adjutant when you arrive,” said the regimental commander, giving him to understand, by a slight nod, that his audience was at an end.
On emerging from the casemate, Kozeltzoff muttered something several times, and shrugged his shoulders, as though pained, embarrassed, or vexed at something, and vexed, not at the regimental commander (there was no cause for that), but at himself, and he appeared to be dissatisfied with himself and with everything about him.
Before going to his officers, Kozeltzoff went to greet his company, and to see where it was stationed.
The breastwork of gabions, the shapes of the trenches, the cannons which he passed, even the fragments of shot, bombs, over which he stumbled in his path—all this, incessantly illuminated by the light of the firing, was well known to him, all this had engraved itself in vivid colors on his memory, three months before, during the two weeks which he had spent in this very bastion, without once leaving it. Although there was much that was terrible in these reminiscences, a certain charm of past things was mingled with it, and he recognized the familiar places and objects with pleasure, as though the two weeks spent there had been agreeable ones. The company was stationed along the defensive wall toward the sixth bastion.
Kozeltzoff entered the long casemate, utterly unprotected at the entrance side, in which they had told him that the ninth company was stationed. There was, literally, no room to set his foot in the casemate, so filled was it, from the very entrance, with soldiers. On one side burned a crooked tallow candle, which a recumbent soldier was holding to illuminate the book which another one was spelling out slowly. Around the candle, in the reeking half-light, heads were visible, eagerly raised in strained attention to the reader. The little book in question was a primer. As Kozeltzoff entered the casemate, he heard the following:
“Pray-er af-ter lear-ning. I thank Thee, Crea-tor ...”
“Snuff that candle!” said a voice. “That's a splendid book.” “My ... God ...” went on the reader.
When Kozeltzoff asked for the sergeant, the reader stopped, the soldiers began to move about, coughed, and blew their noses, as they always do after enforced silence. The sergeant rose near the group about the reader, buttoning up his coat as he did so, and stepping over and on the feet of those who had no room to withdraw them, and came forward to his officer.
“How are you, brother? Do all these belong to our company?”
“I wish you health! Welcome on your return, Your Honor!” replied the sergeant, with a cheerful and friendly look at Kozeltzoff. “Has Your Honor recovered your health? Well, God be praised. It has been very dull for us without you.”
It was immediately apparent that Kozeltzoff was beloved in the company.
In the depths of the casemate, voices could be heard. Their old commander, who had been wounded, Mikhaïl Semyónitch Kozeltzoff, had arrived, and so forth; some even approached, and the drummer congratulated him.
“How are you, Obantchuk?” said Kozeltzoff. “Are you all right? Good-day, children!” he said, raising his voice.
“We wish you health!” sounded through the casemate.
“How are you getting on, children?”
“Badly, Your Honor. The French are getting the better of us.—Fighting from behind the fortifications is bad work, and that's all there is about it! and they won't come out into the open field.”
“Perhaps luck is with me, and God will grant that they shall come out into the field, children!” said Kozeltzoff. “It won't be the first time that you and I have taken a hand together: we'll beat them again.”
“We'll be glad to try it, Your Honor!” exclaimed several voices.
“And how about them—are they really bold?”
“Frightfully bold!” said the drummer, not loudly, but so that his words were audible, turning to another soldier, as though justifying before him the words of the commander, and persuading him that there was nothing boastful or improbable in these words.
From the soldiers, Kozeltzoff proceeded to the defensive barracks and his brother officers.
In the large room of the barracks there was a great number of men; naval, artillery, and infantry officers. Some were sleeping, others were conversing, seated on the shot-chests and gun-carriages of the cannons of the fortifications; others still, who formed a very numerous and noisy group behind the arch, were seated upon two felt rugs, which had been spread on the floor, and were drinking porter and playing cards.
“Ah! Kozeltzoff, Kozeltzoff! Capital! it's a good thing that he has come! He's a brave fellow!... How's your wound?” rang out from various quarters. Here also it was evident that they loved him and were rejoiced at his coming.
After shaking hands with his friends, Kozeltzoff joined the noisy group of officers engaged in playing cards. There were some of his acquaintances among them. A slender, handsome, dark-complexioned man, with a long, sharp nose and a huge moustache, which began on his cheeks, was dealing the cards with his thin, white, taper fingers, on one of which there was a heavy gold seal ring. He was dealing straight on, and carelessly, being evidently excited by something,—and merely desirous of making a show of heedlessness. On his right, and beside him, lay a gray-haired major, supporting himself on his elbow, and playing for half a ruble with affected coolness, and settling up immediately. On his left squatted an officer with a red, perspiring face, who was laughing and jesting in a constrained way. When his cards won, he moved one hand about incessantly in his empty trousers pocket. He was playing high, and evidently no longer for ready money, which displeased the handsome, dark-complexioned man. A thin and pallid officer with a bald head, and a huge nose and mouth, was walking about the room, holding a large package of bank-notes in his hand, staking ready money on the bank, and winning.
Kozeltzoff took a drink of vodka, and sat down by the players.
“Take a hand, Mikhaïl Semyónitch!” said the dealer to him; “you have brought lots of money, I suppose.”
“Where should I get any money! On the contrary, I got rid of the last I had in town.”
“The idea! Some one certainly must have fleeced you in Simpferopol.”
“I really have but very little,” said Kozeltzoff, but he was evidently desirous that they should not believe him; then he unbuttoned his coat, and took the old cards in his hand.
“I don't care if I do try; there's no knowing what the Evil One will do! queer things do come about at times. But I must have a drink, to get up my courage.”
And within a very short space of time he had drunk another glass of vodka and several of porter, and had lost his last three rubles.
A hundred and fifty rubles were written down against the little, perspiring officer.
“No, he will not bring them,” said he, carelessly, drawing a fresh card.
“Try to send it,” said the dealer to him, pausing a moment in his occupation of laying out the cards, and glancing at him.
“Permit me to send it to-morrow,” repeated the perspiring officer, rising, and moving his hand about vigorously in his empty pocket.
“Hm!” growled the dealer, and, throwing the cards angrily to the right and left, he completed the deal. “But this won't do,” said he, when he had dealt the cards. “I'm going to stop. It won't do, Zakhár Ivánitch,” he added, “we have been playing for ready money and not on credit.”
“What, do you doubt me? That's strange, truly!”
“From whom is one to get anything?” muttered the major, who had won about eight rubles. “I have lost over twenty rubles, but when I have won—I get nothing.”
“How am I to pay,” said the dealer, “when there is no money on the table?”
“I won't listen to you!” shouted the major, jumping up, “I am playing with you, but not with him.”
All at once the perspiring officer flew into a rage.
“I tell you that I will pay to-morrow; how dare you say such impertinent things to me?”
“I shall say what I please! This is not the way to do—that's the truth!” shouted the major.
“That will do, Feódor Feodoritch!” all chimed in, holding back the major.
But let us draw a veil over this scene. To-morrow, to-day, it may be, each one of these men will go cheerfully and proudly to meet his death, and he will die with firmness and composure; but the one consolation of life in these conditions, which terrify even the coldest imagination in the absence of all that is human, and the hopelessness of any escape from them, the one consolation is forgetfulness, the annihilation of consciousness. At the bottom of the soul of each lies that noble spark, which makes of him a hero; but this spark wearies of burning clearly—when the fateful moment comes it flashes up into a flame, and illuminates great deeds.
On the following day, the bombardment proceeded with the same vigor. At eleven o'clock in the morning, Volodya Kozeltzoff was seated in a circle of battery officers, and, having already succeeded to some extent in habituating himself to them, he was surveying the new faces, taking observations, making inquiries, and telling stories.
The discreet conversation of the artillery officers, which made some pretensions to learning, pleased him and inspired him with respect. Volodya's shy, innocent, and handsome appearance disposed the officers in his favor.
The eldest officer in the battery, the captain, a short, sandy-complexioned man, with his hair arranged in a topknot, and smooth on the temples, educated in the old traditions of the artillery, a squire of dames, and a would-be learned man, questioned Volodya as to his acquirements in artillery and new inventions, jested caressingly over his youth and his pretty little face, and treated him, in general, as a father treats a son, which was extremely agreeable to Volodya.
Sub-Lieutenant Dyadenko, a young officer, who talked with a Little Russian accent, had a tattered cloak and dishevelled hair, although he talked very loudly, and constantly seized opportunities to dispute acrimoniously over some topic, and was very abrupt in his movements, pleased Volodya, who, beneath this rough exterior, could not help detecting in him a very fine and extremely good man. Dyadenko was incessantly offering his services to Volodya, and pointing out to him that not one of the guns in Sevastopol was properly placed, according to rule.
Lieutenant Tchernovitzky, with his brows elevated on high, though he was more courteous than any of the rest, and dressed in a coat that was tolerably clean, but not new, and carefully patched, and though he displayed a gold watch-chain on a satin waistcoat, did not please Volodya. He kept inquiring what the Emperor and the minister of war were doing, and related to him, with unnatural triumph, the deeds of valor which had been performed in Sevastopol, complained of the small number of true patriots, and displayed a great deal of learning, and sense, and noble feeling in general; but, for some reason, all this seemed unpleasant and unnatural to Volodya. The principal thing which he noticed was that the other officers hardly spoke to Tchernovitzky.
Yunker Vlang, whom he had waked up on the preceding evening, was also there. He said nothing, but, seated modestly in a corner, laughed when anything amusing occurred, refreshed their memories when they forgot anything, handed the vodka, and made cigarettes for all the officers. Whether it was the modest, courteous manners of Volodya, who treated him exactly as he did the officers, and did not torment him as though he were a little boy, or his agreeable personal appearance which captivated Vlanga, as the soldiers called him, declining his name, for some reason or other, in the feminine gender, at all events, he never took his big, kind eyes from the face of the new officer. He divined and anticipated all his wishes, and remained uninterruptedly in a sort of lover-like ecstasy, which, of course, the officers perceived, and made fun of.
Before dinner, the staff-captain was relieved from the battery, and joined their company. Staff-Captain Kraut was a light-complexioned, handsome, dashing officer, with a heavy, reddish moustache, and side-whiskers; he spoke Russian capitally, but too elegantly and correctly for a Russian. In the service and in his life, he had been the same as in his language; he served very well, was a capital comrade, and the most faithful of men in money matters; but simply as a man something was lacking in him, precisely because everything about him was so excellent. Like all Russian-Germans, by a strange contradiction with the ideal German, he was “praktisch” to the highest degree.
“Here he is, our hero makes his appearance!” said the captain, as Kraut, flourishing his arms and jingling his spurs, entered the room. “Which will you have, Friedrich Krestyanitch, tea or vodka?”
“I have already ordered my tea to be served,” he answered, “but I may take a little drop of vodka also, for the refreshing of the soul. Very glad to make your acquaintance; I beg that you will love us, and lend us your favor,” he said to Volodya, who rose and bowed to him. “Staff-Captain Kraut.... The gun-sergeant on the bastion informed me that you arrived last night.”
“Much obliged for your bed; I passed the night in it.”
“I hope you found it comfortable? One of the legs is broken; but no one can stand on ceremony—in time of siege—you must prop it up.”
“Well, now, did you have a fortunate time on your watch?” asked Dyadenko.
“Yes, all right; only Skvortzoff was hit, and we mended one of the gun-carriages last night. The cheek was smashed to atoms.”
He rose from his seat, and began to walk up and down; it was plain that he was wholly under the influence of that agreeable sensation which a man experiences who has just escaped a danger.
“Well, Dmitri Gavrilitch,” he said, tapping the captain on the knee, “how are you getting on, my dear fellow? How about your promotion?—no word yet?”
“No, and there will be nothing,” interpolated Dyadenko: “I proved that to you before.”
“Why won't there?”
“Because the story was not properly written down.”
“Oh, you quarrelsome fellow, you quarrelsome fellow!” said Kraut, smiling gayly; “a regular obstinate Little Russian! Now, just to provoke you, he'll turn out your lieutenant.”
“No, he won't.”
“Vlang! fetch me my pipe, and fill it,” said he, turning to the yunker, who at once hastened up obligingly with the pipe.
Kraut made them all lively; he told about the bombardment, he inquired what had been going on in his absence, and entered into conversation with every one.
“Well, how are things? Have you already got settled among us?” Kraut asked Volodya.... “Excuse me, what is your name and patronymic? that's the custom with us in the artillery, you know. Have you got hold of a saddle-horse?”
“No,” said Volodya; “I do not know what to do. I told the captain that I had no horse, and no money, either, until I get some for forage and travelling expenses. I want to ask the battery commander for a horse in the meantime, but I am afraid that he will refuse me.”
“Apollon Sergiéitch, do you mean?” he produced with his lips a sound indicative of the strongest doubt, and glanced at the captain; “not likely.”
“What's that? If he does refuse, there'll be no harm done,” said the captain. “There are horses, to tell the truth, which are not needed, but still one might try; I will inquire to-day.”
“What! Don't you know him?” Dyadenko interpolated. “He might refuse anything, but there is no reason for refusing this. Do you want to bet on it?...”
“Well, of course, everybody knows already that you always contradict.”
“I contradict because I know. He is niggardly about other things, but he will give the horse because it is no advantage to him to refuse.”
“No advantage, indeed, when it costs him eight rubles here for oats!” said Kraut. “Is there no advantage in not keeping an extra horse?”
“Ask Skvoretz yourself, Vladímir Semyónitch!” said Vlang, returning with Kraut's pipe. “It's a capital horse.”
“The one you tumbled into the ditch with, on the festival of the forty martyrs, in March? Hey! Vlang?” remarked the staff-captain.
“No, and why should you say that it costs eight rubles for oats,” pursued Dyadenko, “when his own inquiries show him that it is ten and a half; of course, he has no object in it.”
“Just as though he would have nothing left! So when you get to be battery commander, you won't let any horses go into the town?”
“When I get to be battery commander, my dear fellow, my horses will get four measures of oats to eat, and I shall not accumulate an income, never fear!”
“If we live, we shall see,” said the staff-captain; “and you will act just so, and so will he when he commands a battery,” he added, pointing at Volodya.
“Why do you think, Friedrich Krestyanitch, that he would turn it to his profit?” broke in Tchernovitzky. “Perhaps he has property of his own; then why should he turn it to profit?”
“No, sir, I ... excuse me, captain,” said Volodya, reddening up to his ears, “that strikes me as insulting.”
“Oh ho, ho! What a madcap he is!” said Kraut.
“That has nothing to do with it; I only think that if the money were not mine, I should not take it.”
“Now, I'll tell you something right here, young man,” began the staff-captain in a more serious tone, “you are to understand that when you command a battery, if you manage things well, that's sufficient; the commander of a battery does not meddle with provisioning the soldiers; that is the way it has been from time immemorial in the artillery. If you are a bad manager, you will have nothing left. Now, these are the expenditures in conformity with your position: for shoeing your horse,—one (he closed one finger); for the apothecary,—two (he closed another finger); for office work,—three (he shut a third); for extra horses, which cost five hundred rubles, my dear fellow,—that's four; you must change the soldiers' collars, you will use a great deal of coal, you must keep open table for your officers. If you are a battery-commander, you must live decently; you need a carriage, and a fur coat, and this thing and that thing, and a dozen more ... but what's the use of enumerating them all!”
“But this is the principal thing, Vladímir Semyónitch,” interpolated the captain, who had held his peace all this time; “imagine yourself to be a man who, like myself, for instance, has served twenty years, first for two hundred, then for three hundred rubles pay; why should he not be given at least a bit of bread, against his old age?”
“Eh! yes, there you have it!” spoke up the staff-captain again, “don't be in a hurry to pronounce judgment, but live on and serve your time.”
Volodya was horribly ashamed and sorry for having spoken so thoughtlessly, and he muttered something and continued to listen in silence, when Dyadenko undertook, with the greatest zeal, to dispute it and to prove the contrary.
The dispute was interrupted by the arrival of the colonel's servant, who summoned them to dinner.
“Tell Apollon Sergiéitch that he must give us some wine to-day,” said Tchernovitzky, to the captain, as he buttoned up his uniform.—“Why is he so stingy with it? He will be killed, and no one will get the good of it.”
“Tell him yourself.”
“Not a bit of it. You are my superior officer. Rank must be regarded in all things.”
The table had been moved out from the wall, and spread with a soiled table-cloth, in the same room in which Volodya had presented himself to the colonel on the preceding evening. The battery commander now offered him his hand, and questioned him about Petersburg and his journey.
“Well, gentlemen, I beg the favor of a glass with any of you who drink vodka. The ensigns do not drink,” he added, with a smile.
On the whole, the battery commander did not appear nearly so stern to-day as he had on the preceding evening; on the contrary, he had the appearance of a kindly, hospitable host, and an elder comrade among the officers. But, in spite of this, all the officers, from the old captain down to Ensign Dyadenko, by their very manner of speaking and looking the commander straight in the eye, as they approached, one after the other, to drink their vodka, exhibited great respect for him.
The dinner consisted of a large wooden bowl of cabbage-soup, in which floated fat chunks of beef, and a huge quantity of pepper and laurel-leaves, mustard, and Polish meat-balls in a cabbage leaf, turnover patties of chopped meat and dough, and with butter, which was not perfectly fresh. There were no napkins, the spoons were of pewter and wood, there were only two glasses, and on the table stood a decanter of water with a broken neck; but the dinner was not dull; conversation never halted.
At first, their talk turned on the battle of Inkerman, in which the battery had taken part, as to the causes of failure, of which each one gave his own impressions and ideas, and held his tongue as soon as the battery commander himself began to speak; then the conversation naturally changed to the insufficiency of calibre of the light guns, and upon the new lightened cannons, in which connection Volodya had an opportunity to display his knowledge of artillery.
But their talk did not dwell upon the present terrible position of Sevastopol, as though each of them had meditated too much on that subject to allude to it again. In the same way, to Volodya's great amazement and disappointment, not a word was said about the duties of the service which he was to fulfil, just as though he had come to Sevastopol merely for the purpose of telling about the new cannon and dining with the commander of the battery.
While they were at dinner, a bomb fell not far from the house in which they were seated. The walls and the floor trembled, as though in an earthquake, and the window was obscured with the smoke of the powder.
“You did not see anything of this sort in Petersburg, I fancy; but these surprises often take place here,” said the battery commander.
“Look out, Vlang, and see where it burst.”
Vlang looked, and reported that it had burst on the square, and then there was nothing more said about the bomb.
Just before the end of the dinner, an old man, the clerk of the battery, entered the room, with three sealed envelopes, and handed them to the commander.
“This is very important; a messenger has this moment brought these from the chief of the artillery.”
All the officers gazed, with impatient curiosity, at the commander's practised fingers as they broke the seal of the envelope and drew forth the very important paper. “What can it be?” each one asked himself.
It might be that they were to march out of Sevastopol for a rest, it might be an order for the whole battery to betake themselves to the bastions.
“Again!” said the commander, flinging the paper angrily on the table.
“What's it about, Apollon Sergiéitch?” inquired the eldest officer.
“An officer and crew are required for a mortar battery over yonder, and I have only four officers, and there is not a full gun-crew in the line,” growled the commander: “and here more are demanded of me. But some one must go, gentlemen,” he said, after a brief pause: “the order requires him to be at the barrier at seven o'clock.... Send the sergeant! Who is to go, gentlemen? decide,” he repeated.
“Well, here's one who has never been yet,” said Tchernovitzky, pointing to Volodya. The commander of the battery made no reply.
“Yes, I should like to go,” said Volodya, as he felt the cold sweat start out on his back and neck.
“No; why should you? There's no occasion!” broke in the captain. “Of course, no one will refuse, but neither is it proper to ask any one; but if Apollon Sergiéitch will permit us, we will draw lots, as we did once before.”
All agreed to this. Kraut cut some paper into bits, folded them up, and dropped them into a cap. The captain jested, and even plucked up the audacity, on this occasion, to ask the colonel for wine, to keep up their courage, he said. Dyadenko sat in gloomy silence, Volodya smiled at something or other, Tchernovitzky declared that it would infallibly fall to him, Kraut was perfectly composed.
Volodya was allowed to draw first; he took one slip, which was rather long, but it immediately occurred to him to change it; he took another, which was smaller and thinner, unfolded it, and read on it, “I go.”
“It has fallen to me,” he said, with a sigh.
“Well, God be with you. You will get your baptism of fire at once,” said the commander of the battery, gazing at the perturbed countenance of the ensign with a kindly smile; “but you must get there as speedily as possible. And, to make it more cheerful for you, Vlang shall go with you as gun-sergeant.”
Vlang was exceedingly well pleased with the duty assigned to him, and ran hastily to make his preparations, and, when he was dressed, he went to the assistance of Volodya, and tried to persuade the latter to take his cot and fur coat with him, and some old “Annals of the Country,” and a spirit-lamp coffee-pot, and other useless things. The captain advised Volodya to read up his “Manual,”[L] first, about mortar-firing, and immediately to copy the tables out of it.
Volodya set about this at once, and, to his amazement and delight, he perceived that, though he was still somewhat troubled with a sensation of fear of danger, and still more lest he should turn out a coward, yet it was far from being to that degree to which it had affected him on the preceding evening. The reason for this lay partly in the daylight and in active occupation, and partly, principally, also, in the fact that fear and all powerful emotions cannot long continue with the same intensity. In a word, he had already succeeded in recovering from his terror.
At seven o'clock, just as the sun had begun to hide itself behind the Nikolaevsky barracks, the sergeant came to him, and announced that the men were ready and waiting for him.
“I have given the list to Vlanga. You will please to ask him for it, Your Honor!” said he.
Twenty artillery-men, with side-arms, but without loading-tools, were standing at the corner of the house. Volodya and the yunker stepped up to them.
“Shall I make them a little speech, or shall I simply say, ‘Good day, children!’ or shall I say nothing at all?” thought he. “And why should I not say, ‘Good day, children!’ Why, I ought to say that much!” And he shouted boldly, in his ringing voice:—
“Good day, children!”
The soldiers responded cheerfully. The fresh, young voice sounded pleasant in the ears of all. Volodya marched vigorously at their head, in front of the soldiers, and, although his heart beat as if he had run several versts at the top of his speed, his step was light and his countenance cheerful.
On arriving at the Malakoff mound, and climbing the slope, he perceived that Vlang, who had not lagged a single pace behind him, and who had appeared such a valiant fellow at home in the house, kept constantly swerving to one side, and ducking his head, as though all the cannon-balls and bombs, which whizzed by very frequently in that locality, were flying straight at him. Some of the soldiers did the same, and the faces of the majority of them betrayed, if not fear, at least anxiety. This circumstance put the finishing touch to Volodya's composure and encouraged him finally.
“So here I am also on the Malakoff mound, which I imagined to be a thousand times more terrible! And I can walk along without ducking my head before the bombs, and am far less terrified than the rest! So I am not a coward, after all?” he thought with delight, and even with a somewhat enthusiastic self-sufficiency.
But this feeling was soon shaken by a spectacle upon which he stumbled in the twilight, on the Kornilovsky battery, in his search for the commander of the bastion. Four sailors standing near the breastworks were holding the bloody body of a man, without shoes or coat, by its arms and legs, and staggering as they tried to fling it over the ramparts.
(On the second day of the bombardment, it had been found impossible, in some localities, to carry off the corpses from the bastions, and so they were flung into the trench, in order that they might not impede action in the batteries.)
Volodya stood petrified for a moment, as he saw the corpse waver on the summit of the breastworks, and then roll down into the ditch; but, luckily for him, the commander of the bastion met him there, communicated his orders, and furnished him with a guide to the battery and to the bomb-proofs designated for his service. We will not enumerate the remaining dangers and disenchantments which our hero underwent that evening: how, instead of the firing, such as he had seen on the Volkoff field, according to the rules of accuracy and precision, which he had expected to find here, he found two cracked mortars, one of which had been crushed by a cannon-ball in the muzzle, while the other stood upon the splinters of a ruined platform; how he could not obtain any workmen until the following morning in order to repair the platform; how not a single charge was of the weight prescribed in the “Manual;” how two soldiers of his command were wounded, and how he was twenty times within a hair's-breadth of death.
Fortunately, there had been assigned for his assistant a gun-captain of gigantic size, a sailor, who had served on the mortars since the beginning of the siege, and who convinced him of the practicability of using them, conducted him all over the bastion, with a lantern, during the night, exactly as though it had been his own kitchen-garden, and who promised to put everything in proper shape on the morrow.
The bomb-proof to which his guide conducted him was excavated in the rocky soil, and consisted of a long hole, two cubic fathoms in extent, covered with oaken planks an arshin in thickness. Here he took up his post, with all his soldiers. Vlang was the first, when he caught sight of the little door, twenty-eight inches high, of the bomb-proof, to rush headlong into it, in front of them all, and, after nearly cracking his skull on the stone floor, he huddled down in a corner, from which he did not again emerge.
And Volodya, when all the soldiers had placed themselves along the wall on the floor, and some had lighted their pipes, set up his bed in one corner, lighted a candle, and lay upon his cot, smoking a cigarette.
Shots were incessantly heard, over the bomb-proof, but they were not very loud, with the exception of those from one cannon, which stood close by and shook the bomb-proof with its thunder. In the bomb-proof itself all was still; the soldiers, who were a little shy, as yet, of the new officer, only exchanged a few words, now and then, as they requested each other to move out of the way or to furnish a light for a pipe. A rat scratched somewhere among the stones, or Vlang, who had not yet recovered himself, and who still gazed wildly about him, uttered a sudden vigorous sigh.
Volodya, as he lay on his bed, in his quiet corner, surrounded by the men, and illuminated only by a single candle, experienced that sensation of well-being which he had known as a child, when, in the course of a game of hide-and-seek, he used to crawl into a cupboard or under his mother's skirts, and listen, not daring to draw his breath, and afraid of the dark, and yet conscious of enjoying himself. He felt a little oppressed, but cheerful.
After the lapse of about ten minutes, the soldiers began to change about and to converse together. The most important personages among them—the two gun-sergeants—placed themselves nearest the officer's light and bed;—one was old and gray-haired, with every possible medal and cross except the George;—the other was young, a militia-man, who smoked cigarettes, which he was rolling. The drummer, as usual, assumed the duty of waiting on the officer. The bombardiers and cavalrymen sat next, and then farther away, in the shadow of the entrance, the underlings took up their post. They too began to talk among themselves. It was caused by the hasty entrance of a man into the casemate.
“How now, brother! couldn't you stay in the street? Didn't the girls sing merrily?” said a voice.
“They sing such marvellous songs as were never heard in the village,” said the man who had fled into the casemate, with a laugh.
“But Vasin does not love bombs—ah, no, he does not love them!” said one from the aristocratic corner.
“The idea! It's quite another matter when it's necessary,” drawled the voice of Vasin, who made all the others keep silent when he spoke: “since the 24th, the firing has been going on desperately; and what is there wrong about it? You'll get killed for nothing, and your superiors won't so much as say ‘Thank you!’ for it.”
At these words of Vasin, all burst into a laugh.
“There's Melnikoff, that fellow who will sit outside the door,” said some one.
“Well, send him here, that Melnikoff,” added the old gunner; “they will kill him, for a fact, and that to no purpose.”
“Who is this Melnikoff?” asked Volodya.
“Why, Your Honor, he's a stupid soldier of ours. He doesn't seem to be afraid of anything, and now he keeps walking about outside. Please to take a look at him; he looks like a bear.”
“He knows a spell,” said the slow voice of Vasin, from the corner.
Melnikoff entered the bomb-proof. He was fat (which is extremely rare among soldiers), and a sandy-complexioned, handsome man, with a huge, bulging forehead and prominent, light blue eyes.
“Are you afraid of the bombs?” Volodya asked him.
“What is there about the bombs to be afraid of!” replied Melnikoff, shrugging his shoulders and scratching his head, “I know that I shall not be killed by a bomb.”
“So you would like to go on living here?”
“Why, of course, I would. It's jolly here!” he said, with a sudden outburst of laughter.
“Oh, then you must be detailed for the sortie! I'll tell the general so, if you like?” said Volodya, although he was not acquainted with a single general there.
“Why shouldn't I like! I do!”
And Melnikoff disappeared behind the others.
“Let's have a game of noski,[M] children! Who has cards?” rang out his brisk voice.
And, in fact, it was not long before a game was started in the back corner, and blows on the nose, laughter, and calling of trumps were heard.
Volodya drank some tea from the samovár, which the drummer served for him, treated the gunners, jested, chatted with them, being desirous of winning popularity, and felt very well content with the respect which was shown him. The soldiers, too, perceiving that the gentleman put on no airs, began to talk together.
One declared that the siege of Sevastopol would soon come to an end, because a trustworthy man from the fleet had said that the emperor's brother Constantine was coming to our relief with the 'Merican fleet, and there would soon be an agreement that there should be no firing for two weeks, and that a rest should be allowed, and if any one did fire a shot, every discharge would have to be paid for at the rate of seventy-five kopeks each.
Vasin, who, as Volodya had already noticed, was a little fellow, with large, kindly eyes, and side-whiskers, related, amid a general silence at first, and afterwards amid general laughter, how, when he had gone home on leave, they had been glad at first to see him, but afterwards his father had begun to send him off to work, and the lieutenant of the foresters' corps sent his drozhki for his wife.
All this amused Volodya greatly. He not only did not experience the least fear or inconvenience from the closeness and heavy air in the bomb-proof, but he felt in a remarkably cheerful and agreeable frame of mind.
Many of the soldiers were already snoring. Vlang had also stretched himself out on the floor, and the old gun-sergeant, having spread out his cloak, was crossing himself and muttering his prayers, preparatory to sleep, when Volodya took a fancy to step out of the bomb-proof, and see what was going on outside.
“Take your legs out of the way!” cried one soldier to another, as soon as he rose, and the legs were pressed aside to make way for him.
Vlang, who appeared to be asleep, suddenly raised his head, and seized Volodya by the skirt of his coat.
“Come, don't go! how can you!” he began, in a tearfully imploring tone. “You don't know about things yet; they are firing at us out there all the time; it is better here.”
But, in spite of Vlang's entreaties, Volodya made his way out of the bomb-proof, and seated himself on the threshold, where Melnikoff was already sitting.
The air was pure and fresh, particularly after the bomb-proof—the night was clear and still. Through the roar of the discharges could be heard the sounds of cart-wheels, bringing gabions, and the voices of the men who were at work on the magazine. Above their heads was the lofty, starry sky, across which flashed the fiery streaks caused by the bombs; an arshin away, on the left, a tiny opening led to another bomb-proof, through which the feet and backs of the soldiers who lived there were visible, and through which their voices were audible; in front, the elevation produced by the powder-vault could be seen, and athwart it flitted the bent figures of men, and upon it, at the very summit, amid the bullets and the bombs which whistled past the spot incessantly, stood a tall form in a black paletot, with his hands in his pockets, and feet treading down the earth, which other men were fetching in sacks. Often a bomb would fly over, and burst close to the cave. The soldiers engaged in bringing the earth bent over and ran aside; but the black figure never moved; went on quietly stamping down the dirt with his feet, and remained on the spot in the same attitude as before.
“Who is that black man?” inquired Volodya of Melnikoff.
“I don't know; I will go and see.”
“Don't go! it is not necessary.”
But Melnikoff, without heeding him, walked up to the black figure, and stood beside him for a tolerably long time, as calm and immovable as the man himself.
“That is the man who has charge of the magazine, Your Honor!” he said, on his return. “It has been pierced by a bomb, so the infantry-men are fetching more earth.”
Now and then, a bomb seemed to fly straight at the door of the bomb-proof. On such occasions, Volodya shrank into the corner, and then peered forth again, gazing upwards, to see whether another was not coming from some direction. Although Vlang, from the interior of the bomb-proof, repeatedly besought Volodya to come back, the latter sat on the threshold for three hours, and experienced a sort of satisfaction in thus tempting fate and in watching the flight of the bombs. Towards the end of the evening, he had learned from what point most of the firing proceeded, and where the shots struck.
On the following day, the 27th, after a ten-hours sleep, Volodya, fresh and active, stepped out on the threshold of the casement; Vlang also started to crawl out with him, but, at the first sound of a bullet, he flung himself backwards through the opening of the bomb-proof, bumping his head as he did so, amid the general merriment of the soldiers, the majority of whom had also come out into the open air. Vlang, the old gun-sergeant, and a few others were the only ones who rarely went out into the trenches; it was impossible to restrain the rest; they all scattered about in the fresh morning air, escaping from the fetid air of the bomb-proof, and, in spite of the fact that the bombardment was as vigorous as on the preceding evening, they disposed themselves around the door, and some even on the breastworks. Melnikoff had been strolling about among the batteries since daybreak, and staring up with perfect coolness.
Near the entrance sat two old soldiers and one young, curly-haired fellow, a Jew, who had been detailed from the infantry. This soldier picked up one of the bullets which were lying about, and, having smoothed it against a stone with a potsherd, with his knife he carved from it a cross, after the style of the order of St. George; the others looked on at his work as they talked. The cross really turned out to be quite handsome.
“Now, if we stay here much longer,” said one of them, “then, when peace is made, the time of service will be up for all of us.”
“Nothing of the sort; I have at least four years service yet before my time is up, and I have been in Sevastopol these five months.”
“It is not counted towards the discharge, do you understand,” said another.
At that moment, a cannon-ball shrieked over the heads of the speakers, and struck only an arshin away from Melnikoff, who was approaching them from the trenches.
“That came near killing Melnikoff,” said one man.
“I shall not be killed,” said Melnikoff.
“Here's the cross for you, for your bravery,” said the young soldier, who had made the cross, handing it to Melnikoff.
“No, brother, a month here counts for a year, of course—that was the order,” the conversation continued.
“Think what you please, but when peace is declared, there will be an imperial review at Orshava, and if we don't get our discharge, we shall be allowed to go on indefinite leave.”
At that moment, a shrieking little bullet flew past the speakers' heads, and struck a stone.
“You'll get a full discharge before evening—see if you don't,” said one of the soldiers.
They all laughed.
Not only before evening, but before the expiration of two hours, two of them received their full discharge, and five were wounded; but the rest jested on as before.
By morning, the two mortars had actually been brought into such a condition that it was possible to fire them. At ten o'clock, in accordance with the orders which he had received from the commander of the bastion, Volodya called out his command, and marched to the battery with it.
In the men, as soon as they proceeded to action, there was not a drop of that sentiment of fear perceptible which had been expressed on the preceding evening. Vlang alone could not control himself; he dodged and ducked just as before, and Vasin lost some of his composure, and fussed and fidgeted and changed his place incessantly.
But Volodya was in an extraordinary state of enthusiasm; the thought of danger did not even occur to him. Delight that he was fulfilling his duty, that he was not only not a coward, but even a valiant fellow, the feeling that he was in command, and the presence of twenty men, who, as he was aware, were surveying him with curiosity, made a thoroughly brave man of him. He was even vain of his valor, put on airs before his soldiers, climbed up on the banquette, and unbuttoned his coat expressly that he might render himself the more distinctly visible.
The commander of the bastion, who was going the rounds of his establishment as he expressed it, at the moment, accustomed as he had become during his eight-months experience to all sorts of bravery, could not refrain from admiring this handsome lad, in the unbuttoned coat, beneath which a red shirt was visible, encircling his soft white neck, with his animated face and eyes, as he clapped his hands and shouted: “First! Second!” and ran gayly along the ramparts, in order to see where his bomb would fall.
At half-past eleven the firing ceased on both sides, and at precisely twelve o'clock the storming of the Malakoff mound, of the second, third, and fifth bastions began.
On this side of the bay, between Inkerman and the northern fortifications, on the telegraph hill, about midday, stood two naval men; one was an officer, who was engaged in observing Sevastopol through a telescope, and the other had just arrived at the signal-station with his orderly.
The sun stood high and brilliant above the bay, and played with the ships which floated upon it, and with the moving sails and boats, with a warm and cheerful glow. The light breeze hardly moved the leaves of the dry oak-shrubs which stood about the signal-pole, puffed out the sails of the boats, and ruffled the waves.
Sevastopol, with her unfinished church, her columns, her line of shore, her boulevard showing green against the hill, and her elegant library building, with her tiny azure inlets, filled with masts, with the picturesque arches of her aqueducts, and the clouds of blue smoke, lighted up now and then by red flashes of flame from the firing; the same beautiful, proud, festive Sevastopol, hemmed in on one side by yellow, smoke-crowned hills, on the other by the bright blue sea, which glittered in the sun, was visible the same as ever, on the other side of the bay.
Over the horizon-line of the sea, along which floated a long wreath of black smoke from some steamer, crept long white clouds, portending a gale. Along the entire line of the fortifications, especially over the hills on the left, rose columns of thick, dense, white smoke; suddenly, abruptly, and incessantly illuminated by flashes, lightnings, which shone even amid the light of high noon, and which constantly increased in volume, assuming divers forms, as they swept upwards, and tinged the heavens. These puffs of smoke flashing now here, now there, took their birth on the hills, in the batteries of the enemy, in the city, and high against the sky. The sound of the discharges never ceased, but shook the air with their mingled roar.
At twelve o'clock, the puffs of smoke began to occur less and less frequently, and the atmosphere quivered less with the roar.
“But the second bastion is no longer replying at all,” said the officer of hussars, who sat there on horseback; “it is utterly destroyed! Horrible!”
“Yes, and the Malakoff only sends one shot to their three,” replied the officer who was looking through his glass. “It enrages me to have them silent. They are firing straight on the Kornilovsky battery, and it is not answering at all.”
“But you see that they always cease the bombardment at twelve o'clock, just as I said. It is the same to-day. Let us go and get some breakfast ... they are already waiting for us ... there's nothing to see.”
“Stop, don't interfere,” said the officer with the glass, gazing at Sevastopol with peculiar eagerness.
“What's going on there? What is it?”
“There is a movement in the trenches, and heavy columns are marching.”
“Yes, that is evident,” said the other. “The columns are under way. We must give the signal.”
“See, see! They have emerged from the trenches.”
In truth, it was visible to the naked eye that dark masses were moving down the hill, across the narrow valley, from the French batteries to the bastions. In front of these specks, dark streaks were visible, which were already close to our lines. White puffs of smoke of discharges burst out at various points on the bastions, as though the firing were running along the line.
The breeze bore to them the sounds of musketry-shots, exchanged briskly, like rain upon the window-pane. The black streaks moved on, nearer and nearer, into the very smoke. The sounds of firing grew louder and louder, and mingled in a lengthened, resounding roar.
The smoke, rising more and more frequently, spread rapidly along the line, flowed together in one lilac-hued cloud, which dispersed and joined again, and through which, here and there, flitted flames and black points—and all sounds were commingled in one reverberating crash.
“An assault,” said the officer, with a pale face, as he handed the glass to the naval officer.
Orderlies galloped along the road, officers on horseback, the commander-in-chief in a calash, and his suite passed by. Profound emotion and expectation were visible on all countenances.
“It cannot be that they have taken it!” said the mounted officer.
“By Heavens, there's the standard! Look, look!” said the other, sighing and abandoning the glass. “The French standard on the Malakoff!”
“It cannot be!”
The elder Kozeltzoff, who had succeeded in winning back his money and losing it all again that night, including even the gold pieces which were sewed into his cuffs, had fallen, just before daybreak, into a heavy, unhealthy, but profound slumber, in the fortified barracks of the fifth battalion, when the fateful cry, repeated by various voices, rang out:—
“Why are you sleeping, Mikhaïl Semyónitch! There's an assault!” a voice shouted to him.
“That is probably some school-boy,” he said, opening his eyes, but putting no faith in it.
But all at once he caught sight of an officer running aimlessly from one corner to the other, with such a pale face that he understood it all. The thought that he might be taken for a coward, who did not wish to go out to his company at a critical moment, struck him with terrible force. He ran to his corps at the top of his speed. Firing had ceased from the heavy guns; but the crash of musketry was at its height. The bullets whistled, not singly like rifle-balls, but in swarms, like a flock of birds in autumn, flying past overhead. The entire spot on which his battalion had stood the night before was veiled in smoke, and the shouts and cries of the enemy were audible. Soldiers, both wounded and unwounded, met him in throngs. After running thirty paces further, he caught sight of his company, which was hugging the wall.
“They have captured Schwartz,” said a young officer. “All is lost!”
“Nonsense!” said he, angrily, grasping his blunt little iron sword, and he began to shout:—
“Forward, children! Hurrah!”
His voice was strong and ringing; it roused even Kozeltzoff himself. He ran forward along the traverse; fifty soldiers rushed after him, shouting as they went. From the traverse he ran out upon an open square. The bullets fell literally like hail. Two struck him,—but where, and what they did, whether they bruised or wounded him, he had not the time to decide.
In front, he could already see blue uniforms and red trousers, and could hear shouts which were not Russian; one Frenchman was standing on the breastworks, waving his cap, and shouting something. Kozeltzoff was convinced that he was about to be killed; this gave him courage.
He ran on and on. Some soldiers overtook him; other soldiers appeared at one side, also running. The blue uniforms remained at the same distance from him, fleeing back from him to their own trenches; but beneath his feet were the dead and wounded. When he had run to the outermost ditch, everything became confused before Kozeltzoff's eyes, and he was conscious of a pain in the breast.
Half an hour later, he was lying on a stretcher, near the Nikolaevsky barracks, and knew that he was wounded, though he felt hardly any pain; all he wanted was something cooling to drink, and to be allowed to lie still in peace.
A plump little doctor, with black side-whiskers, approached him, and unbuttoned his coat. Kozeltzoff stared over his chin at what the doctor was doing to his wound, and at the doctor's face, but he felt no pain. The doctor covered his wound with his shirt, wiped his fingers on the skirts of his coat, and, without a word or glance at the wounded man, went off to some one else.
Kozeltzoff's eyes mechanically took note of what was going on before him, and, recalling the fact that he had been in the fifth bastion, he thought, with an extraordinary feeling of self-satisfaction, that he had fulfilled his duty well, and that, for the first time in all his service, he had behaved as handsomely as it was possible for any one, and had nothing with which to reproach himself. The doctor, after bandaging the other officer's wound, pointed to Kozeltzoff, and said something to a priest, with a huge reddish beard, and a cross, who was standing near by.
“What! am I dying?” Kozeltzoff asked the priest, when the latter approached him.
The priest, without making any reply, recited a prayer and handed the cross to the wounded man.
Death had no terrors for Kozeltzoff. He grasped the cross with his weak hands, pressed it to his lips, and burst into tears.
“Well, were the French repulsed?” he inquired of the priest, in firm tones.
“The victory has remained with us at every point,” replied the priest, in order to comfort the wounded man, concealing from him the fact that the French standard had already been unfurled on the Malakoff mound.
“Thank God!” said the wounded man, without feeling the tears which were trickling down his cheeks.
The thought of his brother occurred to his mind for a single instant. “May God grant him the same good-fortune,” he said to himself.
But the same fate did not await Volodya. He was listening to a tale which Vasin was in the act of relating to him, when there was a cry,—“The French are coming!” The blood fled for a moment to Volodya's heart, and he felt his cheeks turn cold and pale. For one second he remained motionless, but, on glancing about him, he perceived that the soldiers were buttoning up their coats with tolerable equanimity, and crawling out, one after the other. One even, probably Melnikoff, remarked, in a jesting way:—
“Go out and offer them the bread and salt of hospitality, children!”
Volodya, in company with Vlang, who never separated from him by so much as a step, crawled out of the bomb-proof, and ran to the battery.
There was no artillery firing whatever in progress on either side. It was not so much the sight of the soldiers' composure which aroused his courage as the pitiful and undisguised cowardice of Vlang. “Is it possible for me to be like him?” he said to himself, and he ran on gayly up to the breastworks, near which his mortars stood. It was clearly apparent to him that the French were making straight for him through an open space, and that masses of them, with their bayonets glittering in the sun, were moving in the nearest trenches.
One, a short, broad-shouldered fellow, in zouave uniform, and armed with a sword, ran on in front and leaped the ditch.
“Fire grape-shot!” shouted Volodya, hastening from the banquette; but the soldiers had already made their preparations without waiting for his orders, and the metallic sound of the grape-shot which they discharged shrieked over his head, first from one and then from the other mortar.
“First! second!” commanded Volodya, running from one mortar to the other, and utterly oblivious of danger.
On one side, and near at hand, the crash of musketry from our men under shelter, and anxious cries, were heard.
All at once a startling cry of despair, repeated by several voices, was heard on the left: “They are surrounding us! They are surrounding us!”
Volodya looked round at this shout. Twenty Frenchmen made their appearance in the rear. One of them, a handsome man with a black beard, was in front of all; but, after running up to within ten paces of the battery, he halted, and fired straight at Volodya, and then ran towards him once more.
For a second, Volodya stood as though turned to stone, and did not believe his eyes. When he recovered himself and glanced about him, there were blue uniforms in front of him on the ramparts; two Frenchmen were even spiking a cannon not ten paces distant from him.
There was no one near him, with the exception of Melnikoff, who had been killed by a bullet beside him, and Vlang, who, with a handspike clutched in his hand, had rushed forwards, with an expression of wrath on his face, and with eyes lowered.
“Follow me, Vladímir Semyónitch! Follow me!” shouted the desperate voice of Vlang, as he brandished his handspike over the French, who were pouring in from the rear. The yunker's ferocious countenance startled them. He struck the one who was in advance, on the head; the others involuntarily paused, and Vlang continued to glare about him, and to shout in despairing accents: “Follow me, Vladímir Semyónitch! Why do you stand there? Run!” and ran towards the trenches in which lay our infantry, firing at the French. After leaping into the trench, he came out again to see what his adored ensign was doing. Something in a coat was lying prostrate where Volodya had been standing, and the whole place was filled with Frenchmen, who were firing at our men.
Vlang found his battery on the second line of defence. Out of the twenty soldiers who had been in the mortar battery, only eight survived.
At nine o'clock in the evening, Vlang set out with the battery on a steamer loaded down with soldiers, cannon, horses, and wounded men, for Severnaya.
There was no firing anywhere. The stars shone brilliantly in the sky, as on the preceding night; but a strong wind tossed the sea. On the first and second bastions, lightnings flashed along the earth; explosions rent the atmosphere, and illuminated strange black objects in their vicinity, and the stones which flew through the air.
Something was burning near the docks, and the red glare was reflected in the water. The bridge, covered with people, was lighted up by the fire from the Nikolaevsky battery. A vast flame seemed to hang over the water, from the distant promontory of the Alexandrovsky battery, and illuminated the clouds of smoke beneath, as it rose above them; and the same tranquil, insolent, distant lights as on the preceding evening gleamed over the sea, from the hostile fleet.
The fresh breeze raised billows in the bay. By the red light of the conflagrations, the masts of our sunken ships, which were settling deeper and deeper into the water, were visible. Not a sound of conversation was heard on deck; there was nothing but the regular swish of the parted waves, and the steam, the neighing and pawing of the horses, the words of command from the captain, and the groans of the wounded. Vlang, who had had nothing to eat all day, drew a bit of bread from his pocket, and began to chew it; but all at once he recalled Volodya, and burst into such loud weeping that the soldiers who were near him heard it.
“See how our Vlanga[N] is eating his bread and crying too,” said Vasin.
“Wonderful!” said another.
“And see, they have fired our barracks,” he continued, with a sigh. “And how many of our brothers perished there; and the French got it for nothing!”
“At all events, we have got out of it alive—thank God for that!” said Vasin.
“But it's provoking, all the same!”
“What is there provoking about it? Do you suppose they are enjoying themselves there? Not exactly! You wait, our men will take it away from them again. And however many of our brethren perish, as God is holy, if the emperor commands, they will win it back. Can ours leave it to them thus? Never! There you have the bare walls; but they have destroyed all the breastworks. Even if they have planted their standard on the hill, they won't be able to make their way into the town.”
“Just wait, we'll have a hearty reckoning with you yet, only give us time,” he concluded, addressing himself to the French.
“Of course we will!” said another, with conviction.
Along the whole line of bastions of Sevastopol, which had for so many months seethed with remarkably vigorous life, which had for so many months seen dying heroes relieved one after another by death, and which had for so many months awakened the terror, the hatred, and finally the admiration of the enemy,—on the bastions of Sevastopol, there was no longer a single man. All was dead, wild, horrible,—but not silent.
Destruction was still in progress. On the earth, furrowed and strewn with the recent explosions, lay bent gun-carriages, crushing down the bodies of Russians and of the foe; heavy iron cannons silenced forever, bombs and cannon-balls hurled with horrible force into pits, and half-buried in the soil, then more corpses, pits, splinters of beams, bomb-proofs, and still more silent bodies in gray and blue coats. All these were still frequently shaken and lighted up by the crimson glow of the explosions, which continued to shock the air.
The foe perceived that something incomprehensible was going on in that menacing Sevastopol. Those explosions and the death-like silence on the bastions made them shudder; but they dared not yet believe, being still under the influence of the calm and forcible resistance of the day, that their invincible enemy had disappeared, and they awaited motionless and in silence the end of that gloomy night.
The army of Sevastopol, like the gloomy, surging sea, quivering throughout its entire mass, wavering, ploughing across the bay, on the bridge, and at the north fortifications, moved slowly through the impenetrable darkness of the night; away from the place where it had left so many of its brave brethren, from the place all steeped in its blood, from the place which it had defended for eleven months against a foe twice as powerful as itself, and which it was now ordered to abandon without a battle.
The first impression produced on every Russian by this command was inconceivably sad. The second feeling was a fear of pursuit. The men felt that they were defenceless as soon as they abandoned the places on which they were accustomed to fight, and they huddled together uneasily in the dark, at the entrance to the bridge, which was swaying about in the heavy breeze.
The infantry pressed forward, with a clash of bayonets, and a thronging of regiments, equipages, and arms; cavalry officers made their way about with orders, the inhabitants and the military servants accompanying the baggage wept and besought to be permitted to cross, while the artillery, in haste to get off, forced their way to the bay with a thunder of wheels.
In spite of the diversions created by the varied and anxious demands on their attention, the instinct of self-preservation and the desire to escape as speedily as possible from that dread place of death were present in every soul. This instinct existed also in a soldier mortally wounded, who lay among the five hundred other wounded, upon the stone pavement of the Pavlovsky quay, and prayed God to send death; and in the militia-man, who with his last remaining strength pressed into the compact throng, in order to make way for a general who rode by, and in the general in charge of the transportation, who was engaged in restraining the haste of the soldiers, and in the sailor, who had become entangled in the moving battalion, and who, crushed by the surging throng, had lost his breath, and in the wounded officer, who was being borne along in a litter by four soldiers, who, stopped by the crowd, had placed him on the ground by the Nikolaevsky battery, and in the artillery-man, who had served his gun for sixteen years, and who, at his superior's command, to him incomprehensible, to throw overboard the guns, had, with the aid of his comrades, sent them over the steep bank into the bay; and in the men of the fleet, who had just closed the port-holes of the ships, and had rowed lustily away in their boats. On stepping upon the further end of the bridge, nearly every soldier pulled off his cap and crossed himself.
But behind this instinct there was another, oppressive and far deeper, existing along with it; this was a feeling which resembled repentance, shame, and hatred. Almost every soldier, as he gazed on abandoned Sevastopol, from the northern shore, sighed with inexpressible bitterness of heart, and menaced the foe.
[I] In many regiments the officers call a soldier, half in scorn, half caressingly, Moskva (Moscovite), or prisyaga (an oath).
[J] This effect cannot be reproduced in English.
[K] “My good sir,” a familiarly respectful mode of address.
[L] “Manual for Artillery Officers,” by Bezak.
[M] A game in which the loser is rapped on the nose with the cards.
[N] The feminine form, as previously referred to.