Next day the troops assembled in their appointed places in the evening and advanced during the night. It was an autumn night with dark purple clouds, but no rain. The ground was damp but not muddy, and the troops advanced noiselessly, only occasionally a jingling of the artillery could be faintly heard. The men were forbidden to talk out loud, to smoke their pipes, or to strike a light, and they tried to prevent their horses neighing. The secrecy of the undertaking heightened its charm and they marched gaily. Some columns, supposing. they had reached their destination, halted, piled arms, and settled down on the cold ground, but the majority marched all night and arrived at places where they evidently should not have been.
Only Count Orlov-Denisov with his Cossacks (the least important detachment of all) got to his appointed place at the right time. This detachment halted at the outskirts of a forest, on the path leading from the village of Stromilova to Dmitrovsk.
Toward dawn, Count Orlov-Denisov, who had dozed off, was awakened by a deserter from the French army being brought to him. This was a Polish sergeant of Poniatowski's corps, who explained in Polish that he had come over because he had been slighted in the service: that he ought long ago to have been made an officer, that he was braver than any of them, and so he had left them and wished to pay them out. He said that Murat was spending the night less than a mile from where they were, and that if they would let him have a convoy of a hundred men he would capture him alive. Count Orlov-Denisov consulted his fellow officers.
The offer was too tempting to be refused. Everyone volunteered to go and everybody advised making the attempt. After much disputing and arguing, Major-General Grekov with two Cossack regiments decided to go with the Polish sergeant.
"Now, remember," said Count Orlov-Denisov to the sergeant at parting, "if you have been lying I'll have you hanged like a dog; but if it's true you shall have a hundred gold pieces!"
Without replying, the sergeant, with a resolute air, mounted and rode away with Grekov whose men had quickly assembled. They disappeared into the forest, and Count Orlov-Denisov, having seen Grekov off, returned, shivering from the freshness of the early dawn and excited by what he had undertaken on his own responsibility, and began looking at the enemy camp, now just visible in the deceptive light of dawn and the dying campfires. Our columns ought to have begun to appear on an open declivity to his right. He looked in that direction, but though the columns would have been visible quite far off, they were not to be seen. It seemed to the count that things were beginning to stir in the French camp, and his keen-sighted adjutant confirmed this.
"Oh, it is really too late," said Count Orlov, looking at the camp.
As often happens when someone we have trusted is no longer before our eyes, it suddenly seemed quite clear and obvious to him that the sergeant was an impostor, that he had lied, and that the whole Russian attack would be ruined by the absence of those two regiments, which he would lead away heaven only knew where. How could one capture a commander in chief from among such a mass of troops!
"I am sure that rascal was lying," said the count.
"They can still be called back," said one of his suite, who like Count Orlov felt distrustful of the adventure when he looked at the enemy's camp.
"Eh? Really... what do you think? Should we let them go on or not?"
"Will you have them fetched back?"
"Fetch them back, fetch them back!" said Count Orlov with sudden determination, looking at his watch. "It will be too late. It is quite light."
And the adjutant galloped through the forest after Grekov. When Grekov returned, Count Orlov-Denisov, excited both by the abandoned attempt and by vainly awaiting the infantry columns that still did not appear, as well as by the proximity of the enemy, resolved to advance. All his men felt the same excitement.
War and Peace -by- Leo Tolstoy