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Chapter II.19

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The attack of the Sixth Chasseurs secured the retreat of our right flank. In the center Tushin's forgotten battery, which had managed to set fire to the Schon Grabern village, delayed the French advance. The French were putting out the fire which the wind was spreading, and thus gave us time to retreat. The retirement of the center to the other side of the dip in the ground at the rear was hurried and noisy, but the different companies did not get mixed. But our left- which consisted of the Azov and Podolsk infantry and the Pavlograd hussars- was simultaneously attacked and outflanked by superior French forces under Lannes and was thrown into confusion. Bagration had sent Zherkov to the general commanding that left flank with orders to retreat immediately.

Zherkov, not removing his hand from his cap, turned his horse about and galloped off. But no sooner had he left Bagration than his courage failed him. He was seized by panic and could not go where it was dangerous.

Having reached the left flank, instead of going to the front where the firing was, he began to look for the general and his staff where they could not possibly be, and so did not deliver the order.

The command of the left flank belonged by seniority to the commander of the regiment Kutuzov had reviewed at Braunau and in which Dolokhov was serving as a private. But the command of the extreme left flank had been assigned to the commander of the Pavlograd regiment in which Rostov was serving, and a misunderstanding arose. The two commanders were much exasperated with one another and, long after the action had begun on the right flank and the French were already advancing, were engaged in discussion with the sole object of offending one another. But the regiments, both cavalry and infantry, were by no means ready for the impending action. From privates to general they were not expecting a battle and were engaged in peaceful occupations, the cavalry feeding the horses and the infantry collecting wood.

"He higher iss dan I in rank," said the German colonel of the hussars, flushing and addressing an adjutant who had ridden up, "so let him do what he vill, but I cannot sacrifice my hussars... Bugler, sount ze retreat!"

But haste was becoming imperative. Cannon and musketry, mingling together, thundered on the right and in the center, while the capotes of Lannes' sharpshooters were already seen crossing the milldam and forming up within twice the range of a musket shot. The general in command of the infantry went toward his horse with jerky steps, and having mounted drew himself up very straight and tall and rode to the Pavlograd commander. The commanders met with polite bows but with secret malevolence in their hearts.

"Once again, Colonel," said the general, "I can't leave half my men in the wood. I beg of you, I beg of you," he repeated, "to occupy the position and prepare for an attack."

"I peg of you yourself not to mix in vot is not your business!" suddenly replied the irate colonel. "If you vere in the cavalry..."

"I am not in the cavalry, Colonel, but I am a Russian general and if you are not aware of the fact..."

"Quite avare, your excellency," suddenly shouted the colonel, touching his horse and turning purple in the face. "Vill you be so goot to come to ze front and see dat zis position iss no goot? I don't vish to destroy my men for your pleasure!"

"You forget yourself, Colonel. I am not considering my own pleasure and I won't allow it to be said!"

Taking the colonel's outburst as a challenge to his courage, the general expanded his chest and rode, frowning, beside him to the front line, as if their differences would be settled there amongst the bullets. They reached the front, several bullets sped over them, and they halted in silence. There was nothing fresh to be seen from the line, for from where they had been before it had been evident that it was impossible for cavalry to act among the bushes and broken ground, as well as that the French were outflanking our left. The general and colonel looked sternly and significantly at one another like two fighting cocks preparing for battle, each vainly trying to detect signs of cowardice in the other. Both passed the examination successfully. As there was nothing to said, and neither wished to give occasion for it to be alleged that he had been the first to leave the range of fire, they would have remained there for a long time testing each other's courage had it not been that just then they heard the rattle of musketry and a muffled shout almost behind them in the wood. The French had attacked the men collecting wood in the copse. It was no longer possible for the hussars to retreat with the infantry. They were cut off from the line of retreat on the left by the French. However inconvenient the position, it was now necessary to attack in order to cut away through for themselves.

The squadron in which Rostov was serving had scarcely time to mount before it was halted facing the enemy. Again, as at the Enns bridge, there was nothing between the squadron and the enemy, and again that terrible dividing line of uncertainty and fear- resembling the line separating the living from the dead- lay between them. All were conscious of this unseen line, and the question whether they would they would cross it or not, and how they would cross it, agitated them all.

The colonel rode to the front, angrily gave some reply to questions put to him by the officers, and, like a man desperately insisting on having his own way, gave an order. No one said anything definite, but the rumor of an attack spread through the squadron. The command to form up rang out and the sabers whizzed as they were drawn from their scabbards. Still no one moved. The troops of the left flank, infantry and hussars alike, felt that the commander did not himself know what to do, and this irresolution communicated itself to the men.

 

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War and Peace -by- Leo Tolstoy

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