That same evening there was an animated discussion among the squadron's officers in Denisov's quarters.
"And I tell you, Rostov, that you must apologize to the colonel!" said a tall, grizzly-haired staff captain, with enormous mustaches and many wrinkles on his large features, to Rostov who was crimson with excitement.
The staff captain, Kirsten, had twice been reduced to the ranks for affairs of honor and had twice regained his commission.
"I will allow no one to call me a liar!" cried Rostov. "He told me I lied, and I told him he lied. And there it rests. He may keep me on duty every day, or may place me under arrest, but no one can make me apologize, because if he, as commander of this regiment, thinks it beneath his dignity to give me satisfaction, then..."
"You just wait a moment, my dear fellow, and listen," interrupted the staff captain in his deep bass, calmly stroking his long mustache. "You tell the colonel in the presence of other officers that an officer has stolen..."
"I'm not to blame that the conversation began in the presence of other officers. Perhaps I ought not to have spoken before them, but I am not a diplomatist. That's why I joined the hussars, thinking that here one would not need finesse; and he tells me that I am lying—so let him give me satisfaction..."
"That's all right. No one thinks you a coward, but that's not the point. Ask Denisov whether it is not out of the question for a cadet to demand satisfaction of his regimental commander?"
Denisov sat gloomily biting his mustache and listening to the conversation, evidently with no wish to take part in it. He answered the staff captain's question by a disapproving shake of his head.
"You speak to the colonel about this nasty business before other officers," continued the staff captain, "and Bogdanich" (the colonel was called Bogdanich) "shuts you up."
"He did not shut me up, he said I was telling an untruth."
"Well, have it so, and you talked a lot of nonsense to him and must apologize."
"Not on any account!" exclaimed Rostov.
"I did not expect this of you," said the staff captain seriously and severely. "You don't wish to apologize, but, man, it's not only to him but to the whole regiment—all of us—you're to blame all round. The case is this: you ought to have thought the matter over and taken advice; but no, you go and blurt it all straight out before the officers. Now what was the colonel to do? Have the officer tried and disgrace the whole regiment? Disgrace the whole regiment because of one scoundrel? Is that how you look at it? We don't see it like that. And Bogdanich was a brick: he told you you were saying what was not true. It's not pleasant, but what's to be done, my dear fellow? You landed yourself in it. And now, when one wants to smooth the thing over, some conceit prevents your apologizing, and you wish to make the whole affair public. You are offended at being put on duty a bit, but why not apologize to an old and honorable officer? Whatever Bogdanich may be, anyway he is an honorable and brave old colonel! You're quick at taking offense, but you don't mind disgracing the whole regiment!" The staff captain's voice began to tremble. "You have been in the regiment next to no time, my lad, you're here today and tomorrow you'll be appointed adjutant somewhere and can snap your fingers when it is said 'There are thieves among the Pavlograd officers!' But it's not all the same to us! Am I not right, Denisov? It's not the same!"
Denisov remained silent and did not move, but occasionally looked with his glittering black eyes at Rostov.
"You value your own pride and don't wish to apologize," continued the staff captain, "but we old fellows, who have grown up in and, God willing, are going to die in the regiment, we prize the honor of the regiment, and Bogdanich knows it. Oh, we do prize it, old fellow! And all this is not right, it's not right! You may take offense or not but I always stick to mother truth. It's not right!"
And the staff captain rose and turned away from Rostov.
"That's twue, devil take it!" shouted Denisov, jumping up. "Now then,
Wostov, now then!"
Rostov, growing red and pale alternately, looked first at one
officer and then at the other.
"No, gentlemen, no... you mustn't think... I quite understand. You're wrong to think that of me... I... for me... for the honor of the regiment I'd... Ah well, I'll show that in action, and for me the honor of the flag... Well, never mind, it's true I'm to blame, to blame all round. Well, what else do you want?..."
"Come, that's right, Count!" cried the staff captain, turning round and clapping Rostov on the shoulder with his big hand.
"I tell you," shouted Denisov, "he's a fine fellow."
"That's better, Count," said the staff captain, beginning to address Rostov by his title, as if in recognition of his confession. "Go and apologize, your excellency. Yes, go!"
"Gentlemen, I'll do anything. No one shall hear a word from me," said Rostov in an imploring voice, "but I can't apologize, by God I can't, do what you will! How can I go and apologize like a little boy asking forgiveness?"
Denisov began to laugh.
"It'll be worse for you. Bogdanich is vindictive and you'll pay for your obstinacy," said Kirsten.
"No, on my word it's not obstinacy! I can't describe the feeling. I can't..."
"Well, it's as you like," said the staff captain. "And what has become of that scoundrel?" he asked Denisov.
"He has weported himself sick, he's to be stwuck off the list tomowwow," muttered Denisov.
"It is an illness, there's no other way of explaining it," said the staff captain.
"Illness or not, he'd better not cwoss my path. I'd kill him!" shouted Denisov in a bloodthirsty tone.
Just then Zherkov entered the room.
"What brings you here?" cried the officers turning to the newcomer.
"We're to go into action, gentlemen! Mack has surrendered with his whole army."
"It's not true!"
"I've seen him myself!"
"What? Saw the real Mack? With hands and feet?"
"Into action! Into action! Bring him a bottle for such news! But how did you come here?"
"I've been sent back to the regiment all on account of that devil, Mack. An Austrian general complained of me. I congratulated him on Mack's arrival... What's the matter, Rostov? You look as if you'd just come out of a hot bath."
"Oh, my dear fellow, we're in such a stew here these last two days."
The regimental adjutant came in and confirmed the news brought by Zherkov. They were under orders to advance next day.
"We're going into action, gentlemen!"
"Well, thank God! We've been sitting here too long!"
Kutuzov fell back toward Vienna, destroying behind him the bridges over the rivers Inn (at Braunau) and Traun (near Linz). On October 23 the Russian troops were crossing the river Enns. At midday the Russian baggage train, the artillery, and columns of troops were defiling through the town of Enns on both sides of the bridge.
It was a warm, rainy, autumnal day. The wide expanse that opened out before the heights on which the Russian batteries stood guarding the bridge was at times veiled by a diaphanous curtain of slanting rain, and then, suddenly spread out in the sunlight, far-distant objects could be clearly seen glittering as though freshly varnished. Down below, the little town could be seen with its white, red-roofed houses, its cathedral, and its bridge, on both sides of which streamed jostling masses of Russian troops. At the bend of the Danube, vessels, an island, and a castle with a park surrounded by the waters of the confluence of the Enns and the Danube became visible, and the rocky left bank of the Danube covered with pine forests, with a mystic background of green treetops and bluish gorges. The turrets of a convent stood out beyond a wild virgin pine forest, and far away on the other side of the Enns the enemy's horse patrols could be discerned.
Among the field guns on the brow of the hill the general in command of the rearguard stood with a staff officer, scanning the country through his fieldglass. A little behind them Nesvitski, who had been sent to the rearguard by the commander in chief, was sitting on the trail of a gun carriage. A Cossack who accompanied him had handed him a knapsack and a flask, and Nesvitski was treating some officers to pies and real doppelkummel. The officers gladly gathered round him, some on their knees, some squatting Turkish fashion on the wet grass.
"Yes, the Austrian prince who built that castle was no fool. It's a fine place! Why are you not eating anything, gentlemen?" Nesvitski was saying.
"Thank you very much, Prince," answered one of the officers, pleased to be talking to a staff officer of such importance. "It's a lovely place! We passed close to the park and saw two deer... and what a splendid house!"
"Look, Prince," said another, who would have dearly liked to take another pie but felt shy, and therefore pretended to be examining the countryside—"See, our infantrymen have already got there. Look there in the meadow behind the village, three of them are dragging something. They'll ransack that castle," he remarked with evident approval.
"So they will," said Nesvitski. "No, but what I should like," added he, munching a pie in his moist-lipped handsome mouth, "would be to slip in over there."
He pointed with a smile to a turreted nunnery, and his eyes narrowed and gleamed.
"That would be fine, gentlemen!"
The officers laughed.
"Just to flutter the nuns a bit. They say there are Italian girls among them. On my word I'd give five years of my life for it!"
"They must be feeling dull, too," said one of the bolder officers, laughing.
Meanwhile the staff officer standing in front pointed out something to the general, who looked through his field glass.
"Yes, so it is, so it is," said the general angrily, lowering the field glass and shrugging his shoulders, "so it is! They'll be fired on at the crossing. And why are they dawdling there?"
On the opposite side the enemy could be seen by the naked eye, and from their battery a milk-white cloud arose. Then came the distant report of a shot, and our troops could be seen hurrying to the crossing.
Nesvitski rose, puffing, and went up to the general, smiling.
"Would not your excellency like a little refreshment?" he said.
"It's a bad business," said the general without answering him, "our men have been wasting time."
"Hadn't I better ride over, your excellency?" asked Nesvitski.
"Yes, please do," answered the general, and he repeated the order that had already once been given in detail: "and tell the hussars that they are to cross last and to fire the bridge as I ordered; and the inflammable material on the bridge must be reinspected."
"Very good," answered Nesvitski.
He called the Cossack with his horse, told him to put away the knapsack and flask, and swung his heavy person easily into the saddle.
"I'll really call in on the nuns," he said to the officers who watched him smilingly, and he rode off by the winding path down the hill.
"Now then, let's see how far it will carry, Captain. Just try!" said the general, turning to an artillery officer. "Have a little fun to pass the time."
"Crew, to your guns!" commanded the officer.
In a moment the men came running gaily from their campfires and began loading.
"One!" came the command.
Number one jumped briskly aside. The gun rang out with a deafening metallic roar, and a whistling grenade flew above the heads of our troops below the hill and fell far short of the enemy, a little smoke showing the spot where it burst.
The faces of officers and men brightened up at the sound. Everyone got up and began watching the movements of our troops below, as plainly visible as if but a stone's throw away, and the movements of the approaching enemy farther off. At the same instant the sun came fully out from behind the clouds, and the clear sound of the solitary shot and the brilliance of the bright sunshine merged in a single joyous and spirited impression.