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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWar And Peace - Book Nine: 1812 - Chapter 12
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War And Peace - Book Nine: 1812 - Chapter 12 Post by :jimrazz Category :Long Stories Author :Leo Tolstoy Date :December 2010 Read :1522

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War And Peace - Book Nine: 1812 - Chapter 12

Before the beginning of the campaign, Rostov had received a letter
from his parents in which they told him briefly of Natasha's illness
and the breaking off of her engagement to Prince Andrew (which they
explained by Natasha's having rejected him) and again asked Nicholas
to retire from the army and return home. On receiving this letter,
Nicholas did not even make any attempt to get leave of absence or to
retire from the army, but wrote to his parents that he was sorry
Natasha was ill and her engagement broken off, and that he would do
all he could to meet their wishes. To Sonya he wrote separately.

"Adored friend of my soul!" he wrote. "Nothing but honor could
keep me from returning to the country. But now, at the commencement of
the campaign, I should feel dishonored, not only in my comrades'
eyes but in my own, if I preferred my own happiness to my love and
duty to the Fatherland. But this shall be our last separation. Believe
me, directly the war is over, if I am still alive and still loved by
you, I will throw up everything and fly to you, to press you forever
to my ardent breast."

It was, in fact, only the commencement of the campaign that
prevented Rostov from returning home as he had promised and marrying
Sonya. The autumn in Otradnoe with the hunting, and the winter with
the Christmas holidays and Sonya's love, had opened out to him a vista
of tranquil rural joys and peace such as he had never known before,
and which now allured him. "A splendid wife, children, a good pack
of hounds, a dozen leashes of smart borzois, agriculture, neighbors,
service by election..." thought he. But now the campaign was
beginning, and he had to remain with his regiment. And since it had to
be so, Nicholas Rostov, as was natural to him, felt contented with the
life he led in the regiment and was able to find pleasure in that
life.

On his return from his furlough Nicholas, having been joyfully
welcomed by his comrades, was sent to obtain remounts and brought back
from the Ukraine excellent horses which pleased him and earned him
commendation from his commanders. During his absence he had been
promoted captain, and when the regiment was put on war footing with an
increase in numbers, he was again allotted his old squadron.

The campaign began, the regiment was moved into Poland on double
pay, new officers arrived, new men and horses, and above all everybody
was infected with the merrily excited mood that goes with the
commencement of a war, and Rostov, conscious of his advantageous
position in the regiment, devoted himself entirely to the pleasures
and interests of military service, though he knew that sooner or later
he would have to relinquish them.

The troops retired from Vilna for various complicated reasons of
state, political and strategic. Each step of the retreat was
accompanied by a complicated interplay of interests, arguments, and
passions at headquarters. For the Pavlograd hussars, however, the
whole of this retreat during the finest period of summer and with
sufficient supplies was a very simple and agreeable business.

It was only at headquarters that there was depression, uneasiness,
and intriguing; in the body of the army they did not ask themselves
where they were going or why. If they regretted having to retreat,
it was only because they had to leave billets they had grown
accustomed to, or some pretty young Polish lady. If the thought that
things looked bad chanced to enter anyone's head, he tried to be as
cheerful as befits a good soldier and not to think of the general
trend of affairs, but only of the task nearest to hand. First they
camped gaily before Vilna, making acquaintance with the Polish
landowners, preparing for reviews and being reviewed by the Emperor
and other high commanders. Then came an order to retreat to Sventsyani
and destroy any provisions they could not carry away with them.
Sventsyani was remembered by the hussars only as the drunken camp, a
name the whole army gave to their encampment there, and because many
complaints were made against the troops, who, taking advantage of
the order to collect provisions, took also horses, carriages, and
carpets from the Polish proprietors. Rostov remembered Sventsyani,
because on the first day of their arrival at that small town he
changed his sergeant major and was unable to manage all the drunken
men of his squadron who, unknown to him, had appropriated five barrels
of old beer. From Sventsyani they retired farther and farther to
Drissa, and thence again beyond Drissa, drawing near to the frontier
of Russia proper.

On the thirteenth of July the Pavlograds took part in a serious
action for the first time.

On the twelfth of July, on the eve of that action, there was a heavy
storm of rain and hail. In general, the summer of 18l2 was
remarkable for its storms.

The two Pavlograd squadrons were bivouacking on a field of rye,
which was already in ear but had been completely trodden down by
cattle and horses. The rain was descending in torrents, and Rostov,
with a young officer named Ilyin, his protege, was sitting in a
hastily constructed shelter. An officer of their regiment, with long
mustaches extending onto his cheeks, who after riding to the staff had
been overtaken by the rain, entered Rostov's shelter.

"I have come from the staff, Count. Have you heard of Raevski's
exploit?"

And the officer gave them details of the Saltanov battle, which he
had heard at the staff.

Rostov, smoking his pipe and turning his head about as the water
trickled down his neck, listened inattentively, with an occasional
glance at Ilyin, who was pressing close to him. This officer, a lad of
sixteen who had recently joined the regiment, was now in the same
relation to Nicholas that Nicholas had been to Denisov seven years
before. Ilyin tried to imitate Rostov in everything and adored him
as a girl might have done.

Zdrzhinski, the officer with the long mustache, spoke
grandiloquently of the Saltanov dam being "a Russian Thermopylae," and
of how a deed worthy of antiquity had been performed by General
Raevski. He recounted how Raevski had led his two sons onto the dam
under terrific fire and had charged with them beside him. Rostov heard
the story and not only said nothing to encourage Zdrzhinski's
enthusiasm but, on the contrary, looked like a man ashamed of what
he was hearing, though with no intention of contradicting it. Since
the campaigns of Austerlitz and of 1807 Rostov knew by experience that
men always lie when describing military exploits, as he himself had
done when recounting them; besides that, he had experience enough to
know that nothing happens in war at all as we can imagine or relate
it. And so he did not like Zdrzhinski's tale, nor did he like
Zdrzhinski himself who, with his mustaches extending over his
cheeks, bent low over the face of his hearer, as was his habit, and
crowded Rostov in the narrow shanty. Rostov looked at him in
silence. "In the first place, there must have been such a confusion
and crowding on the dam that was being attacked that if Raevski did
lead his sons there, it could have had no effect except perhaps on
some dozen men nearest to him," thought he, "the rest could not have
seen how or with whom Raevski came onto the dam. And even those who
did see it would not have been much stimulated by it, for what had
they to do with Raevski's tender paternal feelings when their own
skins were in danger? And besides, the fate of the Fatherland did
not depend on whether they took the Saltanov dam or not, as we are
told was the case at Thermopylae. So why should he have made such a
sacrifice? And why expose his own children in the battle? I would
not have taken my brother Petya there, or even Ilyin, who's a stranger
to me but a nice lad, but would have tried to put them somewhere under
cover," Nicholas continued to think, as he listened to Zdrzhinski. But
he did not express his thoughts, for in such matters, too, he had
gained experience. He knew that this tale redounded to the glory of
our arms and so one had to pretend not to doubt it. And he acted
accordingly.

"I can't stand this any more," said Ilyin, noticing that Rostov
did not relish Zdrzhinski's conversation. "My stockings and shirt...
and the water is running on my seat! I'll go and look for shelter. The
rain seems less heavy."

Ilyin went out and Zdrzhinski rode away.

Five minutes later Ilyin, splashing through the mud, came running
back to the shanty.

"Hurrah! Rostov, come quick! I've found it! About two hundred
yards away there's a tavern where ours have already gathered. We can
at least get dry there, and Mary Hendrikhovna's there."

Mary Hendrikhovna was the wife of the regimental doctor, a pretty
young German woman he had married in Poland. The doctor, whether
from lack of means or because he did not like to part from his young
wife in the early days of their marriage, took her about with him
wherever the hussar regiment went and his jealousy had become a
standing joke among the hussar officers.

Rostov threw his cloak over his shoulders, shouted to Lavrushka to
follow with the things, and- now slipping in the mud, now splashing
right through it- set off with Ilyin in the lessening rain and the
darkness that was occasionally rent by distant lightning.

"Rostov, where are you?"

"Here. What lightning!" they called to one another.

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