BOOK FOURTEEN: 1812
The Battle of Borodino, with the occupation of Moscow that followed it and the flight of the French without further conflicts, is one of the most instructive phenomena in history.
All historians agree that the external activity of states and nations in their conflicts with one another is expressed in wars, and that as a direct result of greater or less success in war the political strength of states and nations increases or decreases.
Strange as may be the historical account of how some king or emperor, having quarreled with another, collects an army, fights his enemy's army, gains a victory by killing three, five, or ten thousand men, and subjugates a kingdom and an entire nation of several millions, all the facts of history (as far as we know it) confirm the truth of the statement that the greater or lesser success of one army against another is the cause, or at least an essential indication, of an increase or decrease in the strength of the nation--even though it is unintelligible why the defeat of an army- a hundredth part of a nation--should oblige that whole nation to submit. An army gains a victory, and at once the rights of the conquering nation have increased to the detriment of the defeated. An army has suffered defeat, and at once a people loses its rights in proportion to the severity of the reverse, and if its army suffers a complete defeat the nation is quite subjugated.
So according to history it has been found from the most ancient times, and so it is to our own day. All Napoleon's wars serve to confirm this rule. In proportion to the defeat of the Austrian army Austria loses its rights, and the rights and the strength of France increase. The victories of the French at Jena and Auerstadt destroy the independent existence of Prussia.
But then, in 1812, the French gain a victory near Moscow. Moscow is taken and after that, with no further battles, it is not Russia that ceases to exist, but the French army of six hundred thousand, and then Napoleonic France itself. To strain the facts to fit the rules of history: to say that the field of battle at Borodino remained in the hands of the Russians, or that after Moscow there were other battles that destroyed Napoleon's army, is impossible.
After the French victory at Borodino there was no general engagement nor any that were at all serious, yet the French army ceased to exist. What does this mean? If it were an example taken from the history of China, we might say that it was not an historic phenomenon (which is the historians' usual expedient when anything does not fit their standards); if the matter concerned some brief conflict in which only a small number of troops took part, we might treat it as an exception; but this event occurred before our fathers' eyes, and for them it was a question of the life or death of their fatherland, and it happened in the greatest of all known wars.
The period of the campaign of 1812 from the battle of Borodino to the expulsion of the French proved that the winning of a battle does not produce a conquest and is not even an invariable indication of conquest; it proved that the force which decides the fate of peoples lies not in the conquerors, nor even in armies and battles, but in something else.
The French historians, describing the condition of the French army before it left Moscow, affirm that all was in order in the Grand Army, except the cavalry, the artillery, and the transport--there was no forage for the horses or the cattle. That was a misfortune no one could remedy, for the peasants of the district burned their hay rather than let the French have it.
The victory gained did not bring the usual results because the peasants Karp and Vlas (who after the French had evacuated Moscow drove in their carts to pillage the town, and in general personally failed to manifest any heroic feelings), and the whole innumerable multitude of such peasants, did not bring their hay to Moscow for the high price offered them, but burned it instead.
Let us imagine two men who have come out to fight a duel with rapiers according to all the rules of the art of fencing. The fencing has gone on for some time; suddenly one of the combatants, feeling himself wounded and understanding that the matter is no joke but concerns his life, throws down his rapier, and seizing the first cudgel that comes to hand begins to brandish it. Then let us imagine that the combatant who so sensibly employed the best and simplest means to attain his end was at the same time influenced by traditions of chivalry and, desiring to conceal the facts of the case, insisted that he had gained his victory with the rapier according to all the rules of art. One can imagine what confusion and obscurity would result from such an account of the duel.
The fencer who demanded a contest according to the rules of fencing was the French army; his opponent who threw away the rapier and snatched up the cudgel was the Russian people; those who try to explain the matter according to the rules of fencing are the historians who have described the event.
After the burning of Smolensk a war began which did not follow any previous traditions of war. The burning of towns and villages, the retreats after battles, the blow dealt at Borodino and the renewed retreat, the burning of Moscow, the capture of marauders, the seizure of transports, and the guerrilla war were all departures from the rules.
Napoleon felt this, and from the time he took up the correct fencing attitude in Moscow and instead of his opponent's rapier saw a cudgel raised above his head, he did not cease to complain to Kutuzov and to the Emperor Alexander that the war was being carried on contrary to all the rules--as if there were any rules for killing people. In spite of the complaints of the French as to the nonobservance of the rules, in spite of the fact that to some highly placed Russians it seemed rather disgraceful to fight with a cudgel and they wanted to assume a pose en quarte or en tierce according to all the rules, and to make an adroit thrust en prime, and so on--the cudgel of the people's war was lifted with all its menacing and majestic strength, and without consulting anyone's tastes or rules and regardless of anything else, it rose and fell with stupid simplicity, but consistently, and belabored the French till the whole invasion had perished.
And it is well for a people who do not--as the French did in 1813- salute according to all the rules of art, and, presenting the hilt of their rapier gracefully and politely, hand it to their magnanimous conqueror, but at the moment of trial, without asking what rules others have adopted in similar cases, simply and easily pick up the first cudgel that comes to hand and strike with it till the feeling of resentment and revenge in their soul yields to a feeling of contempt and compassion.
One of the most obvious and advantageous departures from the so-called laws of war is the action of scattered groups against men pressed together in a mass. Such action always occurs in wars that take on a national character. In such actions, instead of two crowds opposing each other, the men disperse, attack singly, run away when attacked by stronger forces, but again attack when opportunity offers. This was done by the guerrillas in Spain, by the mountain tribes in the Caucasus, and by the Russians in 1812.
People have called this kind of war "guerrilla warfare" and assume that by so calling it they have explained its meaning. But such a war does not fit in under any rule and is directly opposed to a well-known rule of tactics which is accepted as infallible. That rule says that an attacker should concentrate his forces in order to be stronger than his opponent at the moment of conflict.
Guerrilla war (always successful, as history shows) directly infringes that rule.
This contradiction arises from the fact that military science assumes the strength of an army to be identical with its numbers. Military science says that the more troops the greater the strength. Les gros bataillons ont toujours raison.*
*Large battalions are always victorious.
For military science to say this is like defining momentum in mechanics by reference to the mass only: stating that momenta are equal or unequal to each other simply because the masses involved are equal or unequal.
Momentum (quantity of motion) is the product of mass and velocity.
In military affairs the strength of an army is the product of its mass and some unknown x.
Military science, seeing in history innumerable instances of the fact that the size of any army does not coincide with its strength and that small detachments defeat larger ones, obscurely admits the existence of this unknown factor and tries to discover it--now in a geometric formation, now in the equipment employed, now, and most usually, in the genius of the commanders. But the assignment of these various meanings to the factor does not yield results which accord with the historic facts.
Yet it is only necessary to abandon the false view (adopted to gratify the "heroes") of the efficacy of the directions issued in wartime by commanders, in order to find this unknown quantity.
That unknown quantity is the spirit of the army, that is to say, the greater or lesser readiness to fight and face danger felt by all the men composing an army, quite independently of whether they are, or are not, fighting under the command of a genius, in two--or three-line formation, with cudgels or with rifles that repeat thirty times a minute. Men who want to fight will always put themselves in the most advantageous conditions for fighting.
The spirit of an army is the factor which multiplied by the mass gives the resulting force. To define and express the significance of this unknown factor--the spirit of an army--is a problem for science.
This problem is only solvable if we cease arbitrarily to substitute for the unknown x itself the conditions under which that force becomes apparent--such as the commands of the general, the equipment employed, and so on--mistaking these for the real significance of the factor, and if we recognize this unknown quantity in its entirety as being the greater or lesser desire to fight and to face danger. Only then, expressing known historic facts by equations and comparing the relative significance of this factor, can we hope to define the unknown.
Ten men, battalions, or divisions, fighting fifteen men, battalions, or divisions, conquer--that is, kill or take captive--all the others, while themselves losing four, so that on the one side four and on the other fifteen were lost. Consequently the four were equal to the fifteen, and therefore 4x = 15y. Consequently x/y = 15/4. This equation does not give us the value of the unknown factor but gives us a ratio between two unknowns. And by bringing variously selected historic units (battles, campaigns, periods of war) into such equations, a series of numbers could be obtained in which certain laws should exist and might be discovered.
The tactical rule that an army should act in masses when attacking, and in smaller groups in retreat, unconsciously confirms the truth that the strength of an army depends on its spirit. To lead men forward under fire more discipline (obtainable only by movement in masses) is needed than is needed to resist attacks. But this rule which leaves out of account the spirit of the army continually proves incorrect and is in particularly striking contrast to the facts when some strong rise or fall in the spirit of the troops occurs, as in all national wars.
The French, retreating in 1812--though according to tactics they should have separated into detachments to defend themselves- congregated into a mass because the spirit of the army had so fallen that only the mass held the army together. The Russians, on the contrary, ought according to tactics to have attacked in mass, but in fact they split up into small units, because their spirit had so risen that separate individuals, without orders, dealt blows at the French without needing any compulsion to induce them to expose themselves to hardships and dangers.
The so-called partisan war began with the entry of the French into Smolensk.
Before partisan warfare had been officially recognized by the government, thousands of enemy stragglers, marauders, and foragers had been destroyed by the Cossacks and the peasants, who killed them off as instinctively as dogs worry a stray mad dog to death. Denis Davydov, with his Russian instinct, was the first to recognize the value of this terrible cudgel which regardless of the rules of military science destroyed the French, and to him belongs the credit for taking the first step toward regularizing this method of warfare.
On August 24 Davydov's first partisan detachment was formed and then others were recognized. The further the campaign progressed the more numerous these detachments became.
The irregulars destroyed the great army piecemeal. They gathered the fallen leaves that dropped of themselves from that withered tree- the French army--and sometimes shook that tree itself. By October, when the French were fleeing toward Smolensk, there were hundreds of such companies, of various sizes and characters. There were some that adopted all the army methods and had infantry, artillery, staffs, and the comforts of life. Others consisted solely of Cossack cavalry. There were also small scratch groups of foot and horse, and groups of peasants and landowners that remained unknown. A sacristan commanded one party which captured several hundred prisoners in the course of a month; and there was Vasilisa, the wife of a village elder, who slew hundreds of the French.
The partisan warfare flamed up most fiercely in the latter days of October. Its first period had passed: when the partisans themselves, amazed at their own boldness, feared every minute to be surrounded and captured by the French, and hid in the forests without unsaddling, hardly daring to dismount and always expecting to be pursued. By the end of October this kind of warfare had taken definite shape: it had become clear to all what could be ventured against the French and what could not. Now only the commanders of detachments with staffs, and moving according to rules at a distance from the French, still regarded many things as impossible. The small bands that had started their activities long before and had already observed the French closely considered things possible which the commanders of the big detachments did not dare to contemplate. The Cossacks and peasants who crept in among the French now considered everything possible.
On October 22, Denisov (who was one of the irregulars) was with his group at the height of the guerrilla enthusiasm. Since early morning he and his party had been on the move. All day long he had been watching from the forest that skirted the highroad a large French convoy of cavalry baggage and Russian prisoners separated from the rest of the army, which--as was learned from spies and prisoners- was moving under a strong escort to Smolensk. Besides Denisov and Dolokhov (who also led a small party and moved in Denisov's vicinity), the commanders of some large divisions with staffs also knew of this convoy and, as Denisov expressed it, were sharpening their teeth for it. Two of the commanders of large parties--one a Pole and the other a German--sent invitations to Denisov almost simultaneously, requesting him to join up with their divisions to attack the convoy.
"No, bwother, I have gwown mustaches myself," said Denisov on reading these documents, and he wrote to the German that, despite his heartfelt desire to serve under so valiant and renowned a general, he had to forgo that pleasure because he was already under the command of the Polish general. To the Polish general he replied to the same effect, informing him that he was already under the command of the German.
Having arranged matters thus, Denisov and Dolokhov intended, without reporting matters to the higher command, to attack and seize that convoy with their own small forces. On October 22 it was moving from the village of Mikulino to that of Shamshevo. To the left of the road between Mikulino and Shamshevo there were large forests, extending in some places up to the road itself though in others a mile or more back from it. Through these forests Denisov and his party rode all day, sometimes keeping well back in them and sometimes coming to the very edge, but never losing sight of the moving French. That morning, Cossacks of Denisov's party had seized and carried off into the forest two wagons loaded with cavalry saddles, which had stuck in the mud not far from Mikulino where the forest ran close to the road. Since then, and until evening, the party had the movements of the French without attacking. It was necessary to let the French reach Shamshevo quietly without alarming them and then, after joining Dolokhov who was to come that evening to a consultation at a watchman's hut in the forest less than a mile from Shamshevo, to surprise the French at dawn, falling like an avalanche on their heads from two sides, and rout and capture them all at one blow.
In their rear, more than a mile from Mikulino where the forest came right up to the road, six Cossacks were posted to report if any fresh columns of French should show themselves.
Beyond Shamshevo, Dolokhov was to observe the road in the same way, to find out at what distance there were other French troops. They reckoned that the convoy had fifteen hundred men. Denisov had two hundred, and Dolokhov might have as many more, but the disparity of numbers did not deter Denisov. All that he now wanted to know was what troops these were and to learn that he had to capture a "tongue"--that is, a man from the enemy column. That morning's attack on the wagons had been made so hastily that the Frenchmen with the wagons had all been killed; only a little drummer boy had been taken alive, and as he was a straggler he could tell them nothing definite about the troops in that column.
Denisov considered it dangerous to make a second attack for fear of putting the whole column on the alert, so he sent Tikhon Shcherbaty, a peasant of his party, to Shamshevo to try and seize at least one of the French quartermasters who had been sent on in advance.
It was a warm rainy autumn day. The sky and the horizon were both the color of muddy water. At times a sort of mist descended, and then suddenly heavy slanting rain came down.
Denisov in a felt cloak and a sheepskin cap from which the rain ran down was riding a thin thoroughbred horse with sunken sides. Like his horse, which turned its head and laid its ears back, he shrank from the driving rain and gazed anxiously before him. His thin face with its short, thick black beard looked angry.
Beside Denisov rode an esaul,* Denisov's fellow worker, also in felt cloak and sheepskin cap, and riding a large sleek Don horse.
*A captain of Cossacks.
Esaul Lovayski the Third was a tall man as straight as an arrow, pale-faced, fair-haired, with narrow light eyes and with calm self-satisfaction in his face and bearing. Though it was impossible to say in what the peculiarity of the horse and rider lay, yet at first glance at the esaul and Denisov one saw that the latter was wet and uncomfortable and was a man mounted on a horse, while looking at the esaul one saw that he was as comfortable and as much at ease as always and that he was not a man who had mounted a horse, but a man who was one with his horse, a being consequently possessed of twofold strength.
A little ahead of them walked a peasant guide, wet to the skin and wearing a gray peasant coat and a white knitted cap.
A little behind, on a poor, small, lean Kirghiz mount with an enormous tail and mane and a bleeding mouth, rode a young officer in a blue French overcoat.
Beside him rode an hussar, with a boy in a tattered French uniform and blue cap behind him on the crupper of his horse. The boy held on to the hussar with cold, red hands, and raising his eyebrows gazed about him with surprise. This was the French drummer boy captured that morning.
Behind them along the narrow, sodden, cutup forest road came hussars in threes and fours, and then Cossacks: some in felt cloaks, some in French greatcoats, and some with horsecloths over their heads. The horses, being drenched by the rain, all looked black whether chestnut or bay. Their necks, with their wet, close-clinging manes, looked strangely thin. Steam rose from them. Clothes, saddles, reins, were all wet, slippery, and sodden, like the ground and the fallen leaves that strewed the road. The men sat huddled up trying not to stir, so as to warm the water that had trickled to their bodies and not admit the fresh cold water that was leaking in under their seats, their knees, and at the back of their necks. In the midst of the outspread line of Cossacks two wagons, drawn by French horses and by saddled Cossack horses that had been hitched on in front, rumbled over the tree stumps and branches and splashed through the water that lay in the ruts.
Denisov's horse swerved aside to avoid a pool in the track and bumped his rider's knee against a tree.
"Oh, the devil!" exclaimed Denisov angrily, and showing his teeth he struck his horse three times with his whip, splashing himself and his comrades with mud.
Denisov was out of sorts both because of the rain and also from hunger (none of them had eaten anything since morning), and yet more because he still had no news from Dolokhov and the man sent to capture a "tongue" had not returned.
"There'll hardly be another such chance to fall on a transport as today. It's too risky to attack them by oneself, and if we put it off till another day one of the big guerrilla detachments will snatch the prey from under our noses," thought Denisov, continually peering forward, hoping to see a messenger from Dolokhov.
On coming to a path in the forest along which he could see far to the right, Denisov stopped.
"There's someone coming," said he.
The esaul looked in the direction Denisov indicated.
"There are two, an officer and a Cossack. But it is not presupposable that it is the lieutenant colonel himself," said the esaul, who was fond of using words the Cossacks did not know.
The approaching riders having descended a decline were no longer visible, but they reappeared a few minutes later. In front, at a weary gallop and using his leather whip, rode an officer, disheveled and drenched, whose trousers had worked up to above his knees. Behind him, standing in the stirrups, trotted a Cossack. The officer, a very young lad with a broad rosy face and keen merry eyes, galloped up to Denisov and handed him a sodden envelope.
"From the general," said the officer. "Please excuse its not being quite dry."
Denisov, frowning, took the envelope and opened it.
"There, they kept telling us: 'It's dangerous, it's dangerous,'" said the officer, addressing the esaul while Denisov was reading the dispatch. "But Komarov and I"--he pointed to the Cossack--"were prepared. We have each of us two pistols.... But what's this?" he asked, noticing the French drummer boy. "A prisoner? You've already been in action? May I speak to him?"
"Wostov! Petya!" exclaimed Denisov, having run through the dispatch. "Why didn't you say who you were?" and turning with a smile he held out his hand to the lad.
The officer was Petya Rostov.
All the way Petya had been preparing himself to behave with Denisov as befitted a grownup man and an officer--without hinting at their previous acquaintance. But as soon as Denisov smiled at him Petya brightened up, blushed with pleasure, forgot the official manner he had been rehearsing, and began telling him how he had already been in a battle near Vyazma and how a certain hussar had distinguished himself there.
"Well, I am glad to see you," Denisov interrupted him, and his face again assumed its anxious expression.
"Michael Feoklitych," said he to the esaul, "this is again fwom that German, you know. He"--he indicated Petya--"is serving under him."
And Denisov told the esaul that the dispatch just delivered was a repetition of the German general's demand that he should join forces with him for an attack on the transport.
"If we don't take it tomowwow, he'll snatch it fwom under our noses," he added.
While Denisov was talking to the esaul, Petya--abashed by Denisov's cold tone and supposing that it was due to the condition of his trousers--furtively tried to pull them down under his greatcoat so that no one should notice it, while maintaining as martial an air as possible.
"Will there be any orders, your honor?" he asked Denisov, holding his hand at the salute and resuming the game of adjutant and general for which he had prepared himself, "or shall I remain with your honor?"
"Orders?" Denisov repeated thoughtfully. "But can you stay till tomowwow?"
"Oh, please... May I stay with you?" cried Petya.
"But, just what did the genewal tell you? To weturn at once?" asked Denisov.
"He gave me no instructions. I think I could?" he returned, inquiringly.
"Well, all wight," said Denisov.
And turning to his men he directed a party to go on to the halting place arranged near the watchman's hut in the forest, and told the officer on the Kirghiz horse (who performed the duties of an adjutant) to go and find out where Dolokhov was and whether he would come that evening. Denisov himself intended going with the esaul and Petya to the edge of the forest where it reached out to Shamshevo, to have a look at the part of the French bivouac they were to attack next day.
"Well, old fellow," said he to the peasant guide, "lead us to Shamshevo."
Denisov, Petya, and the esaul, accompanied by some Cossacks and the hussar who had the prisoner, rode to the left across a ravine to the edge of the forest.
The rain had stopped, and only the mist was falling and drops from the trees. Denisov, the esaul, and Petya rode silently, following the peasant in the knitted cap who, stepping lightly with outturned toes and moving noiselessly in his bast shoes over the roots and wet leaves, silently led them to the edge of the forest.
He ascended an incline, stopped, looked about him, and advanced to where the screen of trees was less dense. On reaching a large oak tree that had not yet shed its leaves, he stopped and beckoned mysteriously to them with his hand.
Denisov and Petya rode up to him. From the spot where the peasant was standing they could see the French. Immediately beyond the forest, on a downward slope, lay a field of spring rye. To the right, beyond a steep ravine, was a small village and a landowner's house with a broken roof. In the village, in the house, in the garden, by the well, by the pond, over all the rising ground, and all along the road uphill from the bridge leading to the village, not more than five hundred yards away, crowds of men could be seen through the shimmering mist. Their un-Russian shouting at their horses which were straining uphill with the carts, and their calls to one another, could be clearly heard.
"Bwing the prisoner here," said Denisov in a low voice, not taking his eyes off the French.
A Cossack dismounted, lifted the boy down, and took him to Denisov. Pointing to the French troops, Denisov asked him what these and those of them were. The boy, thrusting his cold hands into his pockets and lifting his eyebrows, looked at Denisov in affright, but in spite of an evident desire to say all he knew gave confused answers, merely assenting to everything Denisov asked him. Denisov turned away from him frowning and addressed the esaul, conveying his own conjectures to him.
Petya, rapidly turning his head, looked now at the drummer boy, now at Denisov, now at the esaul, and now at the French in the village and along the road, trying not to miss anything of importance.
"Whether Dolokhov comes or not, we must seize it, eh?" said Denisov with a merry sparkle in his eyes.
"It is a very suitable spot," said the esaul.
"We'll send the infantwy down by the swamps," Denisov continued. "They'll cweep up to the garden; you'll wide up fwom there with the Cossacks"--he pointed to a spot in the forest beyond the village--"and I with my hussars fwom here. And at the signal shot..."
"The hollow is impassable--there's a swamp there," said the esaul. "The horses would sink. We must ride round more to the left...."
While they were talking in undertones the crack of a shot sounded from the low ground by the pond, a puff of white smoke appeared, then another, and the sound of hundreds of seemingly merry French voices shouting together came up from the slope. For a moment Denisov and the esaul drew back. They were so near that they thought they were the cause of the firing and shouting. But the firing and shouting did not relate to them. Down below, a man wearing something red was running through the marsh. The French were evidently firing and shouting at him.
"Why, that's our Tikhon," said the esaul.
"So it is! It is!"
"The wascal!" said Denisov.
"He'll get away!" said the esaul, screwing up his eyes.
The man whom they called Tikhon, having run to the stream, plunged in so that the water splashed in the air, and, having disappeared for an instant, scrambled out on all fours, all black with the wet, and ran on. The French who had been pursuing him stopped.
"Smart, that!" said the esaul.
"What a beast!" said Denisov with his former look of vexation. "What has he been doing all this time?"
"Who is he?" asked Petya.
"He's our plastun. I sent him to capture a 'tongue.'"
"Oh, yes," said Petya, nodding at the first words Denisov uttered as if he understood it all, though he really did not understand anything of it.
Tikhon Shcherbaty was one of the most indispensable men in their band. He was a peasant from Pokrovsk, near the river Gzhat. When Denisov had come to Pokrovsk at the beginning of his operations and had as usual summoned the village elder and asked him what he knew about the French, the elder, as though shielding himself, had replied, as all village elders did, that he had neither seen nor heard anything of them. But when Denisov explained that his purpose was to kill the French, and asked if no French had strayed that way, the elder replied that some "more-orderers" had really been at their village, but that Tikhon Shcherbaty was the only man who dealt with such matters. Denisov had Tikhon called and, having praised him for his activity, said a few words in the elder's presence about loyalty to the Tsar and the country and the hatred of the French that all sons of the fatherland should cherish.
"We don't do the French any harm," said Tikhon, evidently frightened by Denisov's words. "We only fooled about with the lads for fun, you know! We killed a score or so of 'more-orderers,' but we did no harm else..."
Next day when Denisov had left Pokrovsk, having quite forgotten about this peasant, it was reported to him that Tikhon had attached himself to their party and asked to be allowed to remain with it. Denisov gave orders to let him do so.
Tikhon, who at first did rough work, laying campfires, fetching water, flaying dead horses, and so on, soon showed a great liking and aptitude for partisan warfare. At night he would go out for booty and always brought back French clothing and weapons, and when told to would bring in French captives also. Denisov then relieved him from drudgery and began taking him with him when he went out on expeditions and had him enrolled among the Cossacks.
Tikhon did not like riding, and always went on foot, never lagging behind the cavalry. He was armed with a musketoon (which he carried rather as a joke), a pike and an ax, which latter he used as a wolf uses its teeth, with equal case picking fleas out of its fur or crunching thick bones. Tikhon with equal accuracy would split logs with blows at arm's length, or holding the head of the ax would cut thin little pegs or carve spoons. In Denisov's party he held a peculiar and exceptional position. When anything particularly difficult or nasty had to be done--to push a cart out of the mud with one's shoulders, pull a horse out of a swamp by its tail, skin it, slink in among the French, or walk more than thirty miles in a day--everybody pointed laughingly at Tikhon.
"It won't hurt that devil--he's as strong as a horse!" they said of him.
Once a Frenchman Tikhon was trying to capture fired a pistol at him and shot him in the fleshy part of the back. That wound (which Tikhon treated only with internal and external applications of vodka) was the subject of the liveliest jokes by the whole detachment- jokes in which Tikhon readily joined.
"Hallo, mate! Never again? Gave you a twist?" the Cossacks would banter him. And Tikhon, purposely writhing and making faces, pretended to be angry and swore at the French with the funniest curses. The only effect of this incident on Tikhon was that after being wounded he seldom brought in prisoners.
He was the bravest and most useful man in the party. No one found more opportunities for attacking, no one captured or killed more Frenchmen, and consequently he was made the buffoon of all the Cossacks and hussars and willingly accepted that role. Now he had been sent by Denisov overnight to Shamshevo to capture a "tongue." But whether because he had not been content to take only one Frenchman or because he had slept through the night, he had crept by day into some bushes right among the French and, as Denisov had witnessed from above, had been detected by them.