University Essays: Lesson 12, Reading 4
by Leo Tolstoy
After passing a chasseur regiment and in the lines of the Kiev grenadiers—fine fellows busy with similar peaceful affairs—near the shelter of the regimental commander, higher than and different from the others, Prince Andrew came out in front of a platoon of grenadiers before whom lay a naked man. Two soldiers held him while two others were flourishing their switches and striking him regularly on his bare back. The man shrieked unnaturally. A stout major was pacing up and down the line, and regardless of
the screams, kept repeating:
“It’s a shame for a soldier to steal; a soldier must be honest, honorable, and brave, but if he robs his fellows, there is no honor in him, he’s a scoundrel. Goon! Go!”
So the swishing sound of the strokes, and the desperate but unnatural screams, continued. “Go on, go on!” said the major.
A young officer with a bewildered and pained expression on his face stepped away from the man and looked round inquiringly at the adjutant as he rode by. Prince Andrew, having reached the front line, rode along it. Our front line and that of the enemy were far apart on the right and left flanks, but in the center where the men with a flag of truce had passed that morning, the lines were so near together that the men could see one another’s faces and speak to one another. Besides the soldiers who formed the picket line on either side, there were many curious onlookers who, jesting and laughing, stared at their strange foreign enemies.
Since early morning — despite an injunction not to approach the picket line —the officers had been unable to keep sightseers away. The soldiers forming the picket line, like
showmen exhibiting a curiosity, no longer looked at the French but paid attention to the sightseers and grew weary waiting to be relieved. Prince Andrew halted to have a look at the French.
“Look! Look there!” one soldier was saying to another, pointing to a Russian musketeer who had gone up to the picket line with an officer and was rapidly and excitedly
talking to a French grenadier. “Hark to him jabbering! Fine, isn’t it? It’s all the Frenchy can do to keep up with him. There now, Sidorov!”
“Wait a bit and listen. It’s fine!” answered Sidorov, who was considered adept at French.
The soldier to whom the laughers referred was Dolokhov. Prince Andrew recognized him and stopped to listen to what he was saying. Dolokhov had come from the left
flank where their regiment was stationed, with his captain.
“Now then, go on, go on!” incited the officer, bending forward and trying not to lose a word of the speech which was incomprehensible to him. “More, please: More! What’s he saying?”
Dolokhov did not answer the captain; he had been drawn into a hot dispute with the French grenadier. They were naturally talking about the campaign. The Frenchman, confusing the Austrians with the Russians, was trying to prove that the Russians had surrendered and had fled all the way from Ulm, while Dolokhov maintained that the Russians had not surrendered but had beaten the French.
“We have orders to drive you off here, and we shall drive you off,” said Dolokhov.
“Only take care you and your Cossacks are not all captured!” said the French grenadier. The French onlookers and listeners laughed.
“We’ll make you dance as we did under Suvorov. . . [on vous fera danser],” said Dolokhov.
“Qu’est-ce qu’il chante? [What’s he singing about?]” asked a Frenchman.
“It’s ancient history,” said another, guessing that it referred to a former war. “The Emperor will teach your Suvara as he has taught the others. . .”
“Bonaparte…” began Dolokhov, but the Frenchman interrupted him.
“Not Bonaparte. He is the Emperor! Sacre nom. . . .!” cried he angrily.
“The devil skin your Emperor.” And Dolokhov swore at him in coarse soldier’s Russian and shouldering his musket walked away.
Let us go, Ivan Lukich,” he said to the captain.
“Ah, that’s the way to talk French,” said the picket soldiers. “Now, Sidorov, you have a try!”
Sidorov, turning to the French, winked, and began to jabber meaningless sounds very fast: “Kari, mala, tafa, safi, muter, Kaska,” he said, trying to give an expressive intonation to his voice.
“Ho! ho! ho! Ha! ha! ha! Ouh! ouh!” came peals of such healthy and good-humored laughter from the soldiers that it infected the French involuntarily, so much so that the only thing left to do seemed to be to unload the muskets, explode the ammunition, and all return home as quickly as possible.
But the guns remained loaded, the loopholes in blockhouses and entrenchments looked out just as menacingly, and the unlimbered cannon confronted one another as
from War and Peace. excerpts from Book Two
This reading is from The Class of Nonviolence, prepared by Colman McCarthy of the Center for Teaching Peace, 4501 Van Ness Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20016 202.537.1372