BOOK TEN: 1812
31. CHAPTER XXXI
Pierre looked over the wall of the trench and was particularly
struck by a pale young officer who, letting his sword hang down, was
walking backwards and kept glancing uneasily around.
The ranks of the infantry disappeared amid the smoke but their
long-drawn shout and rapid musketry firing could still be heard. A few
minutes later crowds of wounded men and stretcher-bearers came back
from that direction. Projectiles began to fall still more frequently
in the battery. Several men were lying about who had not been removed.
Around the cannon the men moved still more briskly and busily. No
one any longer took notice of Pierre. Once or twice he was shouted
at for being in the way. The senior officer moved with big, rapid
strides from one gun to another with a frowning face. The young
officer, with his face still more flushed, commanded the men more
scrupulously than ever. The soldiers handed up the charges, turned,
loaded, and did their business with strained smartness. They gave
little jumps as they walked, as though they were on springs.
The stormcloud had come upon them, and in every face the fire
which Pierre had watched kindle burned up brightly. Pierre standing
beside the commanding officer. The young officer, his hand to his
shako, ran up to his superior.
"I have the honor to report, sir, that only eight rounds are left.
Are we to continue firing?" he asked.
"Grapeshot!" the senior shouted, without answering the question,
looking over the wall of the trench.
Suddenly something happened: the young officer gave a gasp and
bending double sat down on the ground like a bird shot on the wing.
Everything became strange, confused, and misty in Pierre's eyes.
One cannon ball after another whistled by and struck the
earthwork, a soldier, or a gun. Pierre, who had not noticed these
sounds before, now heard nothing else. On the right of the battery
soldiers shouting "Hurrah!" were running not forwards but backwards,
it seemed to Pierre.
A cannon ball struck the very end of the earth work by which he
was standing, crumbling down the earth; a black ball flashed before
his eyes and at the same instant plumped into something. Some
militiamen who were entering the battery ran back.