Kutúzov 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 Nesvítski, 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 Nesvítski was treating some officers to pies and real doppelkümmel. 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?” Nesvítski 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 Nesvítski. “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.
Nesvítski 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 Nesvítski.
“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 Nesvítski.
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.
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