The Death of Prince Andrei
Excerpted from War and Peace
Prince Andrei, pale and haggard like everyone else in the regiment, walked to and fro in the meadow next to the oat-field from one boundary-line to the other, with his hands clasped behind his back, and his eyes fixed on the ground. There was no need for him to give orders, and nothing for him to do. Everything was done of itself. The killed were dragged behind the line; the wounded were removed, and the ranks closed up. If any soldiers ran away, they made haste to return at once. At first Prince Andrei, thinking it his duty to keep up the spirits of the men, and set them an example, had walked about among the ranks. But soon he felt that there was nothing he could teach them. All his energies, like those of every soldier, were unconsciously directed to restraining himself from contemplating the horror of his position. He walked about the meadow, dragging one leg after the other, making the grass rustle, and watching the dust, which covered his boots. Then he strode along, trying to step on the traces of the footsteps of the mowers on the meadow; or counting his steps, calculated how many times he would have to walk from one boundary rut to another to make a verst; or cut off the flowers of wormwood growing in the rut, and crushing them in his hands, sniffed at the bitter-sweet, pungent odour. Of all the thoughts of the previous day not a trace remained. He thought of nothing at all. He listened wearily to the sounds that were ever the same, the whiz of the shells above the booming of the cannon, looked at the faces of the men of the first battalion, which he had gazed at to weariness already, and waited. “Here it comes . . . this one’s for us again!” he thought, listening to the whiz of something flying out of the region of smoke. “One, another! More! Fallen” . . . He stopped short and looked toward the ranks. “No; it has flown over. But that one has fallen!” And he fell to pacing up and down again, trying to reach the next boundary in sixteen steps.
A whiz and a thud! Five paces from him the dry soil was thrown up, as a cannon ball sank into the earth. A chill ran down his back. He looked at the ranks. Probably a number had been struck: the men had gathered in a crowd in the second battalion.
“M. l’aide-de-camp,” he shouted, “tell the men not to crowd together.”
The adjutant, having obeyed this instruction, was approaching Prince Andrei. From the other side the major in command of the battalion came riding up.
“Look out!” rang out a frightened cry from a soldier, and like a bird, with swift, whirring wings alighting on the earth, a grenade dropped with a dull thud a couple of paces from Prince Andrei, near the major’s horse. The horse, with no question of whether it were right or wrong to show fear, snorted, reared, almost throwing the major, and galloped away. The horse’s terror infected the men.
“Lie down!” shouted the adjutant, throwing himself on the ground. Prince Andrei stood in uncertainty. The shell was smoking and rotating like a top between him and the recumbent adjutant, near a bush of wormwood in the rut between the meadow and the field.
“Can this be death?” Prince Andrei wondered, with an utterly new, wistful feeling, looking at the grass, at the wormwood and at the thread of smoke coiling from the rotating top. “I can’t die, I don’t want to die, I love life, I love this grass and earth and air . . .”
He thought this, and yet at the same time he did not forget that people were looking at him.
“For shame, M. l’aide-de-camp!” he said to the adjutant; “what sort of . . .” He did not finish. Simultaneously there was a tearing, crashing sound, like the smash of broken crockery, a puff of stifling fumes, and Prince Andrei was sent spinning over, and flinging up one arm, fell on his face.