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War And Peace 654

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War And Peace

out of the army day by day. All the physically or morally weak had long since been left behind and only the flower of the army--physically and mentally--remained. More men collected behind the wattle fence of the Eighth Company than anywhere else. Two sergeants major were sitting with them and their campfire blazed brighter than others. For leave to sit by their wattle they demanded contributions of fuel. "Eh, Makeev! What has become of you, you son of a bitch? Are you lost or have the wolves eaten you? Fetch some more wood!" shouted a red-haired and red-faced man, screwing up his eyes and blinking because of the smoke but not moving back from the fire. "And you, Jackdaw, go and fetch some wood!" said he to another soldier. This red-haired man was neither a sergeant nor a corporal, but being robust he ordered about those weaker than himself. The soldier they called "Jackdaw," a thin little fellow with a sharp nose, rose obediently and was about to go but at that instant there came into the light of the fire the slender, handsome figure of a young soldier carrying a load of wood. "Bring it here--thats fine!" They split up the wood, pressed it down on the fire, blew at it with their mouths, and fanned it with the skirts of their greatcoats, making the flames hiss and crackle. The men drew nearer and lit their pipes. The handsome young soldier who had brought the wood, setting his arms akimbo, began stamping his cold feet rapidly and deftly on the spot where he stood. "Mother! The dew is cold but clear.... Its well that Im a musketeer..." he sang, pretending to hiccough after each syllable. "Look out, your soles will fly off!" shouted the red-haired man, noticing that the sole of the dancers boot was hanging loose. "What a fellow you are for dancing!" The dancer stopped, pulled off the loose piece of leather, and threw it on the fire. "Right enough, friend," said he, and, having sat down, took out of his knapsack a scrap of blue French cloth, and wrapped it round his foot. "Its the steam that spoils them," he added, stretching out his feet toward the fire. "Theyll soon be issuing us new ones. They say that when weve finished hammering them, were to receive double kits!" "And that son of a bitch Petrov has lagged behind after all, it seems," said one sergeant major. "Ive had an eye on him this long while," said the other. "Well, hes a poor sort of soldier..." "But in the Third Company they say nine men were missing yesterday." "Yes, its all very well, but when a mans feet are frozen how can he walk?" "Eh? Dont talk nonsense!" said a sergeant major. "Do you want to be doing the same?" said an old soldier, turning reproachfully to the man who had spoken of frozen feet. "Well, you know," said the sharp-nosed man they called Jackdaw in a squeaky and unsteady voice, raising himself at the other side of the fire, "a plump man gets thin, but for a thin one its death. Take me, now! Ive got no strength left," he added, with sudden resolution turning to the sergeant major. "Tell them to send me to hospital; Im aching all over; anyway I shant be able to keep up." "Thatll do, thatll do!" replied the sergeant major quietly. The soldier said no more and the talk went on. "What a lot of those Frenchies were taken today, and the fact is that not one of them had what you might call real boots on," said a soldier, starting a new theme. "They were no more than make-believes." "The Cossacks have taken their boots. They were clearing the hut for the colonel and carried them out. It was pitiful to see them, boys," put in the dancer. "As they turned them over one seemed still alive and, would you believe it, he jabbered something in their lingo." "But theyre a clean folk, lads," the first man went on; "he was white--as white as birchbark--and some of them are such fine fellows, you might think they were nobles." "Well, what do you think? They make soldiers of all classes there." "But they dont understand our talk at all," said the dancer with a puzzled smile. "I asked him whose subject he was, and he jabbered in his own way. A queer lot!" "But its strange, friends," continued the man who had wondered at their whiteness, "the peasants at Mozhaysk were saying that when they began burying the dead--where the battle was

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