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War And Peace 92

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War And Peace

answered Bilibin. "Listen! The French entered Vienna as I told you. Very well. Next day, which was yesterday, those gentlemen, messieurs les marechaux,* Murat, Lannes, and Belliard, mount and ride to the bridge. (Observe that all three are Gascons.) Gentlemen, says one of them, you know the Thabor Bridge is mined and doubly mined and that there are menacing fortifications at its head and an army of fifteen thousand men has been ordered to blow up the bridge and not let us cross? But it will please our sovereign the Emperor Napoleon if we take this bridge, so let us three go and take it! Yes, lets! say the others. And off they go and take the bridge, cross it, and now with their whole army are on this side of the Danube, marching on us, you, and your lines of communication." *The marshalls. "Stop jesting," said Prince Andrew sadly and seriously. This news grieved him and yet he was pleased. As soon as he learned that the Russian army was in such a hopeless situation it occurred to him that it was he who was destined to lead it out of this position; that here was the Toulon that would lift him from the ranks of obscure officers and offer him the first step to fame! Listening to Bilibin he was already imagining how on reaching the army he would give an opinion at the war council which would be the only one that could save the army, and how he alone would be entrusted with the executing of the plan. "Stop this jesting," he said "I am not jesting," Bilibin went on. "Nothing is truer or sadder. These gentlemen ride onto the bridge alone and wave white handkerchiefs; they assure the officer on duty that they, the marshals, are on their way to negotiate with Prince Auersperg. He lets them enter the tete-de-pont.* They spin him a thousand gasconades, saying that the war is over, that the Emperor Francis is arranging a meeting with Bonaparte, that they desire to see Prince Auersperg, and so on. The officer sends for Auersperg; these gentlemen embrace the officers, crack jokes, sit on the cannon, and meanwhile a French battalion gets to the bridge unobserved, flings the bags of incendiary material into the water, and approaches the tete-de-pont. At length appears the lieutenant general, our dear Prince Auersperg von Mautern himself. Dearest foe! Flower of the Austrian army, hero of the Turkish wars Hostilities are ended, we can shake one anothers hand.... The Emperor Napoleon burns with impatience to make Prince Auerspergs acquaintance. In a word, those gentlemen, Gascons indeed, so bewildered him with fine words, and he is so flattered by his rapidly established intimacy with the French marshals, and so dazzled by the sight of Murats mantle and ostrich plumes, quil ny voit que du feu, et oublie celui quil devait faire faire sur lennemi!"*[2] In spite of the animation of his speech, Bilibin did not forget to pause after this mot to give time for its due appreciation. "The French battalion rushes to the bridgehead, spikes the guns, and the bridge is taken! But what is best of all," he went on, his excitement subsiding under the delightful interest of his own story, "is that the sergeant in charge of the cannon which was to give the signal to fire the mines and blow up the bridge, this sergeant, seeing that the French troops were running onto the bridge, was about to fire, but Lannes stayed his hand. The sergeant, who was evidently wiser than his general, goes up to Auersperg and says: Prince, you are being deceived, here are the French! Murat, seeing that all is lost if the sergeant is allowed to speak, turns to Auersperg with feigned astonishment (he is a true Gascon) and says: I dont recognize the world-famous Austrian discipline, if you allow a subordinate to address you like that! It was a stroke of genius. Prince Auersperg feels his dignity at stake and orders the sergeant to be arrested. Come, you must own that this affair of the Thabor Bridge is delightful! It is not exactly stupidity, nor rascality...." *Bridgehead. *[2] That their fire gets into his eyes and he forgets that he ought to be firing at the enemy. "It may be treachery," said Prince Andrew, vividly imagining the gray overcoats, wounds, the smoke of gunpowder, the sounds of firing, and the glory that awaited him. "Not that either. That puts the court in too bad a light," replied Bilibin. "Its not treachery nor rascality nor stupidity: it is just as at Ulm...

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