From Prince Shcherbatov’s house
the prisoners were led straight down the Virgin’s
Field, to the left of the nunnery, as far as a kitchen
garden in which a post had been set up. Beyond
that post a fresh pit had been dug in the ground,
and near the post and the pit a large crowd stood
in a semicircle. The crowd consisted of a few
Russians and many of Napoleon’s soldiers who
were not on duty Germans, Italians, and
Frenchmen, in a variety of uniforms. To the right
and left of the post stood rows of French troops in
blue uniforms with red epaulets and high boots and
The prisoners were placed in a certain
order, according to the list (Pierre was sixth), and
were led to the post. Several drums suddenly
began to beat on both sides of them, and at that sound
Pierre felt as if part of his soul had been torn away.
He lost the power of thinking or understanding.
He could only hear and see. And he had only one
wish that the frightful thing that had to
happen should happen quickly. Pierre looked round
at his fellow prisoners and scrutinized them.
The two first were convicts with shaven
heads. One was tall and thin, the other dark,
shaggy, and sinewy, with a flat nose. The third
was a domestic serf, about forty-five years old, with
grizzled hair and a plump, well-nourished body.
The fourth was a peasant, a very handsome man with
a broad, light-brown beard and black eyes. The
fifth was a factory hand, a thin, sallow-faced lad
of eighteen in a loose coat.
Pierre heard the French consulting
whether to shoot them separately or two at a time.
“In couples,” replied the officer in command
in a calm voice. There was a stir in the ranks
of the soldiers and it was evident that they were
all hurrying not as men hurry to do something
they understand, but as people hurry to finish a necessary
but unpleasant and incomprehensible task.
A French official wearing a scarf
came up to the right of the row of prisoners and read
out the sentence in Russian and in French.
Then two pairs of Frenchmen approached
the criminals and at the officer’s command took
the two convicts who stood first in the row. The
convicts stopped when they reached the post and, while
sacks were being brought, looked dumbly around as
a wounded beast looks at an approaching huntsman.
One crossed himself continually, the other scratched
his back and made a movement of the lips resembling
a smile. With hurried hands the soldiers blindfolded
them, drawing the sacks over their heads, and bound
them to the post.
Twelve sharpshooters with muskets
stepped out of the ranks with a firm regular tread
and halted eight paces from the post. Pierre turned
away to avoid seeing what was going to happen.
Suddenly a crackling, rolling noise was heard which
seemed to him louder than the most terrific thunder,
and he looked round. There was some smoke, and
the Frenchmen were doing something near the pit, with
pale faces and trembling hands. Two more prisoners
were led up. In the same way and with similar
looks, these two glanced vainly at the onlookers with
only a silent appeal for protection in their eyes,
evidently unable to understand or believe what was
going to happen to them. They could not believe
it because they alone knew what their life meant to
them, and so they neither understood nor believed
that it could be taken from them.
Again Pierre did not wish to look
and again turned away; but again the sound as of a
frightful explosion struck his ear, and at the same
moment he saw smoke, blood, and the pale, scared faces
of the Frenchmen who were again doing something by
the post, their trembling hands impeding one another.
Pierre, breathing heavily, looked around as if asking
what it meant. The same question was expressed
in all the looks that met his.
On the faces of all the Russians and
of the French soldiers and officers without exception,
he read the same dismay, horror, and conflict that
were in his own heart. “But who, after all,
is doing this? They are all suffering as I am.
Who then is it? Who?” flashed for an instant
through his mind.
“Sharpshooters of the 86th,
forward!” shouted someone. The fifth prisoner,
the one next to Pierre, was led away alone.
Pierre did not understand that he was saved, that
he and the rest had been brought there only to witness
the execution. With ever-growing horror, and no
sense of joy or relief, he gazed at what was taking
place. The fifth man was the factory lad in the
loose cloak. The moment they laid hands on him
he sprang aside in terror and clutched at Pierre. (Pierre
shuddered and shook himself free.) The lad was unable
to walk. They dragged him along, holding him
up under the arms, and he screamed. When they
got him to the post he grew quiet, as if he suddenly
understood something. Whether he understood that
screaming was useless or whether he thought it incredible
that men should kill him, at any rate he took his stand
at the post, waiting to be blindfolded like the others,
and like a wounded animal looked around him with glittering
Pierre was no longer able to turn
away and close his eyes. His curiosity and agitation,
like that of the whole crowd, reached the highest pitch
at this fifth murder. Like the others this fifth
man seemed calm; he wrapped his loose cloak closer
and rubbed one bare foot with the other.
When they began to blindfold him he
himself adjusted the knot which hurt the back of his
head; then when they propped him against the bloodstained
post, he leaned back and, not being comfortable in
that position, straightened himself, adjusted his
feet, and leaned back again more comfortably.
Pierre did not take his eyes from him and did not miss
his slightest movement.
Probably a word of command was given
and was followed by the reports of eight muskets;
but try as he would Pierre could not afterwards remember
having heard the slightest sound of the shots.
He only saw how the workman suddenly sank down on
the cords that held him, how blood showed itself in
two places, how the ropes slackened under the weight
of the hanging body, and how the workman sat down,
his head hanging unnaturally and one leg bent under
him. Pierre ran up to the post. No one hindered
him. Pale, frightened people were doing something
around the workman. The lower jaw of an old Frenchman
with a thick mustache trembled as he untied the ropes.
The body collapsed. The soldiers dragged it awkwardly
from the post and began pushing it into the pit.
They all plainly and certainly knew
that they were criminals who must hide the traces
of their guilt as quickly as possible.
Pierre glanced into the pit and saw
that the factory lad was lying with his knees close
up to his head and one shoulder higher than the other.
That shoulder rose and fell rhythmically and convulsively,
but spadefuls of earth were already being thrown over
the whole body. One of the soldiers, evidently
suffering, shouted gruffly and angrily at Pierre to
go back. But Pierre did not understand him and
remained near the post, and no one drove him away.
When the pit had been filled up a
command was given. Pierre was taken back to his
place, and the rows of troops on both sides of the
post made a half turn and went past it at a measured
pace. The twenty-four sharpshooters with discharged
muskets, standing in the center of the circle, ran
back to their places as the companies passed by.
Pierre gazed now with dazed eyes at
these sharpshooters who ran in couples out of the
circle. All but one rejoined their companies.
This one, a young soldier, his face deadly pale, his
shako pushed back, and his musket resting on the ground,
still stood near the pit at the spot from which he
had fired. He swayed like a drunken man, taking
some steps forward and back to save himself from falling.
An old, noncommissioned officer ran out of the ranks
and taking him by the elbow dragged him to his company.
The crowd of Russians and Frenchmen began to disperse.
They all went away silently and with drooping heads.
“That will teach them to start
fires,” said one of the Frenchmen.
Pierre glanced round at the speaker
and saw that it was a soldier who was trying to find
some relief after what had been done, but was not
able to do so. Without finishing what he had begun
to say he made a hopeless movement with his arm and