Two months previously when Pierre was already staying with the Rostovs he had received a letter from Prince Theodore, asking him to come to Petersburg to confer on some important questions that were being discussed there by a society of which Pierre was one of the principal founders.
On reading that letter (she always read her husband's letters) Natasha herself suggested that he should go to Petersburg, though she would feel his absence very acutely. She attributed immense importance to all her husband's intellectual and abstract interests though she did not understand them, and she always dreaded being a hindrance to him in such matters. To Pierre's timid look of inquiry after reading the letter she replied by asking him to go, but to fix a definite date for his return. He was given four weeks' leave of absence.
Ever since that leave of absence had expired, more than a fortnight before, Natasha had been in a constant state of alarm, depression, and irritability.
Denisov, now a general on the retired list and much dissatisfied with the present state of affairs, had arrived during that fortnight. He looked at Natasha with sorrow and surprise as at a bad likeness of a person once dear. A dull, dejected look, random replies, and talk about the nursery was all he saw and heard from his former enchantress.
Natasha was sad and irritable all that time, especially when her mother, her brother, Sonya, or Countess Mary in their efforts to console her tried to excuse Pierre and suggested reasons for his delay in returning.
"It's all nonsense, all rubbish--those discussions which lead to nothing and all those idiotic societies!" Natasha declared of the very affairs in the immense importance of which she firmly believed.
And she would go to the nursery to nurse Petya, her only boy. No one else could tell her anything so comforting or so reasonable as this little three-month-old creature when he lay at her breast and she was conscious of the movement of his lips and the snuffling of his little nose. That creature said: "You are angry, you are jealous, you would like to pay him out, you are afraid--but here am I! And I am he..." and that was unanswerable. It was more than true.
During that fortnight of anxiety Natasha resorted to the baby for comfort so often, and fussed over him so much, that she overfed him and he fell ill. She was terrified by his illness, and yet that was just what she needed. While attending to him she bore the anxiety about her husband more easily.
She was nursing her boy when the sound of Pierre's sleigh was heard at the front door, and the old nurse--knowing how to please her mistress--entered the room inaudibly but hurriedly and with a beaming face.
"Has he come?" Natasha asked quickly in a whisper, afraid to move lest she should rouse the dozing baby.
"He's come, ma'am," whispered the nurse.
The blood rushed to Natasha's face and her feet involuntarily moved, but she could not jump up and run out. The baby again opened his eyes and looked at her. "You're here?" he seemed to be saying, and again lazily smacked his lips.
Cautiously withdrawing her breast, Natasha rocked him a little, handed him to the nurse, and went with rapid steps toward the door. But at the door she stopped as if her conscience reproached her for having in her joy left the child too soon, and she glanced round. The nurse with raised elbows was lifting the infant over the rail of his cot.
"Go, ma'am! Don't worry, go!" she whispered, smiling, with the kind of familiarity that grows up between a nurse and her mistress.
Natasha ran with light footsteps to the anteroom.
Denisov, who had come out of the study into the dancing room with his pipe, now for the first time recognized the old Natasha. A flood of brilliant, joyful light poured from her transfigured face.
"He's come!" she exclaimed as she ran past, and Denisov felt that he too was delighted that Pierre, whom he did not much care for, had returned.
On reaching the vestibule Natasha saw a tall figure in a fur coat unwinding his scarf. "It's he! It's really he! He has come!" she said to herself, and rushing at him embraced him, pressed his head to her breast, and then pushed him back and gazed at his ruddy, happy face, covered with hoarfrost. "Yes, it is he, happy and contented..."
Then all at once she remembered the tortures of suspense she had experienced for the last fortnight, and the joy that had lit up her face vanished; she frowned and overwhelmed Pierre with a torrent of reproaches and angry words.
"Yes, it's all very well for you. You are pleased, you've had a good time.... But what about me? You might at least have shown consideration for the children. I am nursing and my milk was spoiled.... Petya was at death's door. But you were enjoying yourself. Yes, enjoying..."
Pierre knew he was not to blame, for he could not have come sooner; he knew this outburst was unseemly and would blow over in a minute or two; above all he knew that he himself was bright and happy. He wanted to smile but dared not even think of doing so. He made a piteous, frightened face and bent down.
"I could not, on my honor. But how is Petya?"
"All right now. Come along! I wonder you're not ashamed! If only you could see what I was like without you, how I suffered!"
"You are well?"
"Come, come!" she said, not letting go of his arm. And they went to their rooms.
When Nicholas and his wife came to look for Pierre he was in the nursery holding his baby son, who was again awake, on his huge right palm and dandling him. A blissful bright smile was fixed on the baby's broad face with its toothless open mouth. The storm was long since over and there was bright, joyous sunshine on Natasha's face as she gazed tenderly at her husband and child.
"And have you talked everything well over with Prince Theodore?" she asked.
"You see, he holds it up." (She meant the baby's head.) "But how he did frighten me... You've seen the princess? Is it true she's in love with that..."
"Yes, just fancy..."
At that moment Nicholas and Countess Mary came in. Pierre with the baby on his hand stooped, kissed them, and replied to their inquiries. But in spite of much that was interesting and had to be discussed, the baby with the little cap on its unsteady head evidently absorbed all his attention.
"How sweet!" said Countess Mary, looking at and playing with the baby. "Now, Nicholas," she added, turning to her husband, "I can't understand how it is you don't see the charm of these delicious marvels."
"I don't and can't," replied Nicholas, looking coldly at the baby. "A lump of flesh. Come along, Pierre!"
"And yet he's such an affectionate father," said Countess Mary, vindicating her husband, "but only after they are a year old or so..."
"Now, Pierre nurses them splendidly," said Natasha. "He says his hand is just made for a baby's seat. Just look!"
"Only not for this..." Pierre suddenly exclaimed with a laugh, and shifting the baby he gave him to the nurse.
As in every large household, there were at Bald Hills several perfectly distinct worlds which merged into one harmonious whole, though each retained its own peculiarities and made concessions to the others. Every event, joyful or sad, that took place in that house was important to all these worlds, but each had its own special reasons to rejoice or grieve over that occurrence independently of the others.
For instance, Pierre's return was a joyful and important event and they all felt it to be so.
The servants--the most reliable judges of their masters because they judge not by their conversation or expressions of feeling but by their acts and way of life--were glad of Pierre's return because they knew that when he was there Count Nicholas would cease going every day to attend to the estate, and would be in better spirits and temper, and also because they would all receive handsome presents for the holidays.
The children and their governesses were glad of Pierre's return because no one else drew them into the social life of the household as he did. He alone could play on the clavichord that ecossaise (his only piece) to which, as he said, all possible dances could be danced, and they felt sure he had brought presents for them all.
Young Nicholas, now a slim lad of fifteen, delicate and intelligent, with curly light-brown hair and beautiful eyes, was delighted because Uncle Pierre as he called him was the object of his rapturous and passionate affection. No one had instilled into him this love for Pierre whom he saw only occasionally. Countess Mary who had brought him up had done her utmost to make him love her husband as she loved him, and little Nicholas did love his uncle, but loved him with just a shade of contempt. Pierre, however, he adored. He did not want to be an hussar or a Knight of St. George like his uncle Nicholas; he wanted to be learned, wise, and kind like Pierre. In Pierre's presence his face always shone with pleasure and he flushed and was breathless when Pierre spoke to him. He did not miss a single word he uttered, and would afterwards, with Dessalles or by himself, recall and reconsider the meaning of everything Pierre had said. Pierre's past life and his unhappiness prior to 1812 (of which young Nicholas had formed a vague poetic picture from some words he had overheard), his adventures in Moscow, his captivity, Platon Karataev (of whom he had heard from Pierre), his love for Natasha (of whom the lad was also particularly fond), and especially Pierre's friendship with the father whom Nicholas could not remember--all this made Pierre in his eyes a hero and a saint.
From broken remarks about Natasha and his father, from the emotion with which Pierre spoke of that dead father, and from the careful, reverent tenderness with which Natasha spoke of him, the boy, who was only just beginning to guess what love is, derived the notion that his father had loved Natasha and when dying had left her to his friend. But the father whom the boy did not remember appeared to him a divinity who could not be pictured, and of whom he never thought without a swelling heart and tears of sadness and rapture. So the boy also was happy that Pierre had arrived.
The guests welcomed Pierre because he always helped to enliven and unite any company he was in.
The grown-up members of the family, not to mention his wife, were pleased to have back a friend whose presence made life run more smoothly and peacefully.
The old ladies were pleased with the presents he brought them, and especially that Natasha would now be herself again.
Pierre felt the different outlooks of these various worlds and made haste to satisfy all their expectations.
Though the most absent-minded and forgetful of men, Pierre, with the aid of a list his wife drew up, had now bought everything, not forgetting his mother--and brother-in-law's commissions, nor the dress material for a present to Belova, nor toys for his wife's nephews. In the early days of his marriage it had seemed strange to him that his wife should expect him not to forget to procure all the things he undertook to buy, and he had been taken aback by her serious annoyance when on his first trip he forgot everything. But in time he grew used to this demand. Knowing that Natasha asked nothing for herself, and gave him commissions for others only when he himself had offered to undertake them, he now found an unexpected and childlike pleasure in this purchase of presents for everyone in the house, and never forgot anything. If he now incurred Natasha's censure it was only for buying too many and too expensive things. To her other defects (as most people thought them, but which to Pierre were qualities) of untidiness and neglect of herself, she now added stinginess.
From the time that Pierre began life as a family man on a footing entailing heavy expenditure, he had noticed to his surprise that he spent only half as much as before, and that his affairs--which had been in disorder of late, chiefly because of his first wife's debts- had begun to improve.
Life was cheaper because it was circumscribed: that most expensive luxury, the kind of life that can be changed at any moment, was no longer his nor did he wish for it. He felt that his way of life had now been settled once for all till death and that to change it was not in his power, and so that way of life proved economical.
With a merry, smiling face Pierre was sorting his purchases.
"What do you think of this?" said he, unrolling a piece of stuff like a shopman.
Natasha, who was sitting opposite to him with her eldest daughter on her lap, turned her sparkling eyes swiftly from her husband to the things he showed her.
"That's for Belova? Excellent!" She felt the quality of the material. "It was a ruble an arshin, I suppose?"
Pierre told her the price.
"Too dear!" Natasha remarked. "How pleased the children will be and Mamma too! Only you need not have bought me this," she added, unable to suppress a smile as she gazed admiringly at a gold comb set with pearls, of a kind then just coming into fashion.
"Adele tempted me: she kept on telling me to buy it," returned Pierre.
"When am I to wear it?" and Natasha stuck it in her coil of hair. "When I take little Masha into society? Perhaps they will be fashionable again by then. Well, let's go now."
And collecting the presents they went first to the nursery and then to the old countess' rooms.
The countess was sitting with her companion Belova, playing grand-patience as usual, when Pierre and Natasha came into the drawing room with parcels under their arms.
The countess was now over sixty, was quite gray, and wore a cap with a frill that surrounded her face. Her face had shriveled, her upper lip had sunk in, and her eyes were dim.
After the deaths of her son and husband in such rapid succession, she felt herself a being accidentally forgotten in this world and left without aim or object for her existence. She ate, drank, slept, or kept awake, but did not live. Life gave her no new impressions. She wanted nothing from life but tranquillity, and that tranquillity only death could give her. But until death came she had to go on living, that is, to use her vital forces. A peculiarity one sees in very young children and very old people was particularly evident in her. Her life had no external aims--only a need to exercise her various functions and inclinations was apparent. She had to eat, sleep, think, speak, weep, work, give vent to her anger, and so on, merely because she had a stomach, a brain, muscles, nerves, and a liver. She did these things not under any external impulse as people in the full vigor of life do, when behind the purpose for which they strive that of exercising their functions remains unnoticed. She talked only because she physically needed to exercise her tongue and lungs. She cried as a child does, because her nose had to be cleared, and so on. What for people in their full vigor is an aim was for her evidently merely a pretext.
Thus in the morning--especially if she had eaten anything rich the day before--she felt a need of being angry and would choose as the handiest pretext Belova's deafness.
She would begin to say something to her in a low tone from the other end of the room.
"It seems a little warmer today, my dear," she would murmur.
And when Belova replied: "Oh yes, they've come," she would mutter angrily: "O Lord! How stupid and deaf she is!"
Another pretext would be her snuff, which would seem too dry or too damp or not rubbed fine enough. After these fits of irritability her face would grow yellow, and her maids knew by infallible symptoms when Belova would again be deaf, the snuff damp, and the countess' face yellow. Just as she needed to work off her spleen so she had sometimes to exercise her still-existing faculty of thinking--and the pretext for that was a game of patience. When she needed to cry, the deceased count would be the pretext. When she wanted to be agitated, Nicholas and his health would be the pretext, and when she felt a need to speak spitefully, the pretext would be Countess Mary. When her vocal organs needed exercise, which was usually toward seven o'clock when she had had an after-dinner rest in a darkened room, the pretext would be the retelling of the same stories over and over again to the same audience.
The old lady's condition was understood by the whole household though no one ever spoke of it, and they all made every possible effort to satisfy her needs. Only by a rare glance exchanged with a sad smile between Nicholas, Pierre, Natasha, and Countess Mary was the common understanding of her condition expressed.
But those glances expressed something more: they said that she had played her part in life, that what they now saw was not her whole self, that we must all become like her, and that they were glad to yield to her, to restrain themselves for this once precious being formerly as full of life as themselves, but now so much to be pitied. "Memento mori," said these glances.
Only the really heartless, the stupid ones of that household, and the little children failed to understand this and avoided her.
When Pierre and his wife entered the drawing room the countess was in one of her customary states in which she needed the mental exertion of playing patience, and so--though by force of habit she greeted him with the words she always used when Pierre or her son returned after an absence: "High time, my dear, high time! We were all weary of waiting for you. Well, thank God!" and received her presents with another customary remark: "It's not the gift that's precious, my dear, but that you give it to me, an old woman..."--yet it was evident that she was not pleased by Pierre's arrival at that moment when it diverted her attention from the unfinished game.
She finished her game of patience and only then examined the presents. They consisted of a box for cards, of splendid workmanship, a bright-blue Sevres tea cup with shepherdesses depicted on it and with a lid, and a gold snuffbox with the count's portrait on the lid which Pierre had had done by a miniaturist in Petersburg. The countess had long wished for such a box, but as she did not want to cry just then she glanced indifferently at the portrait and gave her attention chiefly to the box for cards.
"Thank you, my dear, you have cheered me up," said she as she always did. "But best of all you have brought yourself back--for I never saw anything like it, you ought to give your wife a scolding! What are we to do with her? She is like a mad woman when you are away. Doesn't see anything, doesn't remember anything," she went on, repeating her usual phrases. "Look, Anna Timofeevna," she added to her companion, "see what a box for cards my son has brought us!"
Belova admired the presents and was delighted with her dress material.
Though Pierre, Natasha, Nicholas, Countess Mary, and Denisov had much to talk about that they could not discuss before the old countess--not that anything was hidden from her, but because she had dropped so far behindhand in many things that had they begun to converse in her presence they would have had to answer inopportune questions and to repeat what they had already told her many times: that so-and-so was dead and so-and-so was married, which she would again be unable to remember--yet they sat at tea round the samovar in the drawing room from habit, and Pierre answered the countess' questions as to whether Prince Vasili had aged and whether Countess Mary Alexeevna had sent greetings and still thought of them, and other matters that interested no one and to which she herself was indifferent.
Conversation of this kind, interesting to no one yet unavoidable, continued all through teatime. All the grown-up members of the family were assembled near the round tea table at which Sonya presided beside the samovar. The children with their tutors and governesses had had tea and their voices were audible from the next room. At tea all sat in their accustomed places: Nicholas beside the stove at a small table where his tea was handed to him; Milka, the old gray borzoi bitch (daughter of the first Milka), with a quite gray face and large black eyes that seemed more prominent than ever, lay on the armchair beside him; Denisov, whose curly hair, mustache, and whiskers had turned half gray, sat beside countess Mary with his general's tunic unbuttoned; Pierre sat between his wife and the old countess. He spoke of what he knew might interest the old lady and that she could understand. He told her of external social events and of the people who had formed the circle of her contemporaries and had once been a real, living, and distinct group, but who were now for the most part scattered about the world and like herself were garnering the last ears of the harvests they had sown in earlier years. But to the old countess those contemporaries of hers seemed to be the only serious and real society. Natasha saw by Pierre's animation that his visit had been interesting and that he had much to tell them but dare not say it before the old countess. Denisov, not being a member of the family, did not understand Pierre's caution and being, as a malcontent, much interested in what was occurring in Petersburg, kept urging Pierre to tell them about what had happened in the Semenovsk regiment, then about Arakcheev, and then about the Bible Society. Once or twice Pierre was carried away and began to speak of these things, but Nicholas and Natasha always brought him back to the health of Prince Ivan and Countess Mary Alexeevna.
"Well, and all this idiocy--Gossner and Tatawinova?" Denisov asked. "Is that weally still going on?"
"Going on?" Pierre exclaimed. "Why more than ever! The Bible Society is the whole government now!"
"What is that, mon cher ami?" asked the countess, who had finished her tea and evidently needed a pretext for being angry after her meal. "What are you saying about the government? I don't understand."
"Well, you know, Maman," Nicholas interposed, knowing how to translate things into his mother's language, "Prince Alexander Golitsyn has founded a society and in consequence has great influence, they say."
"Arakcheev and Golitsyn," incautiously remarked Pierre, "are now the whole government! And what a government! They see treason everywhere and are afraid of everything."
"Well, and how is Prince Alexander to blame? He is a most estimable man. I used to meet him at Mary Antonovna's," said the countess in an offended tone; and still more offended that they all remained silent, she went on: "Nowadays everyone finds fault. A Gospel Society! Well, and what harm is there in that?" and she rose (everybody else got up too) and with a severe expression sailed back to her table in the sitting room.
The melancholy silence that followed was broken by the sounds of the children's voices and laughter from the next room. Evidently some jolly excitement was going on there.
"Finished, finished!" little Natasha's gleeful yell rose above them all.
Pierre exchanged glances with Countess Mary and Nicholas (Natasha he never lost sight of) and smiled happily.
"That's delightful music!" said he.
"It means that Anna Makarovna has finished her stocking," said Countess Mary.
"Oh, I'll go and see," said Pierre, jumping up. "You know," he added, stopping at the door, "why I'm especially fond of that music? It is always the first thing that tells me all is well. When I was driving here today, the nearer I got to the house the more anxious I grew. As I entered the anteroom I heard Andrusha's peals of laughter and that meant that all was well."
"I know! I know that feeling," said Nicholas. "But I mustn't go there--those stockings are to be a surprise for me."
Pierre went to the children, and the shouting and laughter grew still louder.
"Come, Anna Makarovna," Pierre's voice was heard saying, "come here into the middle of the room and at the word of command, 'One, two,' and when I say 'three'... You stand here, and you in my arms- well now! One, two!..." said Pierre, and a silence followed: "three!" and a rapturously breathless cry of children's voices filled the room. "Two, two!" they shouted.
This meant two stockings, which by a secret process known only to herself Anna Makarovna used to knit at the same time on the same needles, and which, when they were ready, she always triumphantly drew, one out of the other, in the children's presence.
Soon after this the children came in to say good night. They kissed everyone, the tutors and governesses made their bows, and they went out. Only young Nicholas and his tutor remained. Dessalles whispered to the boy to come downstairs.
"No, Monsieur Dessalles, I will ask my aunt to let me stay," replied Nicholas Bolkonski also in a whisper.
"Ma tante, please let me stay," said he, going up to his aunt.
His face expressed entreaty, agitation, and ecstasy. Countess Mary glanced at him and turned to Pierre.
"When you are here he can't tear himself away," she said.
"I will bring him to you directly, Monsieur Dessalles. Good night!" said Pierre, giving his hand to the Swiss tutor, and he turned to young Nicholas with a smile. "You and I haven't seen anything of one another yet... How like he is growing, Mary!" he added, addressing Countess Mary.
"Like my father?" asked the boy, flushing crimson and looking up at Pierre with bright, ecstatic eyes.
Pierre nodded, and went on with what he had been saying when the children had interrupted. Countess Mary sat down doing woolwork; Natasha did not take her eyes off her husband. Nicholas and Denisov rose, asked for their pipes, smoked, went to fetch more tea from Sonya--who sat weary but resolute at the samovar--and questioned Pierre. The curly-headed, delicate boy sat with shining eyes unnoticed in a corner, starting every now and then and muttering something to himself, and evidently experiencing a new and powerful emotion as he turned his curly head, with his thin neck exposed by his turn-down collar, toward the place where Pierre sat.
The conversation turned on the contemporary gossip about those in power, in which most people see the chief interest of home politics. Denisov, dissatisfied with the government on account of his own disappointments in the service, heard with pleasure of the things done in Petersburg which seemed to him stupid, and made forcible and sharp comments on what Pierre told them.
"One used to have to be a German--now one must dance with Tatawinova and Madame Kwudener, and wead Ecka'tshausen and the bwethwen. Oh, they should let that fine fellow Bonaparte lose--he'd knock all this nonsense out of them! Fancy giving the command of the Semenov wegiment to a fellow like that Schwa'tz!" he cried.
Nicholas, though free from Denisov's readiness to find fault with everything, also thought that discussion of the government was a very serious and weighty matter, and the fact that A had been appointed Minister of This and B Governor General of That, and that the Emperor had said so-and-so and this minister so-and-so, seemed to him very important. And so he thought it necessary to take an interest in these things and to question Pierre. The questions put by these two kept the conversation from changing its ordinary character of gossip about the higher government circles.
But Natasha, knowing all her husband's ways and ideas, saw that he had long been wishing but had been unable to divert the conversation to another channel and express his own deeply felt idea for the sake of which he had gone to Petersburg to consult with his new friend Prince Theodore, and she helped him by asking how his affairs with Prince Theodore had gone.
"What was it about?" asked Nicholas.
"Always the same thing," said Pierre, looking round at his listeners. "Everybody sees that things are going so badly that they cannot be allowed to go on so and that it is the duty of all decent men to counteract it as far as they can."
"What can decent men do?" Nicholas inquired, frowning slightly. "What can be done?"
"Come into my study," said Nicholas.
Natasha, who had long expected to be fetched to nurse her baby, now heard the nurse calling her and went to the nursery. Countess Mary followed her. The men went into the study and little Nicholas Bolkonski followed them unnoticed by his uncle and sat down at the writing table in a shady corner by the window.
"Well, what would you do?" asked Denisov.
"Always some fantastic schemes," said Nicholas.
"Why this," began Pierre, not sitting down but pacing the room, sometimes stopping short, gesticulating, and lisping: "the position in Petersburg is this: the Emperor does not look into anything. He has abandoned himself altogether to this mysticism" (Pierre could not tolerate mysticism in anyone now). "He seeks only for peace, and only these people sans foi ni loi* can give it him--people who recklessly hack at and strangle everything--Magnitski, Arakcheev, and tutti quanti.... You will agree that if you did not look after your estates yourself but only wanted a quiet life, the harsher your steward was the more readily your object might be attained," he said to Nicholas.
*Without faith or law.
"Well, what does that lead up to?" said Nicholas.
"Well, everything is going to ruin! Robbery in the law courts, in the army nothing but flogging, drilling, and Military Settlements; the people are tortured, enlightenment is suppressed. All that is young and honest is crushed! Everyone sees that this cannot go on. Everything is strained to such a degree that it will certainly break," said Pierre (as those who examine the actions of any government have always said since governments began). "I told them just one thing in Petersburg."
"Well, you know whom," said Pierre, with a meaning glance from under his brows. "Prince Theodore and all those. To encourage culture and philanthropy is all very well of course. The aim is excellent but in the present circumstances something else is needed."
At that moment Nicholas noticed the presence of his nephew. His face darkened and he went up to the boy.
"Why are you here?"
"Why? Let him be," said Pierre, taking Nicholas by the arm and continuing. "That is not enough, I told them. Something else is needed. When you stand expecting the overstrained string to snap at any moment, when everyone is expecting the inevitable catastrophe, as many as possible must join hands as closely as they can to withstand the general calamity. Everything that is young and strong is being enticed away and depraved. One is lured by women, another by honors, a third by ambition or money, and they go over to that camp. No independent men, such as you or I, are left. What I say is widen the scope of our society, let the mot d'ordre be not virtue alone but independence and action as well!"
Nicholas, who had left his nephew, irritably pushed up an armchair, sat down in it, and listened to Pierre, coughing discontentedly and frowning more and more.
"But action with what aim?" he cried. "And what position will you adopt toward the government?"
"Why, the position of assistants. The society need not be secret if the government allows it. Not merely is it not hostile to government, but it is a society of true conservatives--a society of gentlemen in the full meaning of that word. It is only to prevent some Pugachev or other from killing my children and yours, and Arakcheev from sending me off to some Military Settlement. We join hands only for the public welfare and the general safety."
"Yes, but it's a secret society and therefore a hostile and harmful one which can only cause harm."
"Why? Did the Tugendbund which saved Europe" (they did not then venture to suggest that Russia had saved Europe) "do any harm? The Tugendbund is an alliance of virtue: it is love, mutual help... it is what Christ preached on the Cross."
Natasha, who had come in during the conversation, looked joyfully at her husband. It was not what he was saying that pleased her--that did not even interest her, for it seemed to her that was all extremely simple and that she had known it a long time (it seemed so to her because she knew that it sprang from Pierre's whole soul), but it was his animated and enthusiastic appearance that made her glad.
The boy with the thin neck stretching out from the turn-down collar- whom everyone had forgotten--gazed at Pierre with even greater and more rapturous joy. Every word of Pierre's burned into his heart, and with a nervous movement of his fingers he unconsciously broke the sealing wax and quill pens his hands came upon on his uncle's table.
"It is not at all what you suppose; but that is what the German Tugendbund was, and what I am proposing."
"No, my fwiend! The Tugendbund is all vewy well for the sausage eaters, but I don't understand it and can't even pwonounce it," interposed Denisov in a loud and resolute voice. "I agwee that evewything here is wotten and howwible, but the Tugendbund I don't understand. If we're not satisfied, let us have a bunt of our own. That's all wight. Je suis vot'e homme!"*
*"I'm your man."
Pierre smiled, Natasha began to laugh, but Nicholas knitted his brows still more and began proving to Pierre that there was no prospect of any great change and that all the danger he spoke of existed only in his imagination. Pierre maintained the contrary, and as his mental faculties were greater and more resourceful, Nicholas felt himself cornered. This made him still angrier, for he was fully convinced, not by reasoning but by something within him stronger than reason, of the justice of his opinion.
"I will tell you this," he said, rising and trying with nervously twitching fingers to prop up his pipe in a corner, but finally abandoning the attempt. "I can't prove it to you. You say that everything here is rotten and that an overthrow is coming: I don't see it. But you also say that our oath of allegiance is a conditional matter, and to that I reply: 'You are my best friend, as you know, but if you formed a secret society and began working against the government--be it what it may--I know it is my duty to obey the government. And if Arakcheev ordered me to lead a squadron against you and cut you down, I should not hesitate an instant, but should do it.' And you may argue about that as you like!"
An awkward silence followed these words. Natasha was the first to speak, defending her husband and attacking her brother. Her defense was weak and inapt but she attained her object. The conversation was resumed, and no longer in the unpleasantly hostile tone of Nicholas' last remark.
When they all got up to go in to supper, little Nicholas Bolkonski went up to Pierre, pale and with shining, radiant eyes.
"Uncle Pierre, you... no... If Papa were alive... would he agree with you?" he asked.
And Pierre suddenly realized what a special, independent, complex, and powerful process of thought and feeling must have been going on in this boy during that conversation, and remembering all he had said he regretted that the lad should have heard him. He had, however, to give him an answer.
"Yes, I think so," he said reluctantly, and left the study.
The lad looked down and seemed now for the first time to notice what he had done to the things on the table. He flushed and went up to Nicholas.
"Uncle, forgive me, I did that... unintentionally," he said, pointing to the broken sealing wax and pens.
Nicholas started angrily.
"All right, all right," he said, throwing the bits under the table.
And evidently suppressing his vexation with difficulty, he turned away from the boy.
"You ought not to have been here at all," he said.
The conversation at supper was not about politics or societies, but turned on the subject Nicholas liked best--recollections of 1812. Denisov started these and Pierre was particularly agreeable and amusing about them. The family separated on the most friendly terms.
After supper Nicholas, having undressed in his study and given instructions to the steward who had been waiting for him, went to the bedroom in his dressing gown, where he found his wife still at her table, writing.
"What are you writing, Mary?" Nicholas asked.
Countess Mary blushed. She was afraid that what she was writing would not be understood or approved by her husband.
She had wanted to conceal what she was writing from him, but at the same time was glad he had surprised her at it and that she would now have to tell him.
"A diary, Nicholas," she replied, handing him a blue exercise book filled with her firm, bold writing.
"A diary?" Nicholas repeated with a shade of irony, and he took up the book.
It was in French.
December 4. Today when Andrusha (her eldest boy) woke up he did not wish to dress and Mademoiselle Louise sent for me. He was naughty and obstinate. I tried threats, but he only grew angrier. Then I took the matter in hand: I left him alone and began with nurse's help to get the other children up, telling him that I did not love him. For a long time he was silent, as if astonished, then he jumped out of bed, ran to me in his shirt, and sobbed so that I could not calm him for a long time. It was plain that what troubled him most was that he had grieved me. Afterwards in the evening when I gave him his ticket, he again began crying piteously and kissing me. One can do anything with him by tenderness.
"What is a 'ticket'?" Nicholas inquired.
"I have begun giving the elder ones marks every evening, showing how they have behaved."
Nicholas looked into the radiant eyes that were gazing at him, and continued to turn over the pages and read. In the diary was set down everything in the children's lives that seemed noteworthy to their mother as showing their characters or suggesting general reflections on educational methods. They were for the most part quite insignificant trifles, but did not seem so to the mother or to the father either, now that he read this diary about his children for the first time.
Under the date "5" was entered:
Mitya was naughty at table. Papa said he was to have no pudding. He had none, but looked so unhappily and greedily at the others while they were eating! I think that punishment by depriving children of sweets only develops their greediness. Must tell Nicholas this.
Nicholas put down the book and looked at his wife. The radiant eyes gazed at him questioningly: would he approve or disapprove of her diary? There could be no doubt not only of his approval but also of his admiration for his wife.
Perhaps it need not be done so pedantically, thought Nicholas, or even done at all, but this untiring, continual spiritual effort of which the sole aim was the children's moral welfare delighted him. Had Nicholas been able to analyze his feelings he would have found that his steady, tender, and proud love of his wife rested on his feeling of wonder at her spirituality and at the lofty moral world, almost beyond his reach, in which she had her being.
He was proud of her intelligence and goodness, recognized his own insignificance beside her in the spiritual world, and rejoiced all the more that she with such a soul not only belonged to him but was part of himself.
"I quite, quite approve, my dearest!" said he with a significant look, and after a short pause he added: "And I behaved badly today. You weren't in the study. We began disputing--Pierre and I--and I lost my temper. But he is impossible: such a child! I don't know what would become of him if Natasha didn't keep him in hand.... Have you any idea why he went to Petersburg? They have formed..."
"Yes, I know," said Countess Mary. "Natasha told me."
"Well, then, you know," Nicholas went on, growing hot at the mere recollection of their discussion, "he wanted to convince me that it is every honest man's duty to go against the government, and that the oath of allegiance and duty... I am sorry you weren't there. They all fell on me--Denisov and Natasha... Natasha is absurd. How she rules over him! And yet there need only be a discussion and she has no words of her own but only repeats his sayings..." added Nicholas, yielding to that irresistible inclination which tempts us to judge those nearest and dearest to us. He forgot that what he was saying about Natasha could have been applied word for word to himself in relation to his wife.
"Yes, I have noticed that," said Countess Mary.
"When I told him that duty and the oath were above everything, he started proving goodness knows what! A pity you were not there--what would you have said?"
"As I see it you were quite right, and I told Natasha so. Pierre says everybody is suffering, tortured, and being corrupted, and that it is our duty to help our neighbor. Of course he is right there," said Countess Mary, "but he forgets that we have other duties nearer to us, duties indicated to us by God Himself, and that though we might expose ourselves to risks we must not risk our children."
"Yes, that's it! That's just what I said to him," put in Nicholas, who fancied he really had said it. "But they insisted on their own view: love of one's neighbor and Christianity--and all this in the presence of young Nicholas, who had gone into my study and broke all my things."
"Ah, Nicholas, do you know I am often troubled about little Nicholas," said Countess Mary. "He is such an exceptional boy. I am afraid I neglect him in favor of my own: we all have children and relations while he has no one. He is constantly alone with his thoughts."
"Well, I don't think you need reproach yourself on his account. All that the fondest mother could do for her son you have done and are doing for him, and of course I am glad of it. He is a fine lad, a fine lad! This evening he listened to Pierre in a sort of trance, and fancy--as we were going in to supper I looked and he had broken everything on my table to bits, and he told me of it himself at once! I never knew him to tell an untruth. A fine lad, a fine lad!" repeated Nicholas, who at heart was not fond of Nicholas Bolkonski but was always anxious to recognize that he was a fine lad.
"Still, I am not the same as his own mother," said Countess Mary. "I feel I am not the same and it troubles me. A wonderful boy, but I am dreadfully afraid for him. It would be good for him to have companions."
"Well it won't be for long. Next summer I'll take him to Petersburg," said Nicholas. "Yes, Pierre always was a dreamer and always will be," he continued, returning to the talk in the study which had evidently disturbed him. "Well, what business is it of mine what goes on there--whether Arakcheev is bad, and all that? What business was it of mine when I married and was so deep in debt that I was threatened with prison, and had a mother who could not see or understand it? And then there are you and the children and our affairs. Is it for my own pleasure that I am at the farm or in the office from morning to night? No, but I know I must work to comfort my mother, to repay you, and not to leave the children such beggars as I was."
Countess Mary wanted to tell him that man does not live by bread alone and that he attached too much importance to these matters. But she knew she must not say this and that it would be useless to do so. She only took his hand and kissed it. He took this as a sign of approval and a confirmation of his thoughts, and after a few minutes' reflection continued to think aloud.
"You know, Mary, today Elias Mitrofanych" (this was his overseer) "came back from the Tambov estate and told me they are already offering eighty thousand rubles for the forest."
And with an eager face Nicholas began to speak of the possibility of repurchasing Otradnoe before long, and added: "Another ten years of life and I shall leave the children... in an excellent position."
Countess Mary listened to her husband and understood all that he told her. She knew that when he thought aloud in this way he would sometimes ask her what he had been saying, and be vexed if he noticed that she had been thinking about something else. But she had to force herself to attend, for what he was saying did not interest her at all. She looked at him and did not think, but felt, about something different. She felt a submissive tender love for this man who would never understand all that she understood, and this seemed to make her love for him still stronger and added a touch of passionate tenderness. Besides this feeling which absorbed her altogether and hindered her from following the details of her husband's plans, thoughts that had no connection with what he was saying flitted through her mind. She thought of her nephew. Her husband's account of the boy's agitation while Pierre was speaking struck her forcibly, and various traits of his gentle, sensitive character recurred to her mind; and while thinking of her nephew she thought also of her own children. She did not compare them with him, but compared her feeling for them with her feeling for him, and felt with regret that there was something lacking in her feeling for young Nicholas.
Sometimes it seemed to her that this difference arose from the difference in their ages, but she felt herself to blame toward him and promised in her heart to do better and to accomplish the impossible- in this life to love her husband, her children, little Nicholas, and all her neighbors, as Christ loved mankind. Countess Mary's soul always strove toward the infinite, the eternal, and the absolute, and could therefore never be at peace. A stern expression of the lofty, secret suffering of a soul burdened by the body appeared on her face. Nicholas gazed at her. "O God! What will become of us if she dies, as I always fear when her face is like that?" thought he, and placing himself before the icon he began to say his evening prayers.
Natasha and Pierre, left alone, also began to talk as only a husband and wife can talk, that is, with extraordinary clearness and rapidity, understanding and expressing each other's thoughts in ways contrary to all rules of logic, without premises, deductions, or conclusions, and in a quite peculiar way. Natasha was so used to this kind of talk with her husband that for her it was the surest sign of something being wrong between them if Pierre followed a line of logical reasoning. When he began proving anything, or talking argumentatively and calmly and she, led on by his example, began to do the same, she knew that they were on the verge of a quarrel.
From the moment they were alone and Natasha came up to him with wide-open happy eyes, and quickly seizing his head pressed it to her bosom, saying: "Now you are all mine, mine! You won't escape!"--from that moment this conversation began, contrary to all the laws of logic and contrary to them because quite different subjects were talked about at one and the same time. This simultaneous discussion of many topics did not prevent a clear understanding but on the contrary was the surest sign that they fully understood one another.
Just as in a dream when all is uncertain, unreasoning, and contradictory, except the feeling that guides the dream, so in this intercourse contrary to all laws of reason, the words themselves were not consecutive and clear but only the feeling that prompted them.
Natasha spoke to Pierre about her brother's life and doings, of how she had suffered and lacked life during his own absence, and of how she was fonder than ever of Mary, and how Mary was in every way better than herself. In saying this Natasha was sincere in acknowledging Mary's superiority, but at the same time by saying it she made a demand on Pierre that he should, all the same, prefer her to Mary and to all other women, and that now, especially after having seen many women in Petersburg, he should tell her so afresh.
Pierre, answering Natasha's words, told her how intolerable it had been for him to meet ladies at dinners and balls in Petersburg.
"I have quite lost the knack of talking to ladies," he said. "It was simply dull. Besides, I was very busy."
Natasha looked intently at him and went on:
"Mary is so splendid," she said. "How she understands children! It is as if she saw straight into their souls. Yesterday, for instance, Mitya was naughty..."
"How like his father he is," Pierre interjected.
Natasha knew why he mentioned Mitya's likeness to Nicholas: the recollection of his dispute with his brother-in-law was unpleasant and he wanted to know what Natasha thought of it.
"Nicholas has the weakness of never agreeing with anything not generally accepted. But I understand that you value what opens up a fresh line," said she, repeating words Pierre had once uttered.
"No, the chief point is that to Nicholas ideas and discussions are an amusement--almost a pastime," said Pierre. "For instance, he is collecting a library and has made it a rule not to buy a new book till he has read what he had already bought--Sismondi and Rousseau and Montesquieu," he added with a smile. "You know how much I..." he began to soften down what he had said; but Natasha interrupted him to show that this was unnecessary.
"So you say ideas are an amusement to him...."
"Yes, and for me nothing else is serious. All the time in Petersburg I saw everyone as in a dream. When I am taken up by a thought, all else is mere amusement."
"Ah, I'm so sorry I wasn't there when you met the children," said Natasha. "Which was most delighted? Lisa, I'm sure."
"Yes," Pierre replied, and went on with what was in his mind. "Nicholas says we ought not to think. But I can't help it. Besides, when I was in Petersburg I felt (I can this to you) that the whole affair would go to pieces without me--everyone was pulling his own way. But I succeeded in uniting them all; and then my idea is so clear and simple. You see, I don't say that we ought to oppose this and that. We may be mistaken. What I say is: 'Join hands, you who love the right, and let there be but one banner--that of active virtue.' Prince Sergey is a fine fellow and clever."
Natasha would have had no doubt as to the greatness of Pierre's idea, but one thing disconcerted her. "Can a man so important and necessary to society be also my husband? How did this happen?" She wished to express this doubt to him. "Now who could decide whether he is really cleverer than all the others?" she asked herself, and passed in review all those whom Pierre most respected. Judging by what he had said there was no one he had respected so highly as Platon Karataev.
"Do you know what I am thinking about?" she asked. "About Platon Karataev. Would he have approved of you now, do you think?"
Pierre was not at all surprised at this question. He understood his wife's line of thought.
"Platon Karataev?" he repeated, and pondered, evidently sincerely trying to imagine Karataev's opinion on the subject. "He would not have understood... yet perhaps he would."
"I love you awfully!" Natasha suddenly said. "Awfully, awfully!"
"No, he would not have approved," said Pierre, after reflection. "What he would have approved of is our family life. He was always so anxious to find seemliness, happiness, and peace in everything, and I should have been proud to let him see us. There now--you talk of my absence, but you wouldn't believe what a special feeling I have for you after a separation...."
"Yes, I should think..." Natasha began.
"No, it's not that. I never leave off loving you. And one couldn't love more, but this is something special.... Yes, of course-" he did not finish because their eyes meeting said the rest.
"What nonsense it is," Natasha suddenly exclaimed, "about honeymoons, and that the greatest happiness is at first! On the contrary, now is the best of all. If only you did not go away! Do you remember how we quarreled? And it was always my fault. Always mine. And what we quarreled about--I don't even remember!"
"Always about the same thing," said Pierre with a smile. "Jealo..."
"Don't say it! I can't bear it!" Natasha cried, and her eyes glittered coldly and vindictively. "Did you see her?" she added, after a pause.
"No, and if I had I shouldn't have recognized her."
They were silent for a while.
"Oh, do you know? While you were talking in the study I was looking at you," Natasha began, evidently anxious to disperse the cloud that had come over them. "You are as like him as two peas- like the boy." (She meant her little son.) "Oh, it's time to go to him.... The milk's come.... But I'm sorry to leave you."
They were silent for a few seconds. Then suddenly turning to one another at the same time they both began to speak. Pierre began with self-satisfaction and enthusiasm, Natasha with a quiet, happy smile. Having interrupted one another they both stopped to let the other continue.
"No. What did you say? Go on, go on."
"No, you go on, I was talking nonsense," said Natasha.
Pierre finished what he had begun. It was the sequel to his complacent reflections on his success in Petersburg. At that moment it seemed to him that he was chosen to give a new direction to the whole of Russian society and to the whole world.
"I only wished to say that ideas that have great results are always simple ones. My whole idea is that if vicious people are united and constitute a power, then honest folk must do the same. Now that's simple enough."
"And what were you going to say?"
"I? Only nonsense."
"But all the same?"
"Oh nothing, only a trifle," said Natasha, smilingly still more brightly. "I only wanted to tell you about Petya: today nurse was coming to take him from me, and he laughed, shut his eyes, and clung to me. I'm sure he thought he was hiding. Awfully sweet! There, now he's crying. Well, good-by!" and she left the room.
Meanwhile downstairs in young Nicholas Bolkonski's bedroom a little lamp was burning as usual. (The boy was afraid of the dark and they could not cure him of it.) Dessalles slept propped up on four pillows and his Roman nose emitted sounds of rhythmic snoring. Little Nicholas, who had just waked up in a cold perspiration, sat up in bed and gazed before him with wide-open eyes. He had awaked from a terrible dream. He had dreamed that he and Uncle Pierre, wearing helmets such as were depicted in his Plutarch, were leading a huge army. The army was made up of white slanting lines that filled the air like the cobwebs that float about in autumn and which Dessalles called les fils de la Vierge. In front was Glory, which was similar to those threads but rather thicker. He and Pierre were borne along lightly and joyously, nearer and nearer to their goal. Suddenly the threads that moved them began to slacken and become entangled and it grew difficult to move. And Uncle Nicholas stood before them in a stern and threatening attitude.
"Have you done this?" he said, pointing to some broken sealing wax and pens. "I loved you, but I have orders from Arakcheev and will kill the first of you who moves forward." Little Nicholas turned to look at Pierre but Pierre was no longer there. In his place was his father- Prince Andrew--and his father had neither shape nor form, but he existed, and when little Nicholas perceived him he grew faint with love: he felt himself powerless, limp, and formless. His father caressed and pitied him. But Uncle Nicholas came nearer and nearer to them. Terror seized young Nicholas and he awoke.
"My father!" he thought. (Though there were two good portraits of Prince Andrew in the house, Nicholas never imagined him in human form.) "My father has been with me and caressed me. He approved of me and of Uncle Pierre. Whatever he may tell me, I will do it. Mucius Scaevola burned his hand. Why should not the same sort of thing happen to me? I know they want me to learn. And I will learn. But someday I shall have finished learning, and then I will do something. I only pray God that something may happen to me such as happened to Plutarch's men, and I will act as they did. I will do better. Everyone shall know me, love me, and be delighted with me!" And suddenly his bosom heaved with sobs and he began to cry.
"Are you ill?" he heard Dessalles' voice asking.
"No," answered Nicholas, and lay back on his pillow.
"He is good and kind and I am fond of him!" he thought of Dessalles. "But Uncle Pierre! Oh, what a wonderful man he is! And my father? Oh, Father, Father! Yes, I will do something with which even he would be satisfied...."