Book 15 Chapter 13

PIERRE was hardly changed in his external habits. In appearance he was just the same as before. He was, as he had always been, absent-minded, and seemed preoccupied with something of his own, something apart from what was before his eyes. The difference was that in old days, when he was unconscious of what was before his eyes, or what was being said to him, he would seem with painfully knitted brows to be striving unsuccessfully to discern something far away from him. He was just as unconscious now of what was said to him, or of what was before him. But now with a faint, apparently ironical smile, he gazed at what was before him, or listened to what was said, though he was obviously seeing and hearing something quite different. In old days he had seemed a good-hearted man, but unhappy. And so people had unconsciously held a little aloof from him. Now a smile of joy in life was continually playing about his mouth, and his eyes were bright with sympathy for others, and the question: Were they all as happy as he? And people felt at ease in his presence.

In old days he had talked a great deal, and had got hot when he talked, and he had listened very little. Now he was rarely carried away in conversation, and knew how to listen, so that people were very ready to tell him the inmost secrets of their hearts.

The princess, who had never liked Pierre, and had cherished a particularly hostile feeling towards him, since after the old count's death she had felt herself under obligation to him, had come to Orel with the intention of proving to him that in spite of his ingratitude she felt it her duty to nurse him, but after a short time she felt, to her own surprise and annoyance, that she was growing fond of him. Pierre did nothing to try and win his cousin's favour; he simply looked at her with curiosity. In old days she had felt that there was mockery and indifference in his eyes, and she had shrunk into herself before him, as she did before other people, and had shown him only her aggressive side. Now she felt on the contrary as though he were delving into the most secret recesses of her life. It was at first mistrustfully, and then with gratitude, that she let him see now the latent good side of her character.

The most artful person could not have stolen into the princess's confidence more cunningly, by arousing her recollections of the best time of her youth, and showing sympathy with them. And yet all Pierre's artfulness consisted in seeking to please himself by drawing out human qualities in the bitter, hard, and, in her own way, proud princess.

“Yes, he is a very, very good-hearted fellow when he is not under bad influence, but under the influence of people like me,” thought the princess.

The change that had taken place in Pierre was noticed in their own way by his servants too—Terenty and Vaska. They considered that he had grown much more good-natured. Often after undressing his master, and wishing him good night, Terenty would linger with his boots and his clothes in his hand, in the hope that his master would begin a conversation with him. And as a rule Pierre kept Terenty, seeing he was longing for a chat.

“Come, tell me, then … how did you manage to get anything to eat?” he would ask. And Terenty would begin his tales of the destruction of Moscow and of the late count, and would stand a long while with the clothes, talking away or listening to Pierre; and it was with a pleasant sense of his master's close intimacy with him and affection for him that he finally withdrew.

The doctor, who was attending Pierre, and came to see him every day, though he thought it his duty as a doctor to pose as a man every minute of whose time is of value for suffering humanity, used to sit on with him for hours together, repeating his favourite anecdotes and observations on the peculiarities of patients in general, and of ladies in particular.

“Yes, it's a pleasure to talk to a man like that; it's not what we are used to in the provinces,” he would say.

In Orel there happened to be several French prisoners, and the doctor brought one of them, a young Italian officer, to see Pierre.

This officer became a frequent visitor, and the princess used to laugh at the tender feelings the Italian expressed for Pierre.

It was obvious that the Italian was never happy but when he could see Pierre, and talk to him, and tell him all about his own past, his home life, and his love, and pour out his indignation against the French, and especially against Napoleon.

“If all Russians are the least bit like you,” he used to say to Pierre, “it is sacrilege to make war on a people like yours. You who have suffered so much at the hands of the French, have not even a grudge against them.”

And Pierre had won the Italian's passionate devotion simply by drawing out what was best in his soul and admiring it.

During the latter part of Pierre's stay in Orel, he received a visit from an old acquaintance, Count Villarsky, the freemason, who had introduced him to the lodge in 1807. Villarsky had married a Russian heiress, who had great estates in the Orel province, and he was filling a temporary post in the commissariat department in the town.

Though Villarsky had never been very intimately acquainted with Bezuhov, on hearing that he was in Orel, he called upon him with those demonstrations of friendliness and intimacy that men commonly display on meeting one another in the desert. Villarsky was dull in Orel, and was delighted to meet a man of his own circle, who had, as he supposed, the same interests as he had.

But to his surprise, Villarsky noticed soon that Pierre had quite dropped behind the times, and had, as he defined it himself to Pierre, sunk into apathy and egoism.

“You are stagnating,” he said to him.

But in spite of that, Villarsky felt much more at home with Pierre now than he had done in the past, and came every day to see him. As Pierre watched Villarsky, and listened to him now, it seemed strange and incredible to him to think that he had very lately been the same sort of person himself.

Villarsky was a married man with a family, whose time was taken up in managing his wife's property, in performing his official duties, and in looking after his family. He regarded all these duties as a drawback in his life, and looked on them all with contempt, because they were all directed to securing his own personal welfare and that of his family. Military, administrative, political, and masonic questions were continually engrossing his attention. And without criticising this view or attempting to change it, Pierre watched this phenomenon—so strange, yet so familiar to him—with the smile of gentle, delighted irony that was now habitual with him.

In Pierre's relations with Villarsky, with his cousin, with the doctor, and with all the people he met now, there was a new feature that gained him the good-will of all. This was the recognition of the freedom of every man to think, to feel, and to look at things in his own way; the recognition of the impossibility of altering a man's conviction by words. This legitimate individuality of every man's views, which had in old days troubled and irritated Pierre, now formed the basis of the sympathetic interest he felt in people. The inconsistency, sometimes the complete antagonism of men's views with their own lives or with one another, delighted Pierre, and drew from him a gentle and mocking smile.

In practical affairs Pierre suddenly felt now that he had the centre of gravity that he had lacked in former days. In the past every money question, especially requests for money, to which as a very wealthy man he was particularly liable, had reduced him to a state of helpless agitation and perplexity. “Ought I to give or not to give?” he used to ask himself. “I have money and he needs it. But some one else needs it more. Who needs it more? And perhaps both are impostors?” And of all these suppositions he had in old days found no satisfactory solution, and gave to all as long as he had anything to give. In old days he had been in the same perplexity over every question relating to his property when one person told him he ought to act in one way and another advised something else.

Now to his own surprise he found that he had no more doubt or hesitation on all such questions. Now there was a judge within him settling what he must do and what he must not, by some laws of which he was himself unaware.

He was just as unconcerned about money matters as before; but now he unhesitatingly knew what he ought to do and what he ought not to do. The first application of that new power within him was in the case of a prisoner, a French colonel, who called on him, talked very freely of his own great exploits, and finally delivered himself of a request that was more like a demand, that he should give him four thousand francs to send to his wife and children. Pierre refused to do so without the slightest difficulty or effort, and wondered himself afterwards that it had been so easy and simple to do what had in old days seemed so hopelessly difficult. At the same time as he refused the French colonel, he made up his mind that he must certainly resort to some stratagem when he left Orel to induce the Italian officer to accept assistance, of which he stood in evident need. A fresh proof to Pierre of his greater certainty in regard to practical matters was the settlement of the question of his wife's debts, and of the rebuilding of his Moscow house and villas in the suburbs.

His head steward came to him in Orel, and with him Pierre went into a general review of his financial position. The fire of Moscow had cost Pierre, by the steward's account, about two millions.

The chief steward to console him for these losses presented a calculation he had made, that Pierre's income, far from being diminished, would be positively increased if he were to refuse to pay the debts left by the countess—which he could not be forced to pay—and if he were not to restore his Moscow houses and the villa near Moscow, which had cost him eight thousand to keep up, and brought in nothing.

“Yes, yes, that's true,” said Pierre, with a beaming smile.

“Yes, yes, I don't need any of them. I have been made much richer by the destruction of the city.”

But in January Savelitch came from Moscow, talked to him of the position of the city, of the estimate the architect had sent in for restoring the house, and the villa in the suburbs, speaking of it as a settled matter. At the same time Pierre received letters from Prince Vassily and other acquaintances in Petersburg, in which his wife's debts were mentioned. And Pierre decided that the steward's plan that he had liked so much was not the right one, and that he must go to Petersburg to wind up his wife's affairs, and must rebuild in Moscow. Why he ought to do so, he could not have said; but he was convinced that he ought. His income was diminished by one-fourth owing to this decision. But it had to be so; he felt that.

Villarsky was going to Moscow, and they agreed to make the journey together.

During the whole period of his convalescence in Orel, Pierre had enjoyed the feeling of joyful freedom and life. But when he found himself on this journey on the open road, and saw hundreds of new faces, that feeling was intensified. During the journey he felt like a schoolboy in the holidays. All the people he saw—the driver, the overseer of the posting station, the peasants on the road, or in the village—all had a new significance for him. The presence and the observations of Villarsky, who was continually deploring the poverty and the ignorance and the backwardness of Russia, compared with Europe, only heightened Pierre's pleasure in it. Where Villarsky saw deadness, Pierre saw the extraordinary mighty force of vitality, the force which sustained the life of that homogeneous, original, and unique people over that immense expanse of snow. He did not contest Villarsky's opinions, and smiled gleefully, as he listened, appearing to agree with him as the easiest means of avoiding arguments which could lead to nothing.