PIERRE had not succeeded in fixing upon a career in Petersburg, and really had been banished to Moscow for disorderly conduct. The story told about him at Count Rostov's was true. Pierre had assisted in tying the police officer to the bear. He had arrived a few days previously, stopping as he always did at his father's house. Though he had assumed that his story would be already known at Moscow, and that the ladies who were about his father, always unfavourably disposed to him, would profit by this opportunity of turning the count against him, he went on the day of his arrival to his father's part of the house. Going into the drawing-room, where the princesses usually sat, he greeted the ladies, two of whom were sitting at their embroidery frames, while one read aloud. There were three of them. The eldest, a trim, long-waisted, severe maiden-lady, the one who had come out to Anna Mihalovna, was reading. The younger ones, both rosy and pretty, were only to be distinguished by the fact that one of them had a little mole which made her much prettier. They were both working at their embroidery frames. Pierre was received like a man risen from the dead or stricken with plague. The eldest princess paused in her reading and stared at him in silence with dismay in her eyes. The second assumed precisely the same expression. The youngest, the one with the mole, who was of a mirthful and laughing disposition, bent over her frame, to conceal a smile, probably evoked by the amusing scene she foresaw coming. She pulled her embroidery wool out below, and bent down as though examining the pattern, hardly able to suppress her laughter.
“Good morning, cousin,” said Pierre. “You don't know me?”
“I know you only too well, only too well.”
“How is the count? Can I see him?” Pierre asked, awkwardly as always, but not disconcerted.
“The count is suffering both physically and morally, and your only anxiety seems to be to occasion him as much suffering as possible.”
“Can I see the count?” repeated Pierre.
“Hm … if you want to kill him, to kill him outright, you can see him. Olga, go and see if uncle's broth is ready—it will soon be time for it,” she added, to show Pierre they were busy, and busy in seeing after his father's comfort, while he was obviously only busy in causing him discomfort.
Olga went out. Pierre stood still a moment, looked at the sisters and bowing said: “Then I will go to my room. When I can see him, you will tell me.” He went away and heard the ringing but not loud laugh of the sister with the mole behind him.
The next day Prince Vassily had come and settled in the count's house. He sent for Pierre and said to him:
“My dear fellow, if you behave here as you did at Petersburg, you will come to a very bad end; that's all I have to say to you. The count is very, very ill; you must not see him.”
Since then Pierre had not been disturbed, and he spent the whole day alone in his room upstairs.
At the moment when Boris came in, Pierre was walking up and down his room, stopping now and then in the corners, making menacing gestures at the wall, as though thrusting some invisible enemy through with a lance, then he gazed sternly over his spectacles, then pacing up and down again, murmuring indistinct words, shrugging his shoulders and gesticulating.
“England's day is over!” he said, scowling and pointing at some one with his finger. “Mr. Pitt, as a traitor to the nation and to the rights of man, is condemned…” he had not time to deliver Pitt's sentence, imagining himself at that moment Napoleon, and having in the person of his hero succeeded in the dangerous crossing of the Channel and in the conquest of London, when he saw a graceful, handsome young officer come in. He stood still. Pierre had seen Boris last as a boy of fourteen, and did not remember him in the least. But in spite of that he took his hand in his characteristically quick and warm-hearted manner, and smiled cordially at him.
“You remember me?” Boris said calmly with a pleasant smile. “I have come with my mother to see the count, but it seems he is not quite well.”
“Yes, he is ill, it seems. People are always bothering him,” answered Pierre, trying to recall who this youth might be.
Boris perceived that Pierre did not know him, but did not think fit to make himself known, and without the slightest embarrassment looked him straight in the face.
“Count Rostov asks you to come to dinner with him to-day,” he said, after a rather long silence somewhat disconcerting for Pierre.
“Ah, Count Rostov,” began Pierre, delighted. “So you are his son, Ilya? Can you believe it, for the first moment I did not recognise you. Do you remember how we used to slide on the Sparrow Hills with Madame Jacquot … long ago?”
“You are mistaken,” said Boris, deliberately, with a bold and rather sarcastic smile. “I am Boris, the son of Princess Anna Mihalovna Drubetskoy. It is the father of the Rostovs who is called Ilya, the son's Nikolay. And I don't know any Madame Jacquot.”
Pierre shook his hands and head, as though flies or bees were swarming upon him.
“Ah, how is it! I've mixed it all up. There are such a lot of relatives in Moscow! You are Boris … yes. Well, now, we have got it clear. Tell me, what do you think of the Boulogne expedition? Things will go badly with the English, you know, if Napoleon gets across the Channel. I believe that the expedition is very possible. If only Villeneuve doesn't make a mess of it!”
Boris knew nothing at all about the Boulogne expedition, and it was the first time he had heard of Villeneuve.
“Here in Moscow we are more interested in dinner parties and scandal than in politics,” he said in his self-possessed, sarcastic tone. “I know nothing and think nothing about it. Moscow's more engrossed in scandal than anything,” he went on. “Just now they are all talking about you and about the count.”
Pierre smiled his kindly smile, as though afraid for his companion's sake that he might say something he would regret. But Boris spoke distinctly, clearly and drily, looking straight into Pierre's face.
“There's nothing else to do in Moscow but talk scandal,” he went on. “Every one's absorbed in the question whom the count will leave his fortune to, though perhaps he will outlive us all, as I sincerely hope he may.”
“Yes, all that's very horrid,” Pierre interposed, “very horrid.” Pierre was still afraid this officer would inadvertently drop into some remark disconcerting for himself.
“And it must seem to you,” said Boris, flushing slightly, but not changing his voice or attitude, “it must seem to you that every one's thinking of nothing but getting something from him.”
“That's just it,” thought Pierre.
“And that's just what I want to say to you to prevent misunderstandings, that you are very much mistaken if you reckon me and my mother among those people. We are very poor, but I—at least I speak for myself—just because your father is rich, I don't consider myself a relation of his, and neither I nor my mother would ever ask him for anything or take anything from him.”
It was a long while before Pierre understood, but, when he did understand, he jumped up from the sofa, seized Boris's hand with his characteristic quickness and awkwardness, and blushing far more than Boris, began speaking with a mixed sensation of shame and annoyance.
“Well, this is strange! Do you suppose I … how you could think … I know very well …”
But Boris again interrupted him.
“I am glad I have told you everything frankly. Perhaps you dislike it: you must excuse me,” he said, trying to put Pierre at his ease instead of being put at his ease by him; “but I hope I have not offended you. I make it a rule to say everything quite plainly.… Then what message am I to take? You will come to dinner at the Rostovs'?” And Boris, with an evident sense of having discharged an onerous duty, having extricated himself from an awkward position, and put somebody else into one became perfectly pleasant again.
“No, let me tell you,” said Pierre, regaining his composure, “you are a wonderful person. What you have just said was very fine, very fine. Of course you don't know me, it's so long since we've seen each other … we were children.… You might suppose I should … I understand, I quite understand. I shouldn't have done it, I shouldn't have had the courage, but it's splendid. I'm very glad I have made your acquaintance. A queer idea,” he added, pausing and smiling, “you must have had of me.” He laughed. “But what of it? Let us know each other better, please!” He pressed Boris's hand. “Do you know I've not once seen the count? He has not sent for me … I am sorry for him, as a man … But what can one do?”
“And so you think Napoleon will succeed in getting his army across?” Boris queried, smiling.
Pierre saw that Boris was trying to change the conversation, and so he began explaining the advantages and difficulties of the Boulogne expedition.
A footman came in to summon Boris to the princess. The princess was going. Pierre promised to come to dinner in order to see more of Boris, and pressed his hand warmly at parting, looking affectionately into his face over his spectacles.
When he had gone, Pierre walked for some time longer up and down his room, not thrusting at an unseen foe, but smiling at the recollection of that charming, intelligent, and resolute young man.
As so often happens with young people, especially if they are in a position of loneliness, he felt an unreasonable tenderness for this youth, and he firmly resolved to become friends with him.
Prince Vassily accompanied the princess to the hall. The princess was holding her handkerchief to her eyes, and her face was tearful.
“It is terrible, terrible!” she said; “but whatever it costs me, I will do my duty. I will come to stay the night. He can't be left like this. Every minute is precious. I can't understand why his nieces put it off. Maybe God will help me to find a way to prepare him. Adieu, prince, may God support you …”
“Adieu, my kind friend,” answered Prince Vassily, turning away from her.
“Oh, he is in an awful position!” said the mother to her son, when they were sitting in the carriage again. “He scarcely knows any one.”
“I don't understand, mamma, what his attitude is as regards Pierre.”
“The will will make all that plain, my dear; our fate, too, hangs upon it.…”
“But what makes you think he will leave us anything?”
“Oh, my dear! He is so rich, and we are so poor.”
“Well, that's hardly a sufficient reason, mamma.”
“Oh, my God, how ill he is, how ill he is!” cried his mother.