PRINCE VASSILY used not to think over his plans. Still less did he think of doing harm to others for the sake of his own interest. He was simply a man of the world, who had been successful in the world, and had formed a habit of being so. Various plans and calculations were continually forming in his mind, arising from circumstances and the persons he met, but he never deliberately considered them, though they constituted the whole interest of his life. Of such plans and calculations he had not one or two, but dozens in train at once, some of them only beginning to occur to him, others attaining their aim, others again coming to nothing. He never said to himself, for instance: “That man is now in power, I must secure his friendship and confidence, and through him obtain a grant from the Single-Assistance Fund”; nor, “Now Pierre is a wealthy man, I must entice him to marry my daughter and borrow the forty thousand I need.” But the man in power met him, and at the instant his instinct told him that that man might be of use, and Prince Vassily made friends with him, and at the first opportunity by instinct, without previous consideration, flattered him, became intimate with him, and told him of what he wanted.
Pierre was ready at hand in Moscow, and Prince Vassily secured an appointment as gentleman of the bedchamber for him, a position at that time reckoned equal in status to that of a councillor of state, and insisted on the young man's travelling with him to Petersburg, and staying at his house. Without apparent design, but yet with unhesitating conviction that it was the right thing, Prince Vassily did everything to ensure Pierre's marrying his daughter. If Prince Vassily had definitely reflected upon his plans beforehand, he could not have been so natural in his behaviour and so straightforward and familiar in his relations with every one, of higher and of lower rank than himself. Something drew him infallibly towards men richer or more powerful than himself, and he was endowed with a rare instinct for hitting on precisely the moment when he should and could make use of such persons.
Pierre, on unexpectedly becoming rich and Count Bezuhov, after his lonely and careless manner of life, felt so surrounded, so occupied, that he never succeeded in being by himself except in his bed. He had to sign papers, to present himself at legal institutions, of the significance of which he had no definite idea, to make some inquiry of his chief steward, to visit his estate near Moscow, and to receive a great number of persons, who previously had not cared to be aware of his existence, but now would have been hurt and offended if he had not chosen to see them. All these various people, business men, relations, acquaintances, were all equally friendly and well disposed towards the young heir. They were all obviously and unhesitatingly convinced of Pierre's noble qualities. He was continually hearing phrases, such as, “With your exceptionally kindly disposition”; or, “Considering your excellent heart”; or, “You are so pure-minded yourself, count …” or, “If he were as clever as you,” and so on, so that he was beginning genuinely to believe in his own exceptional goodness and his own exceptional intelligence, the more so, as at the bottom of his heart it had always seemed to him that he really was very good-natured and very intelligent. Even people, who had before been spiteful and openly hostile to him, became tender and affectionate. The hitherto ill-tempered, eldest princess, with the long waist and the hair plastered down like a doll, had gone into Pierre's room after the funeral. Dropping her eyes and repeatedly turning crimson, she said that she very much regretted the misunderstanding that had arisen between them, and that now she felt she had no right to ask him for anything except permission, after the blow that had befallen her, to remain for a few weeks longer in the house which she was so fond of, and in which she had made such sacrifices. She could not control herself, and wept at these words. Touched at seeing the statue-like princess so changed, Pierre took her by the hand and begged her pardon, though he could not have said what for. From that day the princess began knitting a striped scarf for Pierre, and was completely changed towards him.
“Do this for my sake, my dear boy; she had to put up with a great deal from the deceased, any way,” Prince Vassily said to him, giving him some deed to sign for the princess's benefit. Prince Vassily reflected that this note of hand for thirty thousand was a sop worth throwing to the poor princess, that it might not occur to her to gossip about Prince Vassily's part in the action taken with the inlaid portfolio. Pierre signed the note, and from that time the princess became even more amiable. The younger sisters became as affectionate too, especially the youngest one, the pretty one with the mole, who often disconcerted Pierre with her smiles and her confusion at the sight of him.
To Pierre it seemed so natural that every one should be fond of him, it would have seemed to him so unnatural if any one had not liked him, that he could not help believing in the sincerity of the people surrounding him. Besides, he had no time to doubt their sincerity or insincerity. He never had a moment of leisure, and felt in a continual state of mild and agreeable intoxication. He felt as though he were the centre of some important public function, felt that something was continually being expected of him; that if he did this and that, all would be well, and he did what was expected of him, but still that happy result loomed in the future.
In these early days Prince Vassily, more than all the rest, took control of Pierre's affairs, and of Pierre himself. On the death of Count Bezuhov he did not let Pierre slip out of his hands. Prince Vassily had the air of a man weighed down by affairs, weary, worried, but from sympathetic feeling, unable in the last resort to abandon this helpless lad, the son, after all, of his friend, and the heir to such an immense fortune, to leave him to his fate to become a prey to plotting knaves. During the few days he had stayed on in Moscow after Count Bezuhov's death, he had invited Pierre to him, or had himself gone to see Pierre, and had dictated to him what he was to do in a tone of weariness and certainty which seemed to be always saying: “You know that I am overwhelmed with business and that it is out of pure charity that I concern myself with you, and moreover you know very well that what I propose to you is the only feasible thing.”
“Well, my dear boy, to-morrow we are off at last,” he said one day, closing his eyes, drumming his fingers on his elbow, and speaking as though the matter had long ago been settled between them, and could not be settled in any other way.
“To-morrow we set off; I'll give you a place in my coach. I'm very glad. Here all our important business is settled. And I ought to have been back long ago. Here, I have received this from the chancellor. I petitioned him in your favour, and you are put on the diplomatic corps, and created a gentleman of the bedchamber. Now a diplomatic career lies open to you.”
Notwithstanding the effect produced on him by the tone of weariness and certainty with which these words were uttered, Pierre, who had so long been pondering over his future career, tried to protest. But Prince Vassily broke in on his protest in droning, bass tones, that precluded all possibility of interrupting the flow of his words; it was the resource he fell back upon when extreme measures of persuasion were needed.
“But, my dear boy, I have done it for my own sake, for my conscience' sake, and there is no need to thank me. No one has ever complained yet of being too much loved; and then you are free, you can give it all up to-morrow. You'll see for yourself in Petersburg. And it is high time you were getting away from these terrible associations.” Prince Vassily sighed. “So that's all settled, my dear fellow. And let my valet go in your coach. Ah, yes, I was almost forgetting,” Prince Vassily added. “You know, my dear boy, I had a little account to settle with your father, so as I have received something from the Ryazan estate, I'll keep that; you don't want it. We'll go into accounts later.”
What Prince Vassily called “something from the Ryazan estate” was several thousands of roubles paid in lieu of service by the peasants, and this sum he kept for himself.
In Petersburg, Pierre was surrounded by the same atmosphere of affection and tenderness as in Moscow. He could not decline the post, or rather the title (for he did nothing) that Prince Vassily had obtained for him, and acquaintances, invitations, and social duties were so numerous that Pierre was even more than in Moscow conscious of the feeling of stupefaction, hurry and continued expectation of some future good which was always coming and was never realised.
Of his old circle of bachelor acquaintances there were not many left in Petersburg. The Guards were on active service, Dolohov had been degraded to the ranks; Anatole had gone into the army and was somewhere in the provinces; Prince Andrey was abroad; and so Pierre had not the opportunity of spending his nights in the way he had so loved spending them before, nor could he open his heart in intimate talk with the friend who was older than himself and a man he respected. All his time was spent at dinners and balls, or at Prince Vassily's in the society of the fat princess, his wife, and the beauty, his daughter Ellen.
Like every one else, Anna Pavlovna Scherer showed Pierre the change that had taken place in the attitude of society towards him.
In former days, Pierre had always felt in Anna Pavlovna's presence that what he was saying was unsuitable, tactless, not the right thing; that the phrases, which seemed to him clever as he formed them in his mind, became somehow stupid as soon as he uttered them aloud, and that, on the contrary, Ippolit's most pointless remarks had the effect of being clever and charming. Now everything he said was always “delightful.” Even if Anna Pavlovna did not say so, he saw she was longing to say so, and only refraining from doing so from regard for his modesty.
At the beginning of the winter, in the year 1805, Pierre received one of Anna Pavlovna's customary pink notes of invitation, in which the words occurred: “You will find the fair Hélène at my house, whom one never gets tired of seeing.”
On reading that passage, Pierre felt for the first time that there was being formed between himself and Ellen some sort of tie, recognised by other people, and this idea at once alarmed him, as though an obligation were being laid upon him which he could not fulfil, and pleased him as an amusing supposition.
Anna Pavlovna's evening party was like her first one, only the novel attraction which she had provided for her guests was not on this occasion Mortemart, but a diplomat, who had just arrived from Berlin, bringing the latest details of the Emperor Alexander's stay at Potsdam, and of the inviolable alliance the two exalted friends had sworn together, to maintain the true cause against the enemy of the human race. Pierre was welcomed by Anna Pavlovna with a shade of melancholy, bearing unmistakable reference to the recent loss sustained by the young man in the death of Count Bezuhov (every one felt bound to be continually assuring Pierre that he was greatly afflicted at the death of his father, whom he had hardly known). Her melancholy was of precisely the same kind as that more exalted melancholy she always displayed at any allusion to Her Most August Majesty the Empress Marya Fyodorovna. Pierre felt flattered by it. Anna Pavlovna had arranged the groups in her drawing-room with her usual skill. The larger group, in which were Prince Vassily and some generals, had the benefit of the diplomat. Another group gathered about the tea-table. Pierre would have liked to join the first group, but Anna Pavlovna, who was in the nervous excitement of a general on the battlefield, that mental condition in which numbers of brilliant new ideas occur to one that one has hardly time to put into execution—Anna Pavlovna, on seeing Pierre, detained him with a finger on his coat sleeve: “Wait, I have designs on you for this evening.”
She looked round at Ellen and smiled at her.
“My dear Hélène, you must show charity to my poor aunt, who has an adoration for you. Go and keep her company for ten minutes. And that you may not find it too tiresome, here's our dear count, who certainly won't refuse to follow you.”
The beauty moved away towards the old aunt; but Anna Pavlovna still detained Pierre at her side, with the air of having still some last and essential arrangement to make with him.
“She is exquisite, isn't she?” she said to Pierre, indicating the majestic beauty swimming away from them. “And how she carries herself! For such a young girl, what tact, what a finished perfection of manner. It comes from the heart. Happy will be the man who wins her. The most unworldly of men would take a brilliant place in society as her husband. That's true, isn't it? I only wanted to know your opinion,” and Anna Pavlovna let Pierre go.
Pierre was perfectly sincere in giving an affirmative answer to her question about Ellen's perfection of manner. If ever he thought of Ellen, it was either of her beauty that he thought, or of her extraordinary capacity for serene, dignified silence in society.
The old aunt received the two young people in her corner, but appeared anxious to conceal her adoration of Ellen, and rather to show her fear of Anna Pavlovna. She glanced at her niece, as though to inquire what she was to do with them. Anna Pavlovna again laid a finger on Pierre's sleeve and said: “I hope you will never say in future that people are bored at my house,” and glanced at Ellen. Ellen smiled with an air, which seemed to say that she did not admit the possibility of any one's seeing her without being enchanted. The old aunt coughed, swallowed the phlegm, and said in French that she was very glad to see Ellen; then she addressed Pierre with the same greeting and the same grimace. In the middle of a halting and tedious conversation, Ellen looked round at Pierre and smiled at him with the bright, beautiful smile with which she smiled at every one. Pierre was so used to this smile, it meant so little to him, that he did not even notice it. The aunt was speaking at that moment of a collection of snuff-boxes belonging to Pierre's father, Count Bezuhov, and she showed them her snuff-box. Princess Ellen asked to look at the portrait of the aunt's husband, which was on the snuff-box.
“It's probably the work of Vines,” said Pierre, mentioning a celebrated miniature painter. He bent over the table to take the snuff-box, listening all the while to the conversation going on in the larger group. He got up to move towards it, but the aunt handed him the snuff-box, passing it across Ellen, behind her back. Ellen bent forward to make room, and looked round smiling. She was, as always in the evening, wearing a dress cut in the fashion of the day, very low in the neck both in front and behind. Her bust, which had always to Pierre looked like marble, was so close to his short-sighted eyes that he could discern all the living charm of her neck and shoulders, and so near his lips that he need scarcely have stooped to kiss it. He felt the warmth of her body, the fragrance of scent, and heard the creaking of her corset as she moved. He saw not her marble beauty making up one whole with her gown; he saw and felt all the charm of her body, which was only veiled by her clothes. And having once seen this, he could not see it otherwise, just as we cannot return to an illusion that has been explained.
“So you have never noticed till now that I am lovely?” Ellen seemed to be saying. “You haven't noticed that I am a woman? Yes, I am a woman, who might belong to any one—to you, too,” her eyes said. And at that moment Pierre felt that Ellen not only could, but would become his wife, that it must be so.
He knew it at that moment as surely as he would have known it, standing under the wedding crown beside her. How would it be? and when? He knew not, knew not even if it would be a good thing (he had a feeling, indeed, that for some reason it would not), but he knew it would be so.
Pierre dropped his eyes, raised them again, and tried once more to see her as a distant beauty, far removed from him, as he had seen her every day before. But he could not do this. He could not, just as a man who has been staring in a fog at a blade of tall steppe grass and taking it for a tree cannot see a tree in it again, after he has once recognised it as a blade of grass. She was terribly close to him. Already she had power over him. And between him and her there existed no barriers of any kind, but the barrier of his own will.
“Very good, I will leave you in your little corner. I see you are very comfortable there,” said Anna Pavlovna's voice. And Pierre, trying panic-stricken to think whether he had done anything reprehensible, looked about him, crimsoning. It seemed to him as though every one knew, as well as he did, what was passing in him. A little later, when he went up to the bigger group, Anna Pavlovna said to him:
“I am told you are making improvements in your Petersburg house.” (This was the fact: the architect had told him it was necessary, and Pierre, without knowing with what object, was having his immense house in Petersburg redecorated.) “That is all very well, but do not move from Prince Vassily's. It is a good thing to have such a friend as the prince,” she said, smiling to Prince Vassily. “I know something about that. Don't I? And you are so young. You need advice. You mustn't be angry with me for making use of an old woman's privileges.” She paused, as women always do pause, in anticipation of something, after speaking of their age. “If you marry, it's a different matter.” And she united them in one glance. Pierre did not look at Ellen, nor she at him. But she was still as terribly close to him.
He muttered something and blushed.
After Pierre had gone home, it was a long while before he could get to sleep; he kept pondering on what was happening to him. What was happening? Nothing. Simply he had grasped the fact that a woman, whom he had known as a child, of whom he had said, without giving her a thought, “Yes, she's nice-looking,” when he had been told she was a beauty, he had grasped the fact that that woman might belong to him. “But she's stupid, I used to say myself that she was stupid,” he thought. “There is something nasty in the feeling she excites in me, something not legitimate. I have been told that her brother, Anatole, was in love with her, and she in love with him, that there was a regular scandal, and that's why Anatole was sent away. Her brother is Ippolit.…Her father is Prince Vassily.…That's bad,” he mused; and at the very moment that he was reflecting thus (the reflections were not followed out to the end) he caught himself smiling, and became conscious that another series of reflections had risen to the surface across the first, that he was at the same time meditating on her worthlessness, and dreaming of how she would be his wife, how she might love him, how she might become quite different, and how all he had thought and heard about her might be untrue. And again he saw her, not as the daughter of Prince Vassily, but saw her whole body, only veiled by her grey gown. “But, no, why didn't that idea ever occur to me before?” And again he told himself that it was impossible, that there would be something nasty, unnatural, as it seemed to him, and dishonourable in this marriage. He recalled her past words and looks, and the words and looks of people, who had seen them together. He remembered the words and looks of Anna Pavlovna, when she had spoken about his house, he recollected thousands of such hints from Prince Vassily and other people, and he was overwhelmed with terror that he might have bound himself in some way to do a thing obviously wrong, and not what he ought to do. But at the very time that he was expressing this to himself, in another part of his mind her image floated to the surface in all its womanly beauty.