AFTER HIS INTERVIEW with his wife, Pierre had set off for Petersburg. At the station of Torzhok there were no horses, or the overseer was unwilling to let him have them. Pierre had to wait. Without removing his outdoor things, he lay down on a leather sofa, in front of a round table, put up his big feet in their thick overboots on this table and sank into thought.
“Shall I bring in the trunks? Make up a bed? Will you take tea?” the valet kept asking.
Pierre made no reply, for he heard nothing and said nothing. He had been deep in thought since he left the last station, and still went on thinking of the same thing—of something so important that he did not notice what was passing around him. Far from being concerned whether he reached Petersburg sooner or later, or whether there would or would not be a place for him to rest in at this station, in comparison with the thoughts that engrossed him now, it was a matter of utter indifference to him whether he spent a few hours or the rest of his life at that station.
The overseer and his wife, his valet, and a peasant woman with Torzhok embroidery for sale, came into the room, offering their services. Without changing the position of his raised feet, Pierre gazed at them over his spectacles, and did not understand what they could want and how they all managed to live, without having solved the questions that absorbed him. These same questions had possessed his mind ever since that day when he had come back after the duel from Sokolniky and had spent that first agonising, sleepless night. But now in the solitude of his journey they seized upon him with special force. Of whatever he began thinking he came back to the same questions, which he could not answer, and from which he could not escape. It was as though the chief screw in his brain upon which his whole life rested were loose. The screw moved no forwarder, no backwarder, but still it turned, catching on nothing, always in the same groove, and there was no making it cease turning.
The overseer came in and began humbly begging his excellency to wait only a couple of hours, after which he would (come what might of it) let his excellency have the special mail service horses. The overseer was unmistakably lying, with the sole aim of getting an extra tip from the traveller. “Was that good or bad?” Pierre wondered. “For me good, for the next traveller bad, and for himself inevitable because he has nothing to eat; he said that an officer had thrashed him for it. And the officer thrashed him because he had to travel in haste. And I shot Dolohov because I considered myself injured. Louis XVI. was executed because they considered him to be a criminal, and a year later his judges were killed too for something. What is wrong? What is right? What must one love, what must one hate? What is life for, and what am I? What is life? What is death? What force controls it all?” he asked himself. And there was no answer to one of these questions, except one illogical reply that was in no way an answer to any of them. That reply was: “One dies and it's all over. One dies and finds it all out or ceases asking.” But dying too was terrible.
The Torzhok pedlar woman in a whining voice proffered her wares, especially some goatskin slippers. “I have hundreds of roubles I don't know what to do with, and she's standing in her torn cloak looking timidly at me,” thought Pierre. “And what does she want the money for? As though the money could give her one hairsbreadth of happiness, of peace of soul. Is there anything in the world that can make her and me less enslaved to evil and to death? Death, which ends all, and must come to-day or to-morrow—which beside eternity is the same as an instant's time.” And again he turned the screw that did not bite in anything, and the screw still went on turning in the same place.
His servant handed him a half-cut volume of a novel in the form of letters by Madame Suza. He began reading of the sufferings and the virtuous struggles of a certain “Amélie de Mansfeld.” “And what did she struggle against her seducer for?” he thought, “when she loved him. God could not have put in her heart an impulse that was against His will. My wife—as she was once—didn't struggle, and perhaps she was right. Nothing has been discovered,” Pierre said to himself again, “nothing has been invented. We can only know that we know nothing. And that's the highest degree of human wisdom.”
Everything within himself and around him struck him as confused, meaningless, and loathsome. But in this very loathing of everything surrounding him Pierre found a sort of tantalising satisfaction.
“I make bold to beg your excellency to make room the least bit for this gentleman here,” said the overseer, coming into the room and ushering in after him another traveller, brought to a standstill from lack of horses. The traveller was a thickset, square-shouldered, yellow, wrinkled old man, with grey eyelashes overhanging gleaming eyes of an indefinite grey colour.
Pierre took his feet off the table, stood up and went to lie down on the bed that had been made ready for him, glancing now and then at the newcomer, who, without looking at Pierre, with an air of surly fatigue was wearily taking off his outer wraps with the aid of his servant. The traveller, now clothed in a shabby nankin-covered sheepskin coat with felt highboots on his thin bony legs, sat down on the sofa, and leaning on its back his close-cropped head, which was very large and broad across the temples, he glanced at Bezuhov. The stern, shrewd, and penetrating expression in that glance impressed Pierre. He felt disposed to speak to the traveller, but by the time he had ready a question about the road with which to address him, the traveller had closed his eyes, and folded his wrinkled old hands, on one finger of which there was a large iron ring with a seal representing the head of Adam. He sat without stirring, either resting or sunk, as it seemed to Pierre, in profound and calm meditation. The newcomer's servant was also a yellow old man, covered with wrinkles. He had neither moustache nor beard, not because he was shaved, but obviously had never had any. The old servant was active in unpacking a travelling-case, in setting the tea-table and in bringing in a boiling samovar. When everything was ready, the traveller opened his eyes, moved to the table, and pouring out a glass of tea for himself, poured out another for the beardless old man and gave it him. Pierre began to feel an uneasiness and a sense of the necessity, of the inevitability of entering into conversation with the traveller.
The servant brought back his empty glass turned upside down with an unfinished piece of nibbled sugar beside it, and asked if anything were wanted.
“Nothing. Give me my book,” said the traveller. The servant gave him a book, which seemed to Pierre to be of a devotional character, and the traveller became absorbed in its perusal. Pierre looked at him. All at once the stranger laid down the book, and putting a mark in it, shut it up. Then closing his eyes and leaning his arms on the back of the sofa, he fell back into his former attitude. Pierre stared at him, and had not time to look away when the old man opened his eyes and bent his resolute and stern glance upon Pierre. Pierre felt confused and tried to turn away from that glance, but the gleaming old eyes drew him irresistibly to them.