“I HAVE THE PLEASURE of speaking to Count Bezuhov, if I am not mistaken,” said the stranger, in a loud deliberate voice. Pierre looked in silence and inquiringly over his spectacles at the speaker. “I have heard of you,” continued the stranger, “and I have heard, sir, of what has happened to you, of your misfortune.” He underlined, as it were, the last word, as though to say: “Yes, misfortune, whatever you call it, I know that what happened to you in Moscow was a misfortune.”
“I am very sorry for it, sir.” Pierre reddened, and hurriedly dropping his legs over the edge of the bed, he bent forward towards the old man, smiling timidly and unnaturally.
“I have not mentioned this to you, sir, from curiosity, but from graver reasons.” He paused, not letting Pierre escape from his gaze, and moved aside on the sofa, inviting him by this movement to sit beside him. Pierre disliked entering into conversation with this old man, but involuntarily submitting to him, he came and sat down beside him.
“You are unhappy, sir,” he went on, “you are young, and I am old. I should like, as far as it is in my power, to help you.”
“Oh, yes,” said Pierre, with an unnatural smile. “Very much obliged to you … where have you been travelling from?” The stranger's face was not cordial, it was even cold and severe, but in spite of that, both the speech and the face of his new acquaintance were irresistibly attractive to Pierre.
“But if for any reason you dislike conversing with me,” said the old man, “then you say so, sir.” And suddenly he smiled a quite unexpected smile of fatherly kindliness.
“Oh, no, not at all; on the contrary, I am very glad to make your acquaintance,” said Pierre, and glancing once more at the stranger's hands, he examined the ring more closely. He saw the head of Adam, the token of masonry.
“Allow me to inquire,” he said, “are you a mason?”
“Yes, I belong to the brotherhood of the freemasons,” said the stranger, looking now more searchingly into Pierre's eyes. “And from myself and in their name I hold out to you a brotherly hand.”
“I am afraid,” said Pierre, smiling and hesitating between the confidence inspired in him by the personality of the freemason and the habit of ridiculing the articles of the masons' creed; “I am afraid that I am very far from a comprehension—how shall I say—I am afraid that my way of thinking in regard to the whole theory of the universe is so opposed to yours that we shall not understand one another.”
“I am aware of your way of thinking,” said the freemason, “and that way of thinking of which you speak, which seems to you the result of your own thought, is the way of thinking of the majority of men, and is the invariable fruit of pride, indolence, and ignorance. Excuse my saying, sir, that if I had not been aware of it, I should not have addressed you. Your way of thinking is a melancholy error.”
“Just as I may take for granted that you are in error,” said Pierre, faintly smiling.
“I would never be so bold as to say I know the truth,” said the mason, the definiteness and decision of whose manner of speaking impressed Pierre more and more. “No one alone can attain truth; only stone upon stone, with the co-operation of all, by the millions of generations from our first father Adam down to our day is that temple being reared that should be a fitting dwelling-place of the Great God,” said the freemason, and he shut his eyes.
“I ought to tell you that I don't believe, don't … believe in God,” said Pierre regretfully and with effort, feeling it essential to speak the whole truth.
The freemason looked intently at Pierre and smiled as a rich man, holding millions in his hands, might smile to a poor wretch, who should say to him that he, the poor man, has not five roubles that would secure his happiness.
“Yes, you do not know Him, sir,” said the freemason. “You cannot know Him. You know not Him, that is why you are unhappy.”
“Yes, yes, I am unhappy,” Pierre assented; “but what am I to do?”
“You know not Him, sir, and that's why you are very unhappy. You know not Him, but He is here, He is within me, He is in my words, He is in thee, and even in these scoffing words that thou hast just uttered,” said the mason in a stern, vibrating voice.
He paused and sighed, evidently trying to be calm.
“If He were not,” he said softly, “we should not be speaking of Him, sir. Of what, of whom were we speaking? Whom dost thou deny?” he said all at once, with enthusiastic austerity and authority in his voice. “Who invented Him, if He be not? How came there within thee the conception that there is such an incomprehensible Being? How comes it that thou and all the world have assumed the existence of such an inconceivable Being, a Being all powerful, eternal and infinite in all His qualities? …” He stopped and made a long pause.
Pierre could not and would not interrupt this silence.
“He exists, but to comprehend Him is hard,” the mason began again, not looking into Pierre's face, but straight before him, while his old hands, which could not keep still for inward emotion, turned the leaves of the book. “If it had been a man of whose existence thou hadst doubts, I could have brought thee the man, taken him by the hand, and shown him thee. But how am I, an insignificant mortal, to show all the power, all the eternity, all the blessedness of Him to one who is blind, or to one who shuts his eyes that he may not see, may not understand Him, and may not see, and not understand all his own vileness and viciousness.” He paused. “Who art thou? What art thou? Thou dreamest that thou art wise because thou couldst utter those scoffing words,” he said, with a gloomy and scornful irony, “while thou art more foolish and artless than a little babe, who, playing with the parts of a cunningly fashioned watch, should rashly say that because he understands not the use of that watch, he does not believe in the maker who fashioned it. To know Him is a hard matter. For ages, from our first father Adam to our day, have we been striving for this knowledge, and are infinitely far from the attainment of our aim; but in our lack of understanding we see only our own weakness and His greatness …”
Pierre gazed with shining eyes into the freemason's face, listening with a thrill at his heart to his words; he did not interrupt him, nor ask questions, but with all his soul he believed what this strange man was telling him. Whether he believed on the rational grounds put before him by the freemason, or believed, as children do, through the intonations, the conviction, and the earnestness, of the mason's words, the quiver in his voice that sometimes almost broke his utterance, or the gleaming old eyes that had grown old in that conviction, or the calm, the resolution, and the certainty of his destination, which were conspicuous in the whole personality of the old man, and struck Pierre with particular force, beside his own abjectness and hopelessness,—any way, with his whole soul he longed to believe, and believed and felt a joyful sense of soothing, of renewal, and of return to life.
“It is not attained by the reason, but by life,” said the mason.
“I don't understand,” said Pierre, feeling with dismay that doubt was stirring within him. He dreaded obscurity and feebleness in the freemason's arguments, he dreaded being unable to believe in him. “I don't understand,” he said, “in what way human reason cannot attain that knowledge of which you speak.”
The freemason smiled his mild, fatherly smile.
“The highest wisdom and truth is like the purest dew, which we try to hold within us,” said he. “Can I hold in an impure vessel that pure dew and judge of its purity? Only by the inner purification of myself can I bring that dew contained within me to some degree of purity.”
“Yes, yes; that's so,” Pierre said joyfully.
“The highest wisdom is founded not on reason only, not on those worldly sciences, of physics, history, chemistry, etc., into which knowledge of the intellect is divided. The highest wisdom is one. The highest wisdom knows but one science—the science of the whole, the science that explains the whole creation and the place of man in it. To instil this science into one's soul, it is needful to purify and renew one's inner man, and so, before one can know, one must believe and be made perfect. And for the attainment of these aims there has been put into our souls the light of God, called the conscience.”
“Yes, yes,” Pierre assented.
“Look with the spiritual eye into thy inner man, and ask of thyself whether thou art content with thyself. What hast thou attained with the guidance of the intellect alone? What art thou? You are young, you are wealthy, you are cultured, sir. What have you made of all the blessings vouchsafed you? Are you satisfied with yourself and your life?”
“No, I hate my life,” said Pierre, frowning.
“Thou hatest it; then change it, purify thyself, and as thou art purified, thou wilt come to know wisdom. Look at your life, sir. How have you been spending it? In riotous orgies and debauchery, taking everything from society and giving nothing in return. You have received wealth. How have you used it? What have you done for your neighbour? Have you given a thought to the tens of thousands of your slaves, have you succoured them physically and morally? No. You have profited by their toil to lead a dissipated life. That's what you have done. Have you chosen a post in the service where you might be of use to your neighbour? No. You have spent your life in idleness. Then you married, sir, took upon yourself the responsibility of guiding a young woman in life, and what have you done? You have not helped her, sir, to find the path of truth, but have cast her into an abyss of deception and misery. A man injured you, and you have killed him, and you say you do not know God, and that you hate your life. There is no wisdom in all that, sir.”
After these words the freemason leaned his elbow again on the back of the sofa and closed his eyes, as though weary of prolonged talking. Pierre gazed at that stern, immovable, old, almost death-like face, and moved his lips without uttering a sound. He wanted to say, “Yes, a vile, idle, vicious life,” and he dared not break the silence. The freemason cleared his throat huskily, as old men do, and called his servant.
“How about horses?” he asked, without looking at Pierre.
“They have brought round some that were given up,” answered the old man. “You won't rest?”
“No, tell them to harness them.”
“Can he really be going away and leaving me all alone, without telling me everything and promising me help?” thought Pierre, getting up with downcast head, beginning to walk up and down the room, casting a glance from time to time at the freemason. “Yes, I had not thought of it, but I have led a contemptible, dissolute life, but I did not like it, and I didn't want to,” thought Pierre, “and this man knows the truth, and if he liked he could reveal it to me.” Pierre wanted to say this to the freemason and dared not. After packing his things with his practised old hands, the traveller buttoned up his sheepskin. On finishing these preparations, he turned to Bezuhov, and in a polite, indifferent tone, said to him:
“Where are you going now, sir?”
“I? … I'm going to Petersburg,” answered Pierre in a tone of childish indecision. “I thank you. I agree with you in everything. But do not suppose that I have been so bad. With all my soul I have desired to be what you would wish me to be; but I have never met with help from any one.… Though I was myself most to blame for everything. Help me, instruct me, and perhaps I shall be able …”
Pierre could not say more; his voice broke and he turned away.
The freemason was silent, obviously pondering something.
“Help comes only from God,” he said, “but such measure of aid as it is in the power of our order to give you, it will give you, sir. You go to Petersburg, and give this to Count Villarsky” (he took out his notebook and wrote a few words on a large sheet of paper folded into four). “One piece of advice let me give you. When you reach the capital, devote your time at first there to solitude and to self-examination, and do not return to your old manner of life. Therewith I wish you a good journey, sir,” he added, noticing that his servant had entered the room, “and all success …”
The stranger was Osip Alexyevitch Bazdyev, as Pierre found out from the overseer's book. Bazdyev had been one of the most well-known freemasons and Martinists even in Novikov's day. For a long while after he had gone, Pierre walked about the station room, neither lying down to sleep nor asking for horses. He reviewed his vicious past, and with an ecstatic sense of beginning anew, pictured to himself a blissful, irreproachably virtuous future, which seemed to him easy of attainment. It seemed to him that he had been vicious, simply because he had accidentally forgotten how good it was to be virtuous. There was left in his soul not a trace of his former doubts. He firmly believed in the possibility of the brotherhood of man, united in the aim of supporting one another in the path of virtue. And freemasonry he pictured to himself as such a brotherhood.