War And Peace

CHAPTER III

Chinese

ON REACHING PETERSBURG, Pierre let no one know of his arrival, went out to see nobody, and spent whole days in reading Thomas à Kempis, a book which had been sent him, he did not know from whom. One thing, and one thing only, Pierre thoroughly understood in reading that book; he understood what he had hitherto known nothing of, all the bliss of believing in the possibility of attaining perfection, and in the possibility of brotherly and active love between men, revealed to him by Osip Alexyevitch. A week after his arrival, the young Polish count, Villarsky, whom Pierre knew very slightly in Petersburg society, came one evening into his room with the same official and ceremonious air with which Dolohov's second had called on him. Closing the door behind him, and assuring himself that there was nobody in the room but Pierre, he addressed him:

“I have come to you with a message and a suggestion, count,” he said to him, not sitting down. “A personage of very high standing in our brotherhood has been interceding for you to be admitted into our brotherhood before the usual term, and has asked me to be your sponsor. I regard it as a sacred duty to carry out that person's wishes. Do you wish under my sponsorship to enter the brotherhood of freemasons?”

Pierre was impressed by the cold and austere tone of this man, whom he had almost always seen before at balls wearing an agreeable smile, in the society of the most brilliant women.

“Yes, I do wish it,” said Pierre.

Villarsky bent his head.

“One more question, count,” he said, “to which I beg you, not as a future mason, but as an honest man (galant homme) to answer me in all sincerity: have you renounced your former convictions? do you believe in God?”

Pierre thought a moment.

“Yes … yes, I do believe in God,” he said.

“In that case…” Villarsky was beginning, but Pierre interrupted him.

“Yes, I believe in God,” he said once more.

“In that case, we can go,” said Villarsky. “My carriage is at your disposal.”

Throughout the drive Villarsky was silent. In answer to Pierre's inquiries, what he would have to do, and how he would have to answer, Villarsky simply said that brothers, more worthy than he, would prove him, and that Pierre need do nothing but tell the truth.

They drove in at the gates of a large house, where the lodge had its quarters, and, passing up a dark staircase, entered a small, lighted ante-room, where they took off their overcoats without the assistance of servants. From the ante-room they walked into another room. A man in strange attire appeared at the door. Villarsky, going in to meet him, said something to him in French in a low voice, and went up to a small cupboard, where Pierre noticed garments unlike any he had seen before. Taking a handkerchief from the cupboard, Villarsky put it over Pierre's eyes and tied it in a knot behind, catching his hair painfully in the knot. Then he drew him towards himself, kissed him, and taking him by the hand led him away somewhere. Pierre had been hurt by his hair being pulled in the knot: he puckered up his face from the pain, and smiled with vague shame. His huge figure with his arms hanging at his sides, and his face puckered up and smiling, moved after Villarsky with timid and uncertain steps.

After leading him for about ten steps, Villarsky stopped.

“Whatever happens to you,” said he, “you must endure all with good courage if you are firmly resolved to enter our brotherhood.” (Pierre answered affirmatively by an inclination of his head.) “When you hear a knock at the door, you may uncover your eyes,” added Villarsky; “I wish you good courage and success,” and, pressing Pierre's hand, Villarsky went away.

When he was left alone, Pierre still went on smiling in the same way. Twice he shrugged his shoulders and raised his hand to the handkerchief, as though he would have liked to take it off, but he let it drop again. The five minutes he had spent with his eyes bandaged seemed to him an hour. His arms felt numb, his legs tottered, he felt as though he were tired out. He was aware of the most complex and conflicting feelings. He was afraid of what would be done to him, and still more afraid of showing fear. He felt inquisitive to know what was coming, what would be revealed to him; but above everything, he felt joy that the moment had come when he would at last enter upon that path of regeneration and of an actively virtuous life, of which he had been dreaming ever since his meeting with Osip Alexyevitch.

There came loud knocks at the door. Pierre took off the bandage and looked about him. It was black darkness in the room; only in one spot there was a little lamp burning before something white. Pierre went nearer and saw that the little lamp stood on a black table, on which there lay an open book. The book was the gospel: the white thing in which the lamp was burning was a human skull with its eyeholes and teeth. After reading the first words of the gospel, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God,” Pierre went round the table and caught sight of a large open box filled with something. It was a coffin full of bones. He was not in the least surprised by what he saw. Hoping to enter upon a completely new life, utterly unlike the old life, he was ready for anything extraordinary, more extraordinary indeed than what he was seeing. The skull, the coffin, the gospel—it seemed to him that he had been expecting all that; had been expecting more, indeed. He tried to stir up a devotional feeling in himself; he looked about him. “God, death, love, the brotherhood of man,” he kept saying to himself, associating with those words vague but joyful conceptions of some sort. The door opened and some one came in. In the faint light, in which Pierre could, however, see a little by this time, a short man approached. Apparently dazed by coming out of the light into the darkness, the man stopped, then with cautious steps moved again towards the table, and laid on it both his small hands covered with leather gloves.

This short man was wearing a white leather apron, that covered his chest and part of his legs; upon his neck could be seen something like a necklace, and a high white ruffle stood up from under the necklace, framing his long face, on which the light fell from below.

“For what are you come hither?” asked the newcomer, turning towards Pierre at a faint rustle made by the latter. “For what are you, an unbeliever in the truth of the light, who have not seen the light, for what are you come here? What do you seek from us? Wisdom, virtue, enlightenment?”

At the moment when the door opened and the unknown person came in, Pierre had a sensation of awe and reverence, such as he had felt in childhood at confession; he felt himself alone with a man who was in the circumstances of life a complete stranger, and yet through the brotherhood of men so near. With a beating heart that made him gasp for breath, Pierre turned to the rhetor, as in the phraseology of freemasonry the man is called who prepares the seeker for entering the brotherhood. Going closer, Pierre recognised in the rhetor a man he knew, Smolyaninov, but it was mortifying to him to think that the newcomer was a familiar figure; he was to him only a brother and a guide in the path of virtue. For a long while Pierre could not utter a word, so that the rhetor was obliged to repeat his question.

“Yes; I…I… wish to begin anew,” Pierre articulated with difficulty.

“Very good,” said Smolyaninov, and went on at once.

“Have you any idea of the means by which our holy order will assist you in attaining your aim?…” said the rhetor calmly and rapidly.

“I…hope for…guidance…for help…in renewing…” said Pierre, with a tremble in his voice and a difficulty in utterance due both to emotion and to being unaccustomed to speak of abstract subjects in Russian.

“What idea have you of freemasonry?”

“I assume that freemasonry is the fraternité and equality of men with virtuous aims,” said Pierre, feeling ashamed as he spoke of the incongruity of his words with the solemnity of the moment. “I assume …”

“Very good,” said the rhetor hastily, apparently quite satisfied with the reply. “Have you sought the means of attaining your aim in religion?”

“No; I regarded it as untrue and have not followed it,” said Pierre, so softly that the rhetor did not catch it, and asked him what he was saying. “I was an atheist,” answered Pierre.

“You seek the truth in order to follow its laws in life; consequently, you seek wisdom and virtue, do you not?” said the rhetor, after a moment's pause.

“Yes, yes,” assented Pierre.

The rhetor cleared his throat, folded his gloved hands across his chest, and began speaking.

“Now I must reveal to you the chief aim of our order,” he said, “and if that aim coincides with yours, you may with profit enter our brotherhood. The first and greatest aim and united basis of our order, on which it is established and which no human force can destroy, is the preservation and handing down to posterity of a certain important mystery … that has come down to us from the most ancient times, even from the first man—a mystery upon which, perhaps, the fate of the human race depends. But since this mystery is of such a kind that no one can know it and profit by it if he has not been prepared by a prolonged and diligent self-purification, not every one can hope to attain it quickly. Hence we have a second aim, which consists in preparing our members, as far as possible reforming their hearts, purifying and enlightening their intelligence by those means which have been revealed to us by tradition from men who have striven to attain this mystery, and thereby to render them fit for the reception of it. Purifying and regenerating our members, we endeavor, thirdly, to improve the whole human race, offering it in our members an example of piety and virtue, and thereby we strive with all our strength to combat the evil that is paramount in the world. Ponder on these things, and I will come again to you,” he said, and went out of the room.

“To combat the evil that is paramount in the world …” Pierre repeated, and a mental image of his future activity in that direction rose before him. He seemed to see men such as he had been himself a fortnight ago, and he was mentally addressing an edifying exhortation to them. He pictured to himself persons vicious and unhappy, whom he would help in word and in deed; he pictured oppressors whose victims he would rescue. Of the three aims enumerated by the rhetor the last— the reformation of the human race—appealed particularly to Pierre. The great mystery of which the rhetor had made mention, though it excited his curiosity, did not strike his imagination as a reality; while the second aim, the purification and regeneration of himself, had little interest for him, because at that moment he was full of a blissful sense of being completely cured of all his former vices, and being ready for nothing but goodness.

Half an hour later the rhetor returned to enumerate to the seeker the seven virtues corresponding to the seven steps of the temple of Solomon, in which every freemason must train himself. Those virtues were: (1) discretion, the keeping of the secrets of the order; (2) obedience to the higher authorities of the order; (3) morality; (4) love for mankind; (5) courage; (6) liberality; and (7) love of death.

“Seventhly, strive,” said the rhetor, “by frequent meditation upon death to bring yourself to feel it not an enemy to be dreaded, but a friend … which delivers the soul grown weary in the labours of virtue from this distressful life and leads it to its place of recompense and peace.”

“Yes, that's as it should be,” thought Pierre, when the rhetor after these words left him again to solitary reflection; “that's as it ought to be, but I'm still so weak as to love this life, the meaning of which is only now by degrees being revealed to me.” But the other five virtues which Pierre recalled, reckoning them on his fingers, he felt already in his soul; courage and liberality, morality and love for mankind, and above all obedience, which seemed to him not to be a virtue, indeed, but a happiness. (It was such a joy to him now to be escaping from the guidance of his own caprice, and to be submitting his will to those who knew the absolute truth.) The seventh virtue Pierre had forgotten, and he could not recall it.

The third time the rhetor came back sooner, and asked Pierre whether he were still resolute in his intention, and whether he were prepared to submit to everything that would be demanded of him.

“I am ready for anything,” said Pierre.

“I must inform you further,” said the rhetor, “that our order promulgates its doctrine not by word only, but by certain means which have perhaps on the true seeker after wisdom and virtue a more potent effect than merely verbal explanations. This temple, with what you see therein, should shed more light on your heart, if it is sincere, than any words can do. You will see, maybe, a like method of enlightenment in the further rites of your admittance. Our order follows the usage of ancient societies which revealed their doctrine in hieroglyphs. A hieroglyph,” said the rhetor, “is the name given to a symbol of some object, imperceptible to the senses and possessing qualities similar to those of the symbol.”

Pierre knew very well what a hieroglyph was, but he did not venture to say so. He listened to the rhetor in silence, feeling from everything he said that his ordeal was soon to begin.

“If you are resolved, I must proceed to your initiation,” said the rhetor, coming closer to Pierre. “In token of liberality I beg you to give me everything precious you have.”

“But I have nothing with me,” said Pierre, supposing he was being asked to give up all his possessions.

“What you have with you: watch, money, rings…”

Pierre made haste to get out his purse and his watch, and was a long time trying to get his betrothal ring off his fat finger. When this had been done, the freemason said:

“In token of obedience I beg you to undress.” Pierre took off his coat and waistcoat and left boot at the rhetor's instructions. The mason opened his shirt over the left side of his chest and pulled up his breeches on the left leg above the knee. Pierre would hurriedly have taken off the right boot and tucked up the trouser-leg, to save this stranger the trouble of doing so, but the mason told him this was not necessary and gave him a slipper to put on his left foot. With a childish smile of embarrassment, of doubt, and of self-mockery, which would come into his face in spite of himself, Pierre stood with his legs wide apart and his hands hanging at his sides, facing the rhetor and awaiting his next commands.

“And finally, in token of candour, I beg you to disclose to me your chief temptation,” he said.

“My temptation! I had so many,” said Pierre.

“The temptation which does more than all the rest to make you stumble on the path of virtue,” said the freemason.

Pierre paused, seeking a reply.

“Wine? gluttony? frivolity? laziness? hasty temper? anger? women?” he went through his vices, mentally balancing them, and not knowing to which to give the pre-eminence.

“Women,” said Pierre in a low, hardly audible voice. The freemason did not speak nor stir for a long while after that reply. At last he moved up to Pierre, took the handkerchief that lay on the table, and again tied it over his eyes.

“For the last time I say to you: turn all your attention upon yourself, put a bridle on your feelings, and seek blessedness not in your passions, but in your own heart. The secret of blessing is not without but within us.…”

Pierre had for a long while been conscious of this refreshing fount of blessing within him that now flooded his heart with joy and emotion.

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