War And Peace

CHAPTER V

Chinese

THE DAY after his initiation at the Lodge, Pierre was sitting at home reading a book, and trying to penetrate to the significance of the square, which symbolised by one of its sides, God, by another the moral, by the third the physical, by the fourth the nature of both mingled. Now and then he broke off from the book and the symbolic square, and in his imagination shaped his new plan of life. On the previous day he had been told at the lodge that the rumour of the duel had reached the Emperor's ears, and that it would be more judicious for him to withdraw from Petersburg. Pierre proposed going to his estates in the south, and there occupying himself with the care of his peasants. He was joyfully dreaming of this new life when Prince Vassily suddenly walked into his room.

“My dear fellow, what have you been about in Moscow? What have you been quarrelling over with Ellen, my dear boy? You have been making a mistake,” said Prince Vassily, as he came into the room. “I have heard all about it; I can tell you for a fact that Ellen is as innocent in her conduct towards you as Christ was to the Jews.”

Pierre would have answered, but he interrupted him.

“And why didn't you come simply and frankly to me as to a friend? I know all about it; I understand it all,” said he. “You have behaved as was proper for a man who valued his honour, too hastily, perhaps, but we won't go into that. One thing you must think of, the position you are placing her and me in, in the eyes of society and even of the court,” he added, dropping his voice. “She is in Moscow, while you are here. Think of it, my dear boy.” He drew him down by the arm. “It's simply a misunderstanding; I expect you feel it so yourself. Write a letter with me now at once, and she'll come here, and everything will be explained, or else, I tell you plainly, my dear boy, you may very easily have to suffer for it.”

Prince Vassily looked significantly at Pierre.

“I have learned from excellent sources that the Dowager Empress is taking a keen interest in the whole affair. You know she is very graciously disposed to Ellen.”

Several times Pierre had prepared himself to speak, but on one hand Prince Vassily would not let him, and on the other hand Pierre himself was loath to begin to speak in the tone of resolute refusal and denial, in which he was firmly resolved to answer his father-in-law. Moreover the words of the masonic precept: “Be thou friendly and courteous,” recurred to his mind. He blinked and blushed, got up and sank back again, trying to force himself to do what was for him the hardest thing in life—to say an unpleasant thing to a man's face, to say what was not expected by that man, whoever he might be. He was so much in the habit of submitting to that tone of careless authority in which Prince Vassily spoke, that even now he felt incapable of resisting it. But he felt, too, that on what he said now all his future fate would depend; that it would decide whether he continued along the old way of his past life, or advanced along the new path that had been so attractively pointed out to him by the masons, and that he firmly believed would lead him to regeneration in a new life.

“Come, my dear boy,” said Prince Vassily playfully, “simply say ‘yes,' and I'll write on my own account to her, and we'll kill the fatted calf.” But before Prince Vassily had finished uttering his playful words, Pierre not looking at him, but with a fury in his face that made him like his father, whispered, “Prince, I did not invite you here: go, please, go!” He leaped up and opened the door to him. “Go!” he repeated, amazed at himself and enjoying the expression of confusion and terror in the countenance of Prince Vassily.

“What's the matter with you? are you ill?”

“Go!” the quivering voice repeated once more. And Prince Vassily had to go, without receiving a word of explanation.

A week later Pierre went away to his estates, after taking leave of his new friends, the freemasons, and leaving large sums in their hands for alms. His new brethren gave him letters for Kiev and Odessa, to masons living there, and promised to write to him and guide him in his new activity.

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