SHORTLY after his reception into the brotherhood of the freemasons, Pierre set off to the Kiev province, where were the greater number of his peasants, with full instructions written for his guidance in doing his duty on his estates.
On reaching Kiev, Pierre sent for all his stewards to his head counting-house, and explained to them his intentions and his desires. He told them that steps would very shortly be taken for the complete liberation of his peasants from serfdom, that till that time his peasants were not to be overburdened with labour, that the women with children were not to be sent out to work, that assistance was to be given to the peasants, that wrong-doing was to be met with admonishment, and not with corporal punishment; and that on every estate there must be founded hospitals, almshouses, and schools. Several of the stewards (among them were some bailiffs barely able to read and write) listened in dismay, supposing the upshot of the young count's remarks to be that he was dissatisfied with their management and embezzlement of his money. Others, after the first shock of alarm, derived amusement from Pierre's lisp and the new words he used that they had not heard before. Others again found a simple satisfaction in hearing the sound of their master's voice. But some, among them the head steward, divined from this speech how to deal with their master for the attainment of their own ends.
The head steward expressed great sympathy with Pierre's projects; but observed that, apart from these innovations, matters were in a bad way and needed thoroughly going into.
In spite of Count Bezuhov's enormous wealth, Pierre ever since he had inherited it, and had been, as people said, in receipt of an annual income of five hundred thousand, had felt much less rich than when he had been receiving an allowance of ten thousand from his father. In general outlines he was vaguely aware of the following budget. About eighty thousand was being paid into the Land Bank as interest on mortgages on his estates. About thirty thousand went to the maintenance of his estate in the suburbs of Moscow, his Moscow house, and his cousins the princesses. About fifteen thousand were given in pensions, and as much more to benevolent institutions. One hundred and fifty thousand were sent to his countess, for her maintenance. Some seventy thousand were paid away as interest on debts. The building of a new church had for the last two years been costing about ten thousand. The remainder—some one hundred thousand—was spent—he hardly knew how—and almost every year he was forced to borrow. Moreover every year the head steward wrote to him of conflagrations, or failures of crops, or of the necessity of rebuilding factories or workshops. And so the first duty with which Pierre was confronted was the one for which he had the least capacity and inclination—attention to practical business.
Every day Pierre went into things with the head steward. But he felt that what he was doing did not advance matters one inch. He felt that all he did was quite apart from the reality, that his efforts had no grip on the business, and would not set it in progress. On one side the head steward put matters in their worst light, proving to Pierre the necessity of paying his debts, and entering upon new undertakings with the labour of his serf peasants, to which Pierre would not agree. On the other side, Pierre urged their entering upon the work of liberation, to which the head steward objected the necessity of first paying off the loans from the Land Bank, and the consequent impossibility of haste in the matter. The head steward did not say that this was utterly impossible; he proposed as the means for attaining this object, the sale of the forests in the Kostroma province, the sale of the lands on the lower Volga, and of the Crimean estate. But all these operations were connected in the head steward's talk with such a complexity of processes, the removal of certain prohibitory clauses, the obtaining of certain permissions, and so on, that Pierre lost the thread, and could only say: “Yes, yes, do so then.”
Pierre had none of that practical tenacity, which would have made it possible for him to undertake the business himself, and so he did not like it, and only tried to keep up a pretence of going into business before the head steward. The steward too kept up a pretence before the count of regarding his participation in it as of great use to his master, and a great inconvenience to himself.
In Kiev he had acquaintances: persons not acquaintances made haste to become so, and gave a warm welcome to the young man of fortune, the largest landowner of the province, who had come into their midst. The temptations on the side of Pierre's besetting weakness, the one to which he had given the first place at his initiation into the lodge, were so strong that he could not resist them. Again whole days, weeks, and months of his life were busily filled up with parties, dinners, breakfasts, and balls, giving him as little time to think as at Petersburg. Instead of the new life Pierre had hoped to lead, he was living just the same old life only in different surroundings.
Of the three precepts of freemasonry, Pierre had to admit that he had not fulfilled that one which prescribes for every mason the duty of being a model of moral life; and of the seven virtues he was entirely without two—morality and love of death. He comforted himself by reflecting that, on the other hand, he was fulfilling the other precept—the improvement of the human race; and had other virtues, love for his neighbour and liberality.
In the spring of 1807, Pierre made up his mind to go back again to Petersburg. On the way back he intended to make the tour of all his estates, and to ascertain personally what had been done of what had been prescribed by him, and in what position the people now were who had been entrusted to him by God, and whom he had been striving to benefit.
The head steward, who regarded all the young count's freaks as almost insanity—disastrous to him, to himself, and to his peasants—made concessions to his weaknesses. While continuing to represent the liberation of his serfs as impracticable, he made arrangements on all his estates for the building of schools, hospitals, and asylums on a large scale to be begun ready for the master's visit, prepared everywhere for him to be met, not with ceremonious processions, which he knew would not be to Pierre's taste, but with just the devotionally grateful welcomes, with holy images and bread and salt, such as would, according to his understanding of the count, impress him and delude him.
The southern spring, the easy, rapid journey in his Vienna carriage and the solitude of the road, had a gladdening influence on Pierre. The estates, which he had not before visited, were one more picturesque than the other; the peasantry seemed everywhere thriving, and touchingly grateful for the benefits conferred on them. Everywhere he was met by welcomes, which though they embarrassed Pierre, yet at the bottom of his heart rejoiced him. At one place the peasants had brought him bread and salt and the images of Peter and Paul, and begged permission in honour of his patron saints, Peter and Paul, and in token of love and gratitude for the benefits conferred on them, to erect at their own expense a new chapel in the church. At another place he was welcomed by women with babies in their arms, who came to thank him for being released from the obligation of heavy labour. In a third place he was met by a priest with a cross, surrounded by children, whom by the favour of the count he was instructing in reading and writing and religion. On all his estates Pierre saw with his own eyes stone buildings erected, or in course of erection, all on one plan, hospitals, schools, and almshouses, which were in short time to be opened. Everywhere Pierre saw the steward's reckoning of service due to him diminished in comparison with the past, and heard touching thanks for what was remitted from deputations of peasants in blue, full-skirted coats.
But Pierre did not know that where they brought him bread and salt and were building a chapel of Peter and Paul there was a trading village, and a fair on St. Peter's day, that the chapel had been built long ago by wealthy peasants of the village, and that nine-tenths of the peasants of that village were in the utmost destitution. He did not know that since by his orders nursing mothers were not sent to work on their master's land, those same mothers did even harder work on their own bit of land. He did not know that the priest who met him with the cross oppressed the peasants with his exactions, and that the pupils gathered around him were yielded up to him with tears and redeemed for large sums by their parents. He did not know that the stone buildings were being raised by his labourers, and increased the forced labour of his peasants, which was only less upon paper. He did not know that where the steward pointed out to him in the account book the reduction of rent to one-third in accordance with his will, the labour exacted had been raised by one half. And so Pierre was enchanted by his journey over his estates, and came back completely to the philanthropic frame of mind in which he had left Petersburg, and wrote enthusiastic letters to his preceptor and brother, as he called the grand master.
“How easy it is, how little effort is needed to do so much good,” thought Pierre, “and how little we trouble ourselves to do it!”
He was happy at the gratitude shown him, but abashed at receiving it. That gratitude reminded him how much more he could do for those simple, good-hearted people.
The head steward, a very stupid and crafty man, who thoroughly understood the clever and naïve count, and played with him like a toy, seeing the effect produced on Pierre by these carefully arranged receptions, was bolder in advancing arguments to prove the impossibility, and even more, the uselessness of liberating the peasants, who were so perfectly happy without that.
In the recesses of his own heart, Pierre agreed with the steward that it was difficult to imagine people happier, and that there was no knowing what their future would be in freedom. But though reluctantly, he stuck to what he thought the right thing. The steward promised to use every effort to carry out the count's wishes, perceiving clearly that the count would never be in a position to verify whether every measure had been taken for the sale of the forests and estates for the repayment of loans from the bank, would never probably even inquire, and would certainly never find out that the buildings, when finished, stood empty, and that the peasants were giving in labour and money just what they gave with other masters, that is, all that could be got out of them.