War And Peace

CHAPTER XI

Chinese

RETURNING from his southern tour in the happiest frame of mind, Pierre carried out an intention he had long had, of visiting his friend Bolkonsky, whom he had not seen for two years.

Bogutcharovo lay in a flat, ugly part of the country, covered with fields and copses of fir and birch-trees, in parts cut down. The manor house was at the end of the straight village that ran along each side of the high road, behind an overflowing pond newly dug, and still bare of grass on its banks in the midst of a young copse, with several large pines standing among the smaller trees.

The homestead consisted of a threshing floor, serfs' quarters, stables, bath-houses, lodges, and a large stone house with a semicircular façade, still in course of erection. Round the house a garden had been newly laid out. The fences and gates were solid and new; under a shed stood two fire-engines and a tub painted green. The paths were straight, the bridges were strong and furnished with stone parapets. Everything had an air of being cared for and looked after. The house serfs on the way, in reply to inquiries where the prince was living, pointed to a small new lodge at the very edge of the pond. Prince Andrey's old body-servant, Anton, after assisting Pierre out of his carriage, said that the prince was at home, and conducted him into a clean little lobby.

Pierre was struck by the modesty of this little, clean house, after the splendid surroundings in which he had last seen his friend in Petersburg.

He went hurriedly into the little parlour, still unplastered and smelling of pine wood, and would have gone further, but Anton ran ahead on tip-toe and knocked at the door.

“What is it?” he heard a harsh, unpleasant voice.

“A visitor,” answered Anton.

“Ask him to wait”; and there was the sound of a chair being pushed back.

Pierre went with rapid steps to the door, and came face to face with Prince Andrey, who came out frowning and looking older. Pierre embraced him, and taking off his spectacles, kissed him and looked close at him.

“Well, I didn't expect you; I am glad,” said Prince Andrey.

Pierre said nothing; he was looking in wonder at his friend, and could not take his eyes off him. He was struck by the change in Prince Andrey. His words were warm, there was a smile on the lips and the face, but there was a lustreless, dead look in his eyes, into which, in spite of his evident desire to seem glad, Prince Andrey could not throw a gleam of happiness. It was not only that his friend was thinner, paler, more manly looking, but the look in his eyes and the line on his brow, that expressed prolonged concentration on some one subject, struck Pierre and repelled him till he got used to it.

On meeting after a long separation, the conversation, as is always the case, did not for a long while rest on one subject. They asked questions and gave brief replies about things of which they knew themselves they must talk at length. At last the conversation began gradually to revolve more slowly about the questions previously touched only in passing, their life in the past, their plans for the future, Pierre's journeys, and what he had been doing, the war, and so on. The concentrated and crushed look which Pierre had noticed in Prince Andrey's eyes was still more striking now in the smile with which he listened to him, especially when he was telling him with earnestness and delight of his past or his future. It was as though Prince Andrey would have liked to take interest in what he was telling him, but could not. Pierre began to feel that to express enthusiasm, ideals, and hopes of happiness and goodness was unseemly before Prince Andrey. He felt ashamed of giving expression to all the new ideas he had gained from the masons, which had been revived and strengthened in him by his last tour. He restrained himself, afraid of seeming naïve. At the same time he felt an irresistible desire to show his friend at once that he was now a quite different Pierre, better than the one he had known in Petersburg.

“I can't tell you how much I have passed through during this time. I shouldn't know my old self.”

“Yes, you are very, very much changed since those days,” said Prince Andrey.

“Well, and what of you?” asked Pierre. “What are your plans?”

“Plans?” repeated Prince Andrey ironically. “My plans?” he repeated, as though wondering what was the meaning of such a word. “Why, you see, I am building; I want next year to settle in here altogether …”

Pierre looked silently and intently into the face of Prince Andrey, which had grown so much older.

“No, I'm asking about …” Pierre began, but Prince Andrey interrupted him.

“But why talk about me … talk to me, and tell me about your journey, about everything you have been doing on your estates.”

Pierre began describing what he had been doing on his estates, trying as far as he could to disguise his share in the improvements made on them. Prince Andrey several times put in a few words before Pierre could utter them, as though all Pierre's doings were an old, familiar story, and he were hearing it not only without interest, but even as it were a little ashamed of what was told him.

Pierre began to feel awkward and positively wretched in his friend's company. He relapsed into silence.

“I tell you what, my dear fellow,” said Prince Andrey, who was unmistakably dreary and ill at ease with his visitor, “I'm simply bivouacking here; I only came over to have a look at things. I'm going back again to my sister to-day. I will introduce you to her. But I think you know her, though,” he added, obviously trying to provide entertainment for his guest, with whom he now found nothing in common. “We will set off after dinner. And now would you care to see my place?” They went out and walked about till dinner time, talking of political news and common acquaintances, like people not very intimate. The only thing of which Prince Andrey now spoke with some eagerness and interest was the new buildings and homestead he was building; but even in the middle of a conversation on this subject, on the scaffolding, when Prince Andrey was describing to Pierre the plan of the house, he suddenly stopped. “There's nothing interesting in that, though, let us go in to dinner and set off.”

At dinner the conversation fell on Pierre's marriage.

“I was very much surprised when I heard of it,” said Prince Andrey.

Pierre blushed as he always did at any reference to his marriage, and said hurriedly: “I'll tell you one day how it all happened. But you know that it's all over and for ever.”

“For ever?” said Prince Andrey; “nothing's for ever.”

“But do you know how it all ended? Did you hear of the duel?”

“Yes, you had to go through that too!”

“The one thing for which I thank God is that I didn't kill that man,” said Pierre.

“Why so?” said Prince Andrey. “To kill a vicious dog is a very good thing to do, really.”

“No, to kill a man is bad, wrong …”

“Why is it wrong?” repeated Prince Andrey; “what's right and wrong is a question it has not been given to men to decide. Men are for ever in error, and always will be in error, and in nothing more than in what they regard as right and wrong.”

“What does harm to another man is wrong,” said Pierre, feeling with pleasure that for the first time since his arrival Prince Andrey was roused and was beginning to speak and eager to give expression to what had made him what he now was.

“And who has told you what is harm to another man?” he asked.

“Harm? harm?” said Pierre; “we all know what harms ourselves.”

“Yes, we know that, but it's not the same harm we know about for ourselves that we do to another man,” said Prince Andrey, growing more and more eager, and evidently anxious to express to Pierre his new view of things. He spoke in French. “I only know two very real ills in life, remorse and sickness. There is no good except the absence of those ills. To live for myself so as to avoid these two evils: that's the sum of my wisdom now.”

“And love for your neighbour, and self-sacrifice?” began Pierre. “No, I can't agree with you! To live with the sole object of avoiding doing evil, so as not to be remorseful, that's very little. I used to live so, I used to live for myself, and I spoilt my life. And only now, when I'm living, at least trying to live” (modesty impelled Pierre to correct himself) “for others, only now I have learnt to know all the happiness of life. No, I don't agree with you, and indeed, you don't believe what you're saying yourself.”

Prince Andrey looked at Pierre without speaking, and smiled ironically. “Well, you'll see my sister Marie. You will get on with her,” said he. “Perhaps you are right for yourself,” he added, after a brief pause, “but every one lives in his own way; you used to live for yourself, and you say that by doing so you almost spoiled your life, and have only known happiness since you began to live for others. And my experience has been the reverse. I used to live for glory. (And what is glory? The same love for others, the desire to do something for them, the desire of their praise.) In that way I lived for others, and not almost, but quite spoilt my life. And I have become more peaceful since I live only for myself.”

“But how are you living only for yourself?” Pierre asked, getting hot. “What of your son, your sister, your father?”

“Yes, but that's all the same as myself, they are not others,” said Prince Andrey; “but others, one's neighbours, as you and Marie call them, they are the great source of error and evil. One's neighbours are those—your Kiev peasants—whom one wants to do good to.”

And he looked at Pierre with a glance of ironical challenge. He unmistakably meant to draw him on.

“You are joking,” said Pierre, getting more and more earnest. “What error and evil can there be in my wishing (I have done very little and done it very badly), but still wishing to do good, and doing indeed something any way? Where can be the harm if unhappy people, our peasants, people just like ourselves, growing up and dying with no other idea of God and the truth, but a senseless prayer and ceremony, if they are instructed in the consoling doctrines of a future life, of retribution, and recompense and consolation? What harm and error can there be in my giving them doctors, and a hospital, and a refuge for the aged, when men are dying of disease without help, and it is so easy to give them material aid? And isn't there palpable, incontestable good, when the peasants and the women with young children have no rest day or night, and I give them leisure and rest? …” said Pierre, talking hurriedly and lisping. “And I have done that; badly it's true, and too little of it, but I have done something towards it, and you'll not only fail to shake my conviction that I have done well, you'll not even shake my conviction that you don't believe that yourself. And the great thing,” Pierre continued, “is that I know this and know it for a certainty—that the enjoyment of doing this good is the only real happiness in life.”

“Oh, if you put the question like that, it's a different matter,” said Prince Andrey. “I'm building a house and laying out a garden, while you are building hospitals. Either occupation may serve to pass the time. But as to what's right and what's good—leave that to one who knows all to judge; it's not for us to decide. Well, you want an argument,” he added; “all right, let us have one.” They got up from the table and sat out on the steps in default of a balcony. “Come, let us argue the matter,” said Prince Andrey. “You talk of schools,” he went on, crooking one finger, “instruction, and so forth, that is, you want to draw him” (he pointed to a peasant who passed by them taking off his cap), “out of his animal condition and to give him spiritual needs, but it seems to me that the only possible happiness is animal happiness, and you want to deprive him of it. I envy him, while you are trying to make him into me, without giving him my circumstances. Another thing you speak of is lightening his toil. But to my notions, physical labour is as much a necessity for him, as much a condition of his existence, as intellectual work is for me and for you. You can't help thinking. I go to bed at three o'clock, thoughts come into my mind, and I can't go to sleep; I turn over, and can't sleep till morning, because I'm thinking, and I can't help thinking, just as he can't help ploughing and mowing. If he didn't, he would go to the tavern, or become ill. Just as I could not stand his terrible physical labour, but should die of it in a week, so he could not stand my physical inactivity, he would grow fat and die. The third thing—what was it you talked about?”

Prince Andrey crooked his third finger.

“Oh, yes, hospitals, medicine. He has a fit and dies, but you have him bled and cure him. He will drag about an invalid for ten years, a burden to every one. It would be ever so much simpler and more comfortable for him to die. Others are born, and there are always plenty. If you grudge losing a labourer—that's how I look at him—but you want to cure him from love for him. But he has no need of that. And besides, what a notion that medicine has ever cured any one! Killed them—yes!” he said, scowling and turning away from Pierre.

Prince Andrey gave such a clear and precise utterance to his ideas that it was evident he had thought more than once of this already, and he talked rapidly and eagerly, as a man does who has long been silent. His eyes grew keener, the more pessimistic were the views he expressed.

“Oh, this is awful, awful!” said Pierre. “I don't understand how one can live with such ideas. I have had moments of thinking like that; it was not long ago at Moscow and on a journey, but then I become so abject that I don't live at all, everything's hateful to me … myself, most of all. Then I don't eat, I don't wash … how can you go on? …”

“Why not wash, that's not clean,” said Prince Andrey; “on the contrary, one has to try and make one's life more agreeable as far as one can. I'm alive, and it's not my fault that I am, and so I have to try without hurting others to get on as well as I can till death.”

“But what impulse have you to live with such ideas? You would sit still without stirring, taking no part in anything.…”

“Life won't leave you in peace even so. I should be glad to do nothing, but here you see on one side, the local nobility have done me the honour of electing me a marshal; it was all I could do to get out of it. They could not understand that I haven't what's needed, haven't that good-natured, fussy vulgarity we all know so well, that's needed for it. Then there's this house here, which had to be built that I might have a nook of my own where I could be quiet. Now there's the militia.”

“Why aren't you serving in the army?”

“After Austerlitz!” said Prince Andrey gloomily. “No, thank you; I swore to myself that I would never serve in the Russian army again. And I will not, if Bonaparte were stationed here at Smolensk, threatening Bleak Hills! even then I wouldn't serve in the Russian army. Well, so I was saying,” Prince Andrey went on, regaining his composure. “Now, there's the militia; my father's commander-in-chief of the third circuit, and the only means for me to escape from active service is to serve under him.”

“So you are in the service, then?”

“Yes.” He was silent for a while.

“Then why do you serve?”

“I'll tell you why. My father is one of the most remarkable men of his time. But he's grown old, and he's not cruel exactly, but he's of too energetic a character. He's terrible from his habit of unlimited power, and now with this authority given him by the Emperor as a commander-in-chief in the militia. If I had been two hours later a fortnight ago, he would have hanged the register-clerk at Yuhnovo,” said Prince Andrey with a smile. “So I serve under him now because no one except me has any influence over my father, and I sometimes save him from an act which would be a source of misery to him afterwards.”

“Ah, there you see!”

“Yes, it is not as you think,” Prince Andrey continued. “I didn't, and I don't wish well in the slightest to that scoundrelly register-clerk who had stolen boots or something from the militiamen; indeed, I would have been very glad to see him hanged, but I feel for my father, that is again myself.”

Prince Andrey grew more and more eager. His eyes glittered feverishly, as he tried to prove to Pierre that there was never the slightest desire to do good to his neighbour in his actions.

“Well, you want to liberate your serfs, too,” he pursued; “that's a very good thing, but not for you—I expect you have never flogged a man nor sent one to Siberia—and still less for your peasants. If a peasant is beaten, flogged, sent to Siberia, I dare say he's not a bit the worse for it. In Siberia he can lead the same brute existence; the stripes on the body heal, and he's as happy as before. But it's needed for the people who are ruined morally, who are devoured by remorse, who stifle that remorse and grow callous from being able to inflict punishment all round them. Perhaps you have not seen it, but I have seen good men, brought up in the traditions of unlimited power with years, as they grew more irritable, become cruel and brutal, conscious of it, and unable to control themselves, and growing more and more miserable.”

Prince Andrey spoke with such earnestness that Pierre could not help thinking those ideas were suggested to him by his father. He made him no reply.

“So that's what I grieve for—for human dignity, for peace of conscience, for purity, and not for their backs or their heads, which always remain just the same backs and heads, however you thrash or shave them.”

“No, no, a thousand times no! I shall never agree with you,” said Pierre.

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