War And Peace

CHAPTER XIX

Chinese

EVER SINCE THE DAY when Pierre had looked up at the comet in the sky on his way home from the Rostovs', and recalling Natasha's grateful look, had felt as though some new vista was opening before him, the haunting problem of the vanity and senselessness of all things earthly had ceased to torment him. That terrible question: Why? what for? which had till then haunted him in the midst of every occupation, was not now replaced by any other question, nor by an answer to the old question; its place was filled by the image of her. If he heard or talked of trivialities, or read or was told of some instance of human baseness or folly, he was not cast down as of old; he did not ask himself why people troubled, when all was so brief and uncertain. But he thought of her as he had seen her last, and all his doubts vanished; not because she had answered the questions that haunted him, but because her image lifted him instantly into another bright realm of spiritual activity, in which there could be neither right nor wrong, into a region of beauty and love which was worth living for. Whatever infamy he thought of, he said to himself, “Well, let so and so rob the state and the Tsar, while the state and the Tsar heap honours on him; but she smiled at me yesterday, and begged me to come, and I love her, and nobody will ever know it,” he thought.

Pierre still went into society, drank as much, and led the same idle and aimless life, because, apart from the hours he spent at the Rostovs', he had to get through the rest of his time somehow, and the habits and the acquaintances he had made in Moscow drew him irresistibly into the same life. But of late, since the reports from the seat of war had become more and more disquieting, and Natasha's health had improved, and she had ceased to call for the same tender pity, he had begun to be more and more possessed by a restlessness that he could not explain. He felt that the position he was in could not go on for long, that a catastrophe was coming that would change the whole course of his life, and he sought impatiently for signs of this impending catastrophe. One of his brother masons had revealed to Pierre the following prophecy relating to Napoleon, and taken from the Apocalypse of St. John.

In the Apocalypse, chapter thirteen, verse seventeen, it is written: “Here is wisdom; let him that hath understanding, count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man, and his number is six hundred three-score and six.”

And in the fifth verse of the same chapter: “And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.”

If the French alphabet is treated like the Hebrew system of enumeration, by which the first ten letters represent the units, and the next the tens, and so on, the letters have the following value:—

a b c d e f g h i k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 110 120 130 140 150 160

Turning out the words l'empereur Napoléon into ciphers on this system, it happens that the sum of these numbers equals 666, and Napoleon is thereby seen to be the beast prophesied in the Apocalypse. Moreover, working out in the same way the words quarante-deux, that is, the term for which the beast was permitted to continue, the sum of these numbers again equals 666, from which it is deduced that the terms of Napoleon's power had come in 1812, when the French Emperor reached his forty-second year. This prophecy made a great impression on Pierre. He frequently asked himself what would put an end to the power of the beast, that is, of Napoleon; and he tried by the same system of turning letters into figures, and reckoning them up to find an answer to this question. He wrote down as an answer, l'empereur Alexandre? La nation russe? He reckoned out the figures, but their sum was far more or less than 666. Once he wrote down his own name “Comte Pierre Bezuhov,” but the sum of the figure was far from being right. He changed the spelling, putting s for z, added “de,” added the article “le,” and still could not obtain the desired result. Then it occurred to him that if the answer sought for were to be found in his name, his nationality ought surely to find a place in it too. He tried Le russe Besuhof, and adding up the figure made the sum 671. This was only five too much; the 5 was denoted by the letter “e,” the letter dropped in the article in the expression l'empereur Napoléon. Dropping the “e” in a similar way, though of course incorrectly, Pierre obtained the answer he sought in L'russe Besuhof, the letters of which on that system added up to 666. This discovery greatly excited him. How, by what connection, he was associated with the great event, foretold in the Apocalypse, he could not tell. But he did not for a moment doubt of that connection. His love for Natasha, Antichrist, Napoleon's invasion, the comet, the number 666, l'empereur Napoléon, and l'russe Besuhof—all he thought were to develop, and come to some crisis together to extricate him from that spellbound, trivial round of Moscow habits, to which he felt himself in bondage, and to lead him to some great achievement and great happiness.

The day before that Sunday on which the new prayer had been read in the churches, Pierre had promised the Rostovs to call on Count Rastoptchin, whom he knew well, and to get from him the Tsar's appeal to the country, and the last news from the army. On going to Count Rastoptchin's in the morning, Pierre found there a special courier, who had only just arrived from the army. The courier was a man whom Pierre knew, and often saw at the Moscow balls.

“For mercy's sake, couldn't you relieve me of some of my burden,” said the courier; “I have a sack full of letters to parents.”

Among these letters was a letter from Nikolay Rostov to his father. Pierre took that; and Count Rastoptchin gave him a copy of the Tsar's appeal to Moscow, which had just been printed, the last announcements in the army, and his own last placard. Looking through the army announcements, Pierre found in one of them, among lists of wounded, killed and promoted, the name of Nikolay Rostov, rewarded with the order of St. George, of the fourth degree, for distinguished bravery in the Ostrovna affair, and in the same announcement the appointment of Prince Andrey Bolkonsky to the command of a regiment of light cavalry. Though he did not want to remind the Rostovs of Bolkonsky's existence, Pierre could not resist the inclination to rejoice their hearts with the news of their son's decoration. Keeping the Tsar's appeal, Rastoptchin's placard, and the other announcement to bring with him at dinner-time, Pierre sent the printed announcement and Nikolay's letter to the Rostovs.

The conversation with Rastoptchin, and his tone of anxiety and hurry, the meeting with the courier, who had casually alluded to the disastrous state of affairs in the army, the rumours of spies being caught in Moscow, of a sheet circulating in the town stating that Napoleon had sworn to be in both capitals before autumn, of the Tsar's expected arrival next day—all combined to revive in Pierre with fresh intensity that feeling of excitement and expectation, that he had been conscious of ever since the appearance of the comet, and with even greater force since the beginning of the war.

The idea of entering the army had long before occurred to Pierre, and he would have acted upon it, but that, in the first place, he was pledged by his vow to the Masonic brotherhood, which preached universal peace and the abolition of war; and secondly, when he looked at the great mass of Moscow gentlemen, who put on uniforms, and professed themselves patriots, he felt somehow ashamed to take the same step. A cause that weighed with him even more in not entering the army was the obscure conception that he, l'russe Besuhof, had somehow the mystic value of the number of the beast, 666, that his share in putting a limit to the power of the beast, “speaking great things and blasphemies,” had been ordained from all eternity, and that therefore it was not for him to take any step whatever; it was for him to wait for what was bound to come to pass.

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