ON THE MORNING of the 15th, the next day but one, a great number of carriages stood outside the Slobodsky palace.
The great halls were full. In the first were the noblemen in their uniforms; in the second there were merchants with medals and long beards, wearing blue, full-skirted coats. The first room was full of noise and movement. The more important personages were sitting on high-backed chairs at a big table under the Tsar's portrait; but the greater number of the noblemen were walking about the hall.
The noblemen, whom Pierre saw every day either at the club or at their houses, were all in uniforms; some in those of Catherine's court, some in those of the Emperor Pavel, and some in the new uniforms of Alexander's reign, others in the common uniforms of the nobility, and the general character of their dress gave a strange and fantastic look to these old and young, most diverse and familiar faces. Particularly striking were the older men, dim-eyed, toothless, bald, and thin, with faces wrinkled or lost in yellow fat. They sat still for the most part and were silent, or if they walked and talked, attached themselves to some one younger. Just like the faces Petya had seen in the crowd, all these faces, in their universal expectation of something solemn, presented a striking contrast with their everyday, yesterday's aspect, when talking over their game of boston, Petrushka the cook, the health of Zinaida Dmitryevna, etc., etc.
Pierre, who had been since early morning in an uncomfortable uniform, that had become too tight for him, was in the room. He was in a state of excitement; this extraordinary assembly, not only of the nobility, but of the merchant class too—the estates, états généraux—called up in him a whole series of ideas of the Contrat Social and the French Revolution, ideas imprinted deeply on his soul, though they had long been laid aside. The words he had noticed in the manifesto, that the Tsar was coming to the capital for deliberation with his people, confirmed him in this chain of thought. And supposing that something of importance in that direction was near at hand, that what he had long been looking for was coming, he looked and listened attentively, but he saw nowhere any expression of the ideas that engrossed him.
The Tsar's manifesto was read, and evoked enthusiasm; and then all moved about, talking. Apart from their everyday interests, Pierre heard discussion as to where the marshals were to stand when the Tsar should come in, when the ball was to be given for the Tsar, whether they were to be divided according to districts or the whole province together… and so on. But as soon as the war and the whole object of their meeting together was touched upon, the talk was uncertain and hesitating. Every one seemed to prefer listening to speaking.
A manly-looking, handsome, middle-aged man, wearing the uniform of a retired naval officer, was speaking, and a little crowd was gathered about him in one of the rooms. Pierre went up to the circle that had formed round him, and began to listen. Count Ilya Andreitch, in his uniform of Catherine's time, was walking about with a pleasant smile among the crowd, with all of whom he was acquainted. He too approached this group, and began to listen with a good-humoured smile, as he always did listen, nodding his head approvingly in token of his agreeing with the speaker. The retired naval officer was speaking very boldly (that could be seen from the expression on the faces of the listeners and from the fact that some persons, known to Pierre as particularly submissive and timid, drew back from him in disapprobation or expressed dissent). Pierre pushed his way into the middle of the circle, listened, and gained the conviction that the speaker certainly was a liberal, but in quite a different sense from what Pierre was looking for. The naval officer spoke in the peculiarly mellow, sing-song baritone of a Russian nobleman, with peculiar burring of the r's and suppression of the consonants, in the voice in which men shout: “Waiter, pipe!” and such phrases. He talked with the habit of riotous living and of authority in his voice.
“What if the Smolensk people have offered the Emperor a levy of militia. Are the Smolensk people any rule for us? If the nobility of the Moscow province thinks fit, it can show its devotion to our sovereign the Emperor by other means. Have we forgotten the militia in the year 1807? It was only the beggarly priests' sons and thieves made a good thing of it.…”
Count Ilya Andreitch, smiling blandly, nodded his head in approval.
“And were our militiamen of any service to the state? Not the slightest! They only ruined our agriculture. Even conscription is better.… As it is, a man comes back to you neither soldier nor peasant, nothing, but only demoralised. The nobility don't grudge their lives. We will go ourselves to a man; take recruits, too; and the Tsar has but to say the word, and we will all die for him,” added the orator, warming up.
Ilya Andreitch's mouth was watering with satisfaction, and he nudged Pierre, but Pierre wanted to speak too. He moved forward, feeling stirred, though he did not yet know why nor what he would say. He was just opening his mouth to speak when he was interrupted by a perfectly toothless senator with a shrewd and wrathful face, who was standing close by the last orator. Evidently accustomed to lead debates and bring forward motions, he began speaking in a low but audible voice:
“I imagine, my dear sir,” said the senator, mumbling with his toothless mouth, “that we are summoned here not to discuss which is more suitable for the country at the present moment—conscription or the militia. We are summoned to reply to the appeal which our sovereign the Emperor graciously deigns to make to us. And to judge which is the fitter means—recruiting or a levy for militia—we leave to a higher power.…”
Pierre suddenly found the right outlet for his excitement. He felt exasperated with the senator, who introduced this conventional and narrow view of the duties that lay before the nobility. Pierre stepped forward and cut him short. He did not know himself what he was going to say, but he began eagerly, using bookish Russian, and occasionally relapsing into French.
“Excuse me, your excellency,” he began (Pierre was well acquainted with this senator, but he felt it necessary on this occasion to address him formally), “though I differ from the gentleman…” (Pierre hesitated; he would have liked to say Mon très honorable préopinante) “with the gentleman…whom I have not the honour of knowing; but I imagine the estate of the nobility, apart from the expression of its sympathy and enthusiasm, has been convoked also to deliberate upon the measures by which we can assist our country. I imagine,” said Pierre, growing warmer, “that the Tsar would himself be displeased if he should find in us only the owners of peasants, whom we give up to him, and chair à canon, which we offer in ourselves—and should not find in us co…co …counsel.…”
Many persons moved a little away from the circle, noticing the disdainful smile of the senator and the freedom of Pierre's words. Ilya Andreitch was the only person pleased at what Pierre said, just as he had been pleased with the naval officer's speech and the senator's, as he always was with the last speech he had heard.
“I consider that before discussing these questions,” Pierre continued, “we ought to ask the Emperor, most respectfully to ask his majesty, to communicate to us what forces we have, what is the position of our men and our army, and then…”
Pierre had hardly uttered these words when he was promptly attacked on three sides at once. The most violent onslaught was made upon him by an old acquaintance and partner at boston, who had always been on the friendliest terms with him, Stepan Stepanovitch Adraksin. Stepan Stepanovitch was, of course, in uniform, and whether it was due to the uniform or to other causes, Pierre saw before him quite a changed man. Stepan Stepanovitch, with an old man's anger in his face, screamed at Pierre:
“In the first place, let me tell you that we have no right to ask such questions of the Emperor; and secondly, if the nobility had any such right, the Emperor could not answer such questions. The movements of the troops depend on the movements of the enemy; the troops are augmented and decreased…”
Another voice interrupted Adraksin. The speaker was a man of forty, of medium height, whom Pierre had seen in former days at the gypsies' entertainments, and knew as a bad card-player. But now he, too, was quite transformed by his uniform, as he moved up to Pierre.
“Yes, and it's not the time for deliberation,” said this nobleman.
“What's needed is action; there is war in Russia. Our foe comes to ruin Russia, to desecrate the tombs of our fathers, to carry away our wives and children.” The gentleman struck himself a blow on the chest. “We will all rise up; we will all go to a man, we will follow our father the Tsar!” he cried, rolling his bloodshot eyes. Several approving voices could be heard in the crowd. “We are Russians and we do not grudge our blood for the defence of our faith, our throne, and our country. But we must put a stop to idle talk, if we are true sons of our fatherland. We will show Europe how Russia can defend Russia!” shouted this gentleman.
Pierre tried to reply, but he could not get in a word. He felt that the sound of his words, apart from any meaning they conveyed, was less audible than the sound of his excited adversary's voice.
In the rear of the group, Ilya Andreitch was nodding approval; several of the audience turned their shoulders briskly to the orator at the conclusion of a phrase and said:
“That's so, that's so, indeed!”
Pierre wanted to say that he was by no means averse to the sacrifice of his money, or his peasants, or himself, but that one ought to know the true position of affairs, in order to be able to assist, but he could not speak.
A number of voices were speaking and shouting together, so much so that Ilya Andreitch had not time to nod approval to all of them. And the group grew larger and broke up into knots, re-formed again, and moved all together with a hum of talk to the big table in the big room. Pierre was not allowed to speak; they rudely interrupted him, indeed hustled him and turned their backs on him as though he were the common foe. This was not really due to their dislike of the tenor of his speech, which they had forgotten, indeed, after the great number of speeches that followed it. But a crowd is always pleased to have a concrete object for its love or its hatred. Pierre furnished it with the latter.
Many orators spoke after the eager nobleman, but all spoke in the same tone. Some spoke eloquently and originally.
The editor of the Russian Messenger, Glinka, who was recognised and greeted with shouts of “the author, the author!” said that hell must be driven back by hell, that he had seen a child smiling at the lightning flash and the thunder clap, but we would not be like that child.
“Yes, yes, at the thunder clap!” was repeated with approval at the back of the crowd.
The crowd approached the great table, where grey or bald old noblemen of seventy were sitting, wearing uniforms and decorations. Almost all of them Pierre had seen with their buffoons in their own homes or playing boston at the club. The crowd drew near the table, still with the same buzz of talk. The orators, squeezed in behind the high chair backs by the surging crowd, spoke one after another and sometimes two at once. Those who stood further back noticed what the speaker had left unsaid and hastened to supply the gap. Others were busy in the heat and crush, ransacking their brains to find some idea and hurriedly uttering it. The old grandees at the table sat looking from one to another, and their expression for the most part betrayed nothing but that they were very hot. Pierre however felt excited, and the general feeling of desire to show that they were ready for anything, expressed for the most part more in tones and looks than in the tenor of the speeches, infected him too. He did not disavow his ideas, but felt somehow in fault and tried to defend himself.
“I only said that we could make sacrifices to better purpose when we know what is needed,” he cried, trying to shout down the other voices.
One old man close by him looked round, but his attention was immediately called off by a shout at the other end of the table.
“Yes, Moscow will be surrendered! She will be the expiation!” one man was shouting.
“He is the enemy of mankind!” another shouted.
“Allow me to say…”
“Gentlemen, you are crushing me!…”