War And Peace

CHAPTER XXVII

Chinese

THE PROCESS of the absorption of the French into Moscow in a widening circle in all directions did not, till the evening of the 2nd of September, reach the quarter of the town in which Pierre was staying.

After the two last days spent in solitude and exceptional conditions, Pierre was in a condition approaching madness. One haunting idea had complete possession of him. He could not have told how or when it had come to him, but that idea had now such complete possession of him that he remembered nothing in the past, and understood nothing in the present; and everything he saw and heard seemed passing in a dream.

Pierre had left his own house simply to escape from the complicated tangle woven about him by the demands of daily life, which in his condition at that time he was incapable of unravelling. He had gone to Osip Alexyevitch's house on the pretext of sorting out the books and papers of the deceased. Simply he was in search of a quiet home of rest from the storm of life, and his memories of Osip Alexyevitch were connected in his soul with a whole world of calm, solemn, and eternal ideals, in every way the reverse of the tangled whirl of agitation into which he felt himself being drawn. He was in search of a quiet refuge, and he certainly found it in Osip Alexyevitch's study. When, in the deathlike stillness of the study, he sat with his elbows on the dusty writing-table of his deceased friend, there passed in calm and significant succession before his mental vision the impressions of the last few days, especially of the battle of Borodino, and of that overwhelming sense of his own pettiness and falsity in comparison with the truth and simplicity and force of that class of men, who were mentally referred to by him as “they.” When Gerasim roused him from his reverie, the idea occurred to Pierre that he would take part in the defence of Moscow by the people, which was, he knew, expected. And with that object he had asked Gerasim to get him a peasant's coat and a pistol, and had told him that he intended to conceal his name, and to remain in Osip Alexyevitch's house. Then during the first day of solitude and idleness (Pierre tried several times in vain to fix his attention on the masonic manuscripts) there rose several times vaguely to his mind the idea that had occurred to him in the past of the cabalistic significance of his name in connection with the name of Bonaparte. But the idea that he, l'russe Besuhof, was destined to put an end to the power of the Beast, had as yet only come to him as one of those dreams that flit idly through the brain, leaving no trace behind. When after buying the peasant's coat, simply with the object of taking part in the defence of Moscow by the people, Pierre had met the Rostovs, and Natasha said to him, “You are staying? Ah, how splendid that is!” the idea had flashed into his mind that it really might be splendid, even if they did take Moscow, for him to remain, and to do what had been fore-told for him to do.

Next day with the simple aim of not sparing himself and not doing less than they would do, he had gone out to the Three Hills barrier. But when he came back, convinced that Moscow would not be defended, he suddenly felt that what had only occurred to him before as a possibility had now become something necessary and inevitable. He must remain in Moscow, concealing his name, must meet Napoleon, and kill him, so as either to perish or to put an end to the misery of all Europe, which was in Pierre's opinion entirely due to Napoleon alone.

Pierre knew all the details of the German student's attempt on Napoleon's life at Vienna in 1809, and knew that that student had been shot. And the danger to which he would be exposing his own life in carrying out his design excited him even more violently.

Two equally powerful feelings drew Pierre irresistibly to his design. The first was the craving for sacrifice and suffering through the sense of the common calamity, the feeling that had impelled him to go to Mozhaisk on the 25th, and to place himself in the very thick of the battle, and now to run away from his own house, to give up his accustomed luxury and comfort, to sleep without undressing on a hard sofa, and to eat the same food as Gerasim. The other was that vague and exclusively Russian feeling of contempt for everything conventional, artificial, human, for everything that is regarded by the majority of men as the highest good in the world. Pierre had for the first time experienced that strange and fascinating feeling in the Slobodsky palace, when he suddenly felt that wealth and power and life, all that men build up and guard with such effort, is only worth anything through the joy with which it can all be cast away.

It was the same feeling that impels the volunteer-recruit to drink up his last farthing, the drunken man to smash looking-glasses and window-panes for no apparent cause, though he knows it will cost him his little all; the feeling through which a man in doing things, vulgarly speaking, senseless, as it were, proves his personal force and power, by manifesting the presence of a higher standard of judging life, outside mere human limitations.

Ever since the day when Pierre first experienced this feeling in the Slobodsky palace, he had been continually under the influence of it, but it was only now that it found full satisfaction. Moreover at the present moment Pierre was supported in his design, and prevented from abandoning it, by the steps he had already taken in that direction. His flight from his own house, and his disguise, and his pistol, and his statement to the Rostovs that he should remain in Moscow,—all would have been devoid of meaning, would have been indeed absurd and laughable (a point to which Pierre was sensitive) if after all that he had simply gone out of Moscow like other people.

Pierre's physical state, as is always the case, corresponded with his moral condition. The coarse fare to which he was unused, the vodka he drank during those days, the lack of wine and cigars, his dirty, unchanged linen, and two half-sleepless nights, spent on a short sofa without bedding, all reduced Pierre to a state of nervous irritability bordering on madness.

It was two o'clock in the afternoon. The French had already entered Moscow. Pierre knew this, but instead of acting, he only brooded over his enterprise, going over all the minutest details of it. In his dreams Pierre never clearly pictured the very act of striking the blow, nor the death of Napoleon, but with extraordinary vividness and mournful enjoyment dwelt on his own end and his heroic fortitude.

“Yes, one man for all, I must act or perish!” he thought. “Yes, I will approach … and then all at once … with a pistol or a dagger!” thought Pierre. “But that doesn't matter. It's not I but the Hand of Providence punishes you.… I shall say” (Pierre pondered over the words he would utter as he killed Napoleon). “Well, take me, execute me!” Pierre would murmur to himself, bowing his head with a sad but firm expression on his face.

While Pierre was standing in the middle of the room, musing in this fashion, the door of the study opened, and Makar Alexyevitch—always hitherto so timid—appeared in the doorway, completely transformed.

His dressing-gown was hanging open. His face was red and distorted. He was unmistakably drunk. On seeing Pierre he was for the first minute disconcerted, but observing discomfiture in Pierre's face too, he was at once emboldened by it; and with his thin, tottering legs walked into the middle of the room.

“They have grown fearful,” he said, in a husky and confidential voice. “I say: I will not surrender, I say … eh, sir?” He paused and suddenly catching sight of the pistol on the table, snatched it with surprising rapidity and ran out into the corridor.

Gerasim and the porter, who had followed Makar Alexyevitch, stopped him in the vestibule, and tried to get the pistol away from him. Pierre coming out of the study looked with repugnance and compassion at the half-insane old man. Makar Alexyevitch, frowning with effort, succeeded in keeping the pistol, and was shouting in a husky voice, evidently imagining some heroic scene.

“To arms! Board them! You shan't get it!” he was shouting.

“Give over, please, give over. Do me the favour, sir, please be quiet. There now, if you please, sir, …” Gerasim was saying, cautiously trying to steer Makar Alexyevitch by his elbows towards the door.

“Who are you? Bonaparte!…” yelled Makar Alexyevitch.

“That's not the thing, sir. You come into your room and rest a little. Let me have the pistol now.”

“Away, base slave! Don't touch me! Do you see?” screamed Makar Alexyevitch, brandishing the pistol. “Run them down!”

“Take hold!” Gerasim whispered to the porter.

They seized Makar Alexyevitch by the arms and dragged him towards the door.

The vestibule was filled with the unseemly sounds of scuffling and drunken, husky gasping.

Suddenly a new sound, a shrill, feminine shriek, was heard from the porch, and the cook ran into the vestibule.

“They! Merciful heavens! … My goodness, here they are! Four of them, horsemen!” she screamed.

Gerasim and the porter let Makar Alexyevitch go, and in the hush that followed in the corridor they could distinctly hear several hands knocking at the front door.

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