As is generally the case, Pierre only felt the full strain of the physical hardships and privations he had suffered as a prisoner, when they were over. After he had been rescued, he went to Orel, and two days after getting there, as he was preparing to start for Kiev, he fell ill and spent three months laid up at Orel. He was suffering, so the doctors said, from a bilious fever. Although they treated him by letting blood and giving him drugs, he recovered.
Everything that had happened to Pierre from the time of his rescue up to his illness had left hardly any impression on his mind. He had only a memory of dark grey weather, sometimes rainy and sometimes sunshiny, of internal physical aches, of pain in his feet and his side. He remembered a general impression of the misery and suffering of men, remembered the worrying curiosity of officers and generals, who questioned him about his imprisonment, the trouble he had to get horses and a conveyance; and more than all he remembered his own dullness of thought and of feeling all that time.
On the day of his rescue he saw the dead body of Petya Rostov. The same day he learned that Prince Andrey had lived for more than a month after the battle of Borodino, and had only a short time before died at Yaroslavl in the Rostovs' house. The same day Denisov, who had told Pierre this piece of news, happened to allude in conversation to the death of Ellen, supposing Pierre to have been long aware of it. All this had at the time seemed to Pierre only strange. He felt that he could not take in all the bearings of these facts. He was at the time simply in haste to get away from these places where men were slaughtering each other to some quiet refuge where he might rest and recover his faculties, and think over all the new strange things he had learned.
But as soon as he reached Orel, he fell ill. On coming to himself after his illness, Pierre saw waiting on him two of his servants, Terenty and Vaska, who had come from Moscow, and the eldest of his cousins, who was staying at Pierre's estate in Elets, and hearing of his rescue and his illness had come to nurse him.
During his convalescence Pierre could only gradually recover from the impressions of the last few months, which had become habitual. Only by degrees could he become accustomed to the idea that there was no one to drive him on to-morrow, that no one would take his warm bed from him, and that he was quite sure of getting his dinner, and tea, and supper. But for a long while afterwards he was always in his dreams surrounded by his conditions as a prisoner.
And only in the same gradual way did Pierre grasp the meaning of the news he had heard since his escape: of the death of Prince Andrey, of the death of his wife, and of the overthrow of the French.
The joyful sense of freedom—that full, inalienable freedom inherent in man, of which he had first had a consciousness at the first halting-place outside Moscow—filled Pierre's soul during his convalescence. He was surprised that this inner freedom, independent as it was of all external circumstances, was now as it were decked out in a luxury, a superfluity of external freedom. He was alone in a strange town without acquaintances. No one made any demands on him; no one sent him anywhere. He had all he wanted; the thought of his wife, that had in old days been a continual torture to him, was no more, since she herself was no more.
“Ah, how happy I am! how splendid it is!” he said to himself, when a cleanly covered table was moved up to him, with savoury-smelling broth, or when he got into his soft, clean bed at night, or when the thought struck him that his wife and the French were no more. “Ah, how good it is! how splendid!” And from old habit he asked himself the question, “Well, and what then? what am I going to do?” And at once he answered himself: “I am going to live. Ah, how splendid it is!”
What had worried him in old days, what he had always been seeking to solve, the question of the object of life, did not exist for him now. That seeking for an object in life was over for him now; and it was not fortuitously or temporarily that it was over. He felt that there was no such object, and could not be. And it was just the absence of an object that gave him that complete and joyful sense of freedom that at this time made his happiness.
He could seek no object in life now, because now he had faith—not faith in any sort of principles, or words, or ideas, but faith in a living, ever-palpable God. In old days he had sought Him in the aims he set before himself. That search for an object in life had been only a seeking after God; and all at once in his captivity he had come to know, not through words or arguments, but by his own immediate feeling, what his old nurse had told him long before; that God is here, and everywhere. In his captivity he had come to see that the God in Karataev was grander, more infinite, and more unfathomable than the Architect of the Universe recognised by the masons. He felt like a man who finds what he has sought at his feet, when he has been straining his eyes to seek it in the distance. All his life he had been looking far away over the heads of all around him, while he need not have strained his eyes, but had only to look in front of him.
In old days he had been unable to see the great, the unfathomable, and the infinite in anything. He had only felt that it must be somewhere, and had been seeking it. In everything near and comprehensible, he had seen only what was limited, petty, everyday, and meaningless. He had armed himself with the telescope of intellect, and gazed far away into the distance, where that petty, everyday world, hidden in the mists of distance, had seemed to him great and infinite, simply because it was not clearly seen. Such had been European life, politics, freemasonry, philosophy, and philanthropy in his eyes. But even then, in moments which he had looked on as times of weakness, his thought had penetrated even to these remote objects, and then he had seen in them the same pettiness, the same ordinariness and meaninglessness.
Now he had learnt to see the great, the eternal, and the infinite in everything; and naturally therefore, in order to see it, to revel in its contemplation, he flung aside the telescope through which he had hitherto been gazing over men's heads, and looked joyfully at the ever-changing, ever grand, unfathomable, and infinite life around him. And the closer he looked at it, the calmer and happier he was. The terrible question that had shattered all his intellectual edifices in old days, the question: What for? had no existence for him now. To that question, What for? he had now always ready in his soul the simple answer: Because there is a God, that God without whom not one hair of a man's head falls.