War And Peace

CHAPTER XII

Chinese

AS IN EVERY REAL FAMILY, there were several quite separate worlds living together in the Bleak Hills house, and while each of these preserved its own individuality, they made concessions to one another, and mixed into one harmonious whole. Every event that occurred in the house was alike important and joyful or distressing to all those circles. But each circle had its own private grounds for rejoicing or mourning at every event quite apart from the rest.

So Pierre's arrival was a joyful and important event, reflected as such in all the circles of the household.

The servants, the most infallible judges of their masters, because they judge them, not from their conversation and expression of their feelings, but from their actions and their manner of living, were delighted at Pierre's return, because they knew that when he was there, the count, their master, would not go out every day to superintend the peasants on the estate, and would be in better temper and spirits, and also because they knew there would be valuable presents for all of them for the fête day.

The children and their governesses were delighted at Bezuhov's return, because no one drew them into the general social life of the house as Pierre did. He it was who could play on the clavichord that écossaise (his one piece), to which, as he said, one could dance all possible dances; and he was quite sure, too, to have brought all of them presents.

Nikolinka Bolkonsky, who was now a thin, delicate, intelligent boy of fifteen, with curly light hair and beautiful eyes, was delighted because Uncle Pierre, as he called him, was the object of his passionate love and adoration. No one had instilled a particular affection for Pierre into Nikolinka, and he only rarely saw him. Countess Marya, who had brought him up, had done her utmost to make Nikolinka love her husband, as she loved him; and the boy did like his uncle, but there was a scarcely perceptible shade of contempt in his liking of him. Pierre he adored. He did not want to be an hussar or a Cavalier of St. George like his Uncle Nikolay; he wanted to be learned, clever, and kind like Pierre. In Pierre's presence there was always a happy radiance on his face, and he blushed and was breathless when Pierre addressed him. He never missed a word that Pierre uttered, and afterwards alone or with Dessalle recalled every phrase, and pondered its exact significance. Pierre's past life, his unhappiness before 1812 (of which, from the few words he had heard, he had made up a vague, romantic picture), his adventures in Moscow, and captivity with the French, Platon Karataev (of whom he had heard from Pierre), his love for Natasha (whom the boy loved too with quite a special feeling), and, above all, his friendship with his father, whom Nikolinka did not remember, all made Pierre a hero and a saint in his eyes.

From the phrases he had heard dropped about his father and Natasha, from the emotion with which Pierre spoke of him, and the circumspect, reverent tenderness with which Natasha spoke of him, the boy, who was only just beginning to form his conceptions of love, had gathered the idea that his father had loved Natasha, and had bequeathed her at his death to his friend. That father, of whom the boy had no memory, seemed to him a divine being, of whom one could have no clear conception, and of whom he could not think without a throbbing heart and tears of sorrow and rapture.

And so the boy too was happy at Pierre's arrival.

The guests in the house were glad to see Pierre, for he was a person who always enlivened every party, and made its different elements mix well together.

The grown-up members of the household were glad to see a friend who always made daily life run more smoothly and easily.

The old ladies were pleased both at the presents he brought them, and still more at Natasha's being herself again.

Pierre felt the various views those different sets of people took of him, and made haste to satisfy the expectations of all of them.

Though he was the most absent-minded and forgetful of men, by the help of a list his wife made for him, he had bought everything, not forgetting a single commission from his mother-in-law or brother-in-law, nor the presents of a dress for Madame Byelov and toys for his nephews.

In the early days of his married life his wife's expectation that he should forget nothing he had undertaken to buy had struck him as strange, and he had been impressed by her serious chagrin when after his first absence he had returned having forgotten everything. But in time he had grown used to this. Knowing that Natasha gave him no commissions on her own account, and for others only asked him to get things when he had himself offered to do so, he now took a childish pleasure, that was a surprise to himself, in those purchases of presents for all the household, and never forgot anything. If he incurred Natasha's censure now, it was only for buying too much, and paying too much for his purchases. To her other defects in the eyes of the world—good qualities in Pierre's eyes—her untidiness and negligence, Natasha added that of stinginess.

Ever since Pierre had begun living a home life, involving increased expenses in a large house, he had noticed to his astonishment that he was spending half what he had spent in the past, and that his circumstances, somewhat straitened latterly, especially by his first wife's debts, were beginning to improve.

Living was much cheaper, because his life was coherent; the most expensive luxury in his former manner of life, that is, the possibility of a complete change in it at any moment, Pierre had not now, and had no desire for. He felt that his manner of life was settled now once for all till death; that to change it was not in his power, and therefore that manner of life was cheaper.

With a beaming, smiling countenance, Pierre was unpacking his purchases.

“Look!” he said, unfolding a piece of material like a shopman. Natasha was sitting opposite him with her eldest girl on her knee, and she turned her sparkling eyes from her husband to what he was showing her.

“That's for Madame Byelov? Splendid.” She touched it to feel the goodness of the material. “It must have been a rouble a yard?”

Pierre mentioned the price.

“Very dear,” said Natasha. “Well, how pleased the children will be and maman too. Only you shouldn't have bought me this,” she added, unable to suppress a smile, as she admired the gold and pearl comb, of a pattern just then coming into fashion.

“Adèle kept on at me to buy it,” said Pierre.

“When shall I wear it?” Natasha put it in her coil of hair. “It will do when I have to bring little Masha out; perhaps they will come in again then. Well, let us go in.”

And gathering up the presents, they went first into the nursery, and then in to see the countess.

The countess, as her habit was, was sitting playing patience with Madame Byelov when Pierre and Natasha went into the drawing-room with parcels under their arms.

The countess was by now over sixty. Her hair was completely grey, and she wore a cap that surrounded her whole face with a frill. Her face was wrinkled, her upper lip had sunk, and her eyes were dim.

After the deaths of her son and her husband that had followed so quickly on one another, she had felt herself a creature accidentally forgotten in this world, with no object and no interest in life. She ate and drank, slept and lay awake, but she did not live. Life gave her no impressions. She wanted nothing from life but peace, and that peace she could find only in death. But until death came to her she had to go on living— that is, using her vital forces. There was in the highest degree noticeable in her what may be observed in very small children and in very old people. No external aim could be seen in her existence; all that could be seen was the need to exercise her various capacities and propensities. She had to eat, to sleep, to think, to talk, to weep, to work, to get angry, and so on, simply because she had a stomach, a brain, muscles, nerves, and spleen. All this she did, not at the promptings of any external motive, as people do in the full vigour of life, when the aim towards which they strive screens from our view that other aim of exercising their powers. She only talked because she needed to exercise her lungs and her tongue. She cried like a child, because she needed the physical relief of tears, and so on. What for people in their full vigour is a motive, with her was obviously a pretext.

Thus in the morning, especially if she had eaten anything too rich the night before, she sought an occasion for anger, and pitched on the first excuse—the deafness of Madame Byelov.

From the other end of the room she would begin to say something to her in a low voice.

“I fancy it is warmer to-day, my dear,” she would say in a whisper. And when Madame Byelov replied: “To be sure, they have come,” she would mutter angrily: “Mercy on us, how deaf and stupid she is!”

Another excuse was her snuff, which she fancied either too dry, or too moist, or badly pounded. After these outbursts of irritability, a bilious hue came into her face. And her maids knew by infallible tokens when Madame Byelov would be deaf again, and when her snuff would again be damp, and her face would again be yellow. Just as she had to exercise her spleen, she had sometimes to exercise her remaining faculties; and for thought the pretext was patience. When she wanted to cry, the subject of her tears was the late count. When she needed excitement, the subject was Nikolay and anxiety about his health. When she wanted to say something spiteful, the pretext was the Countess Marya. When she required exercise for her organs of speech—this was usually about seven o'clock, after she had had her after-dinner rest in a darkened room— then the pretext was found in repetition of anecdotes, always the same, and always to the same listeners.

The old countess's condition was understood by all the household, though no one ever spoke of it, and every possible effort was made by every one to satisfy her requirements. Only rarely a mournful half-smile passed between Nikolay, Pierre, Natasha, and Countess Marya that betrayed their comprehension of her condition.

But those glances said something else besides. They said that she had done her work in life already, that she was not all here in what was seen in her now, that they would all be the same, and that they were glad to give way to her, to restrain themselves for the sake of this poor creature, once so dear, once as full of life as they. Memento mori, said those glances.

Only quite heartless and stupid people and little children failed to understand this, and held themselves aloof from her.

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