SOON AFTER THIS the children came in to say good-night. The children kissed every one, the tutors and governesses said good-night and went away. Dessalle alone remained with his pupil. The tutor whispered to his young charge to come downstairs.
“No, M. Dessalle, I will ask my aunt for leave to stay,” Nikolinka Bolkonsky answered, also in a whisper.
“Ma tante, will you let me stay?” said Nikolinka, going up to his aunt. His face was full of entreaty, excitement, and enthusiasm. Countess Marya looked at him and turned to Pierre
“When you are here, there is no tearing him away …” she said.
“I will bring him directly, M. Dessalle. Good-night,” said Pierre, giving his hand to the Swiss tutor, and he turned smiling to Nikolinka. “We have not seen each other at all yet. Marie, how like he is growing,” he added, turning to Countess Marya.
“Like my father?” said the boy, flushing crimson and looking up at Pierre with rapturous, shining eyes.
Pierre nodded to him, and went on with the conversation that had been interrupted by the children. Countess Marya had some canvas embroidery in her hands; Natasha sat with her eyes fixed on her husband. Nikolay and Denisov got up, asked for pipes, smoked, and took cups of tea from Sonya, still sitting with weary pertinacity at the samovar, and asked questions of Pierre. The curly-headed, delicate boy, with his shining eyes, sat unnoticed by any one in a corner. Turning the curly head and the slender neck above his laydown collar to follow Pierre's movements, he trembled now and then, and murmured something to himself, evidently thrilled by some new and violent emotion.
The conversation turned on the scandals of the day in the higher government circles, a subject in which the majority of people usually find the chief interest of home politics. Denisov, who was dissatisfied with the government on account of his own disappointments in the service, heard with glee of all the follies, as he considered them, that were going on now in Petersburg, and made his comments on Pierre's words in harsh and in cutting phrases.
“In old days you had to be a German to be anybody, nowadays you have to dance with the Tatarinov woman and Madame Krüdner, to read …Eckartshausen, and the rest of that crew. Ugh! I would let good old Bonaparte loose again! He would knock all the nonsense out of them. Why, isn't it beyond everything to have given that fellow Schwartz the Semyonovsky regiment?” he shouted.
Though Nikolay had not Denisov's disposition to find everything amiss, he too thought it dignified and becoming to criticise the government, and he believed that the fact, that A. had been appointed minister of such a department, and B. had been made governor of such a province, and the Tsar had said this, and the minister had said that, were all matters of the greatest importance. And he thought it incumbent upon him to take an interest in the subject and to question Pierre about it. So the questions put by Nikolay and Denisov kept the conversation on the usual lines of gossip about the higher government circles.
But Natasha, who knew every thought and expression in her husband, saw that Pierre all the while wanted to lead the conversation into another channel, and to open his heart on his own idea, the idea which he had gone to Petersburg to consult his new friend Prince Fyodor about. She saw too that he could not lead up to this, and she came to the rescue with a question: How had he settled things with Prince Fyodor?
“What was that?” asked Nikolay.
“All the same thing over and over again,” said Pierre, looking about him. “Every one sees that things are all going so wrong that they can't be endured, and that it's the duty of all honest men to oppose it to the utmost of their power.”
“Why, what can honest men do?” said Nikolay, frowning slightly. “What can be done?”
“Let us go into the study,” said Nikolay.
Natasha, who had a long while been expecting to be fetched to her baby, heard the nurse calling her, and went off to the nursery. Countess Marya went with her. The men went to the study, and Nikolinka Bolkonsky stole in, unnoticed by his uncle, and sat down at the writing table, in the dark by the window.
“Well, what are you going to do?” said Denisov.
“Everlastingly these fantastic schemes,” said Nikolay.
“Well,” Pierre began, not sitting down, but pacing the room, and coming to an occasional standstill, lisping and gesticulating rapidly as he talked. “This is the position of things in Petersburg: the Tsar lets everything go. He is entirely wrapped up in this mysticism” (mysticism Pierre could not forgive in anybody now). “All he asks for is peace; and he can only get peace through these men of no faith and no conscience, who are stifling and destroying everything, Magnitsky and Araktcheev, and tutti quanti…You will admit that if you did not look after your property yourself, and only asked for peace and quiet, the crueller your bailiff were, the more readily you would attain your object,” he said, turning to Nikolay.
“Well, but what is the drift of all this?” said Nikolay.
“Why, everything is going to ruin. Bribery in the law-courts, in the army nothing but coercion and drill: exile—people are being tortured, and enlightenment is suppressed. Everything youthful and honourable—they are crushing! Everybody sees that it can't go on like this. The strain is too great, and the string must snap,” said Pierre (as men always do say, looking into the working of any government so long as governments have existed). “I told them one thing in Petersburg.”
“Told whom?” asked Denisov.
“Oh, you know whom,” said Pierre, with a meaning look from under his brows, “Prince Fyodor and all of them. Zeal in educational and philanthropic work is all very good of course. Their object is excellent and all the rest of it; but in present circumstances what is wanted is something else.”
At that moment Nikolay noticed the presence of his nephew. His face fell; he went up to him.
“Why are you here?”
“Oh, let him be,” said Pierre, taking hold of Nikolay's arm; and he went on. “That's not enough, I told them; something else is wanted now. While you stand waiting for the string to snap every moment; while every one is expecting the inevitable revolution, as many people as possible should join hands as closely as they can to withstand the general catastrophe. All the youth and energy is being drawn away and dissipated. One lured by women, another by honours, a third by display or money—they are all going over to the wrong side. As for independent, honest men, like you and me—there are none of them left. I say: enlarge the scope of the society: let the mot d'ordre be not loyalty only, but independence and action.”
Nikolay, leaving his nephew, had angrily moved out a chair, and sat down in it. As he listened to Pierre, he coughed in a dissatisfied way, and frowned more and more.
“But action with what object?” he cried. “And what attitude do you take up to the government?”
“Why, the attitude of supporters! The society will perhaps not even be a secret one, if the government will allow it. So far from being hostile to the government, we are the real conservatives. It is a society of gentlemen, in the full significance of the word. It is simply to prevent Pugatchov from coming to massacre my children and yours, to prevent Araktcheev from transporting me to a military settlement, that we are joining hands, with the sole object of the common welfare and security.”
“Yes; but it's a secret society, and consequently a hostile and mischievous society, which can only lead to evil.”
“Why so? Did the Tugend-bund which saved Europe” (people did not yet venture to believe that Russia had saved Europe) “lead to evil? A Tugend-bund it is, an alliance of virtue; it is love and mutual help; it is what Christ preached on the cross…”
Natasha, coming into the room in the middle of the conversation, looked joyfully at her husband. She was not rejoicing in what he was saying. It did not interest her indeed, because it seemed to her that it was all so excessively simple, and that she had known it long ago. She fancied this, because she knew all that it sprang from—all Pierre's soul. But she was glad looking at his eager, enthusiastic figure.
Pierre was watched with even more rapturous gladness by the boy with the slender neck in the laydown collar, who had been forgotten by all of them. Every word Pierre uttered set his heart in a glow, and his fingers moving nervously, he unconsciously picked up and broke to pieces the sticks of sealing-wax and pens on his uncle's table.
“It's not at all what you imagine, but just such a society as the German Tugend-bund is what I propose.”
“Well, my boy, that's all very well for the sausage-eaters—a Tugend-bund—but I don't understand it, and I can't even pronounce it,” Denisov's loud, positive voice broke in. “Everything's rotten and corrupt; I agree there; only your Tugend-bund I don't understand, but if one is dissatisfied,—a bunt now” (i.e. riot or mutiny), “je suis votre homme!”
Pierre smiled, Natasha laughed; but Nikolay knitted his brows more than ever, and began arguing with Pierre that no revolution was to be expected, and that the danger he talked of had no existence but in his imagination. Pierre maintained his view, and as his intellectual faculties were keener and more resourceful, Nikolay was soon at a loss for an answer. This angered him still more, as in his heart he felt convinced, not by reasoning, but by something stronger than reasoning, of the indubitable truth of his own view.
“Well, let me tell you,” he said, getting up and nervously setting his pipe down in the corner, and then flinging it away; “I can't prove it you. You say everything is all rotten, and there will be a revolution; I don't see it; but you say our oath of allegiance is a conditional thing, and as to that, let me tell you, you are my greatest friend, you know that, but you make a secret society, you begin working against the government—whatever it may be, I know it's my duty to obey it. And if Araktcheev bids me march against you with a squadron and cut you down, I shan't hesitate for a second, I shall go. And then you may think what you like about it.”
An awkward silence followed these words. Natasha was the first to break it by defending her husband and attacking her brother. Her defence was weak and clumsy. But it attained her object. The conversation was taken up again, and no longer in the unpleasantly hostile tone in which Nikolay's last words had been spoken.
When they all got up to go in to supper, Nikolinka Bolkonsky went up to Pierre with a pale face and shining, luminous eyes.
“Uncle Pierre…you…no…If papa had been alive…he would have been on your side?” he asked.
Pierre saw in a flash all the original, complicated and violent travail of thought and feeling that must have been going on independently in this boy during the conversation. And recalling all he had been saying, he felt vexed that the boy should have heard him. He had to answer him, however.
“I believe he would,” he said reluctantly, and he went out of the study.
The boy looked down, and then for the first time seemed to become aware of the havoc he had been making on the writing-table. He flushed hotly and went up to Nikolay.
“Uncle, forgive me; I did it—not on purpose,” he said, pointing to the fragments of sealing-wax and pens.
Nikolay bounded up angrily. “Very good, very good,” he said, throwing the bits of pens and sealing-wax under the table. And with evident effort mastering his fury, he turned away from him.
“You ought not to have been here at all,” he said.