midst. The temptations on the side of Pierre’s besetting weakness, the one to which he had given the first place at his initiation into the lodge, were so strong that he could not resist them. Again whole days, weeks, and months of his life were busily filled up with parties, dinners, breakfasts, and balls, giving him as little time to think as at Petersburg. Instead of the new life Pierre had hoped to lead, he was living just the same old life only in different surroundings.

Of the three precepts of freemasonry, Pierre had to admit that he had not fulfilled that one which prescribes for every mason the duty of being a model of moral life; and of the seven virtues he was entirely without two—morality and love of death. He comforted himself by reflecting that, on the other hand, he was fulfilling the other precept—the improvement of the human race; and had other virtues, love for his neighbour and liberality.

In the spring of 1807, Pierre made up his mind to go back again to Petersburg. On the way back he intended to make the tour of all his estates, and to ascertain personally what had been done of what had been prescribed by him, and in what position the people now were who had been entrusted to him by God, and whom he had been striving to benefit.

The head steward, who regarded all the young count’s freaks as almost insanity—disastrous to him, to himself, and to his peasants—made concessions to his weaknesses. While continuing to represent the liberation of his serfs as impracticable, he made arrangements on all his estates for the building of schools, hospitals, and asylums on a large scale to be begun ready for the master’s visit, prepared everywhere for him to be met, not with ceremonious processions, which he knew would not be to Pierre’s taste, but with just the devotionally grateful welcomes, with holy images and bread and salt, such as would, according to his understanding of the count, impress him and delude him.

The southern spring, the easy, rapid journey in his Vienna carriage and the solitude of the road, had a gladdening influence on Pierre. The estates, which he had not before visited, were one more picturesque than the other; the peasantry seemed everywhere thriving, and touchingly grateful for the benefits conferred on them. Everywhere he was met by welcomes, which though they embarrassed Pierre, yet at the bottom of his heart rejoiced him. At one place the peasants had brought him bread and salt and the images of Peter and Paul, and begged permission in honour of his patron saints, Peter and Paul, and in token of love and gratitude for the benefits conferred on them, to erect at their own expense a new chapel in the church. At another place he was welcomed by women with babies in their arms, who came to thank him for being released from the obligation of heavy labour. In a third place he was met by a priest with a cross, surrounded by children, whom by the favour of the count he was instructing in reading and writing and religion. On all his estates Pierre saw with his own eyes stone buildings erected, or in course of erection, all on one plan, hospitals, schools, and almshouses, which were in short time to be opened. Everywhere Pierre saw the steward’s reckoning of service due to him diminished in comparison with the past, and heard touching thanks for what was remitted from deputations of peasants in blue, full-skirted coats.

But Pierre did not know that where they brought him bread and salt and were building a chapel of Peter and Paul there was a trading village, and a fair on St. Peter’s day, that the chapel had been built long ago by wealthy peasants of the village, and that nine-tenths of the peasants of that village were in the utmost destitution. He did not know that since by his orders nursing mothers were not sent to work on their master’s land, those same mothers did even harder work on their own bit of land. He did not know that the priest who met him with the cross oppressed the peasants with his exactions, and that the pupils gathered around him were yielded up to him with tears and redeemed for large sums by their parents. He did not know that the stone buildings were being raised by his labourers, and increased the forced labour of his peasants, which was only less upon paper. He did not know that where the steward pointed out to him in the account book the reduction of rent to one-third in accordance with his will, the labour exacted had been raised by one half. And so Pierre was enchanted by his journey over his estates, and came back completely to the philanthropic frame of mind in which he had left Petersburg, and wrote enthusiastic letters to his preceptor and brother, as he called the grand master.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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