“And were our militiamen of any service to the state? Not the slightest! They only ruined our agriculture. Even conscription is better.… As it is, a man comes back to you neither soldier nor peasant, nothing, but only demoralised. The nobility don’t grudge their lives. We will go ourselves to a man; take recruits, too; and the Tsar has but to say the word, and we will all die for him,” added the orator, warming up.

Ilya Andreitch’s mouth was watering with satisfaction, and he nudged Pierre, but Pierre wanted to speak too. He moved forward, feeling stirred, though he did not yet know why nor what he would say. He was just opening his mouth to speak when he was interrupted by a perfectly toothless senator with a shrewd and wrathful face, who was standing close by the last orator. Evidently accustomed to lead debates and bring forward motions, he began speaking in a low but audible voice:

“I imagine, my dear sir,” said the senator, mumbling with his toothless mouth, “that we are summoned here not to discuss which is more suitable for the country at the present moment—conscription or the militia. We are summoned to reply to the appeal which our sovereign the Emperor graciously deigns to make to us. And to judge which is the fitter means—recruiting or a levy for militia—we leave to a higher power.…”

Pierre suddenly found the right outlet for his excitement. He felt exasperated with the senator, who introduced this conventional and narrow view of the duties that lay before the nobility. Pierre stepped forward and cut him short. He did not know himself what he was going to say, but he began eagerly, using bookish Russian, and occasionally relapsing into French.

“Excuse me, your excellency,” he began (Pierre was well acquainted with this senator, but he felt it necessary on this occasion to address him formally), “though I differ from the gentleman…” (Pierre hesitated; he would have liked to say Mon très honorable préopinante) “with the gentleman…whom I have not the honour of knowing; but I imagine the estate of the nobility, apart from the expression of its sympathy and enthusiasm, has been convoked also to deliberate upon the measures by which we can assist our country. I imagine,” said Pierre, growing warmer, “that the Tsar would himself be displeased if he should find in us only the owners of peasants, whom we give up to him, and chair à canon, which we offer in ourselves—and should not find in us co…co …counsel.…”

Many persons moved a little away from the circle, noticing the disdainful smile of the senator and the freedom of Pierre’s words. Ilya Andreitch was the only person pleased at what Pierre said, just as he had been pleased with the naval officer’s speech and the senator’s, as he always was with the last speech he had heard.

“I consider that before discussing these questions,” Pierre continued, “we ought to ask the Emperor, most respectfully to ask his majesty, to communicate to us what forces we have, what is the position of our men and our army, and then…”

Pierre had hardly uttered these words when he was promptly attacked on three sides at once. The most violent onslaught was made upon him by an old acquaintance and partner at boston, who had always been on the friendliest terms with him, Stepan Stepanovitch Adraksin. Stepan Stepanovitch was, of course, in uniform, and whether it was due to the uniform or to other causes, Pierre saw before him quite a changed man. Stepan Stepanovitch, with an old man’s anger in his face, screamed at Pierre:

“In the first place, let me tell you that we have no right to ask such questions of the Emperor; and secondly, if the nobility had any such right, the Emperor could not answer such questions. The movements of the troops depend on the movements of the enemy; the troops are augmented and decreased…”

Another voice interrupted Adraksin. The speaker was a man of forty, of medium height, whom Pierre had seen in former days at the gypsies’ entertainments, and knew as a bad card-player. But now he, too, was quite transformed by his uniform, as he moved up to Pierre.

“Yes, and it’s not the time for deliberation,” said this nobleman.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.