Chapter 27

THE PROCESS of the absorption of the French into Moscow in a widening circle in all directions did not, till the evening of the 2nd of September, reach the quarter of the town in which Pierre was staying.

After the two last days spent in solitude and exceptional conditions, Pierre was in a condition approaching madness. One haunting idea had complete possession of him. He could not have told how or when it had come to him, but that idea had now such complete possession of him that he remembered nothing in the past, and understood nothing in the present; and everything he saw and heard seemed passing in a dream.

Pierre had left his own house simply to escape from the complicated tangle woven about him by the demands of daily life, which in his condition at that time he was incapable of unravelling. He had gone to Osip Alexyevitch’s house on the pretext of sorting out the books and papers of the deceased. Simply he was in search of a quiet home of rest from the storm of life, and his memories of Osip Alexyevitch were connected in his soul with a whole world of calm, solemn, and eternal ideals, in every way the reverse of the tangled whirl of agitation into which he felt himself being drawn. He was in search of a quiet refuge, and he certainly found it in Osip Alexyevitch’s study. When, in the deathlike stillness of the study, he sat with his elbows on the dusty writing-table of his deceased friend, there passed in calm and significant succession before his mental vision the impressions of the last few days, especially of the battle of Borodino, and of that overwhelming sense of his own pettiness and falsity in comparison with the truth and simplicity and force of that class of men, who were mentally referred to by him as “they.” When Gerasim roused him from his reverie, the idea occurred to Pierre that he would take part in the defence of Moscow by the people, which was, he knew, expected. And with that object he had asked Gerasim to get him a peasant’s coat and a pistol, and had told him that he intended to conceal his name, and to remain in Osip Alexyevitch’s house. Then during the first day of solitude and idleness (Pierre tried several times in vain to fix his attention on the masonic manuscripts) there rose several times vaguely to his mind the idea that had occurred to him in the past of the cabalistic significance of his name in connection with the name of Bonaparte. But the idea that he, l’russe Besuhof, was destined to put an end to the power of the Beast, had as yet only come to him as one of those dreams that flit idly through the brain, leaving no trace behind. When after buying the peasant’s coat, simply with the object of taking part in the defence of Moscow by the people, Pierre had met the Rostovs, and Natasha said to him, “You are staying? Ah, how splendid that is!” the idea had flashed into his mind that it really might be splendid, even if they did take Moscow, for him to remain, and to do what had been fore-told for him to do.

Pierre knew all the details of the German student’s attempt on Napoleon’s life at Vienna in 1809, and knew that that student had been shot. And the danger to which he would be exposing his own life in carrying out his design excited him even more violently.

Two equally powerful feelings drew Pierre irresistibly to his design. The first was the craving for sacrifice and suffering through the sense of the common calamity, the feeling that had impelled him to go to Mozhaisk on the 25th, and to place himself in the very thick of the battle, and now to run away from his own house, to give up his accustomed luxury and comfort, to sleep without undressing on a hard sofa, and to eat the same food as Gerasim. The other was that vague and exclusively Russian feeling of contempt for everything conventional, artificial, human, for everything that is regarded by the majority of men as the highest good in the world. Pierre had for the first time experienced that strange and fascinating feeling in the Slobodsky palace, when he suddenly felt that wealth and power and life, all that men build up and guard with such effort, is only worth anything through the joy with which it can all be cast away.

It was the same feeling that impels the volunteer-recruit to drink up his last farthing, the drunken man to smash looking-glasses and window-panes for no apparent cause, though he knows it will cost him his little all; the feeling through which a man in doing things, vulgarly speaking, senseless, as it were, proves his personal force and power, by manifesting the presence of a higher standard of judging life, outside mere human limitations.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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