Chapter 12

AFTER THE EXECUTION Pierre was separated from the other prisoners and left alone in a small, despoiled, and filthy church.

Towards evening a patrol sergeant, with two soldiers, came into the church and informed Pierre that he was pardoned, and was now going to the barracks of the prisoners of war. Without understanding a word of what was said to him, Pierre got up and went with the soldiers. He was conducted to some sheds that had been rigged up in the upper part of the meadow out of charred boards, beams, and battens, and was taken into one of them. Some twenty persons of various kinds thronged round Pierre. He stared at them, with no idea of what these men were, why they were here, and what they wanted of him. He heard the words they said to him, but his mind made no kind of deduction or interpretation of them; he had no idea of their meaning. He made some answer, too, to the questions asked him, but without any notion who was hearing him, or how they would understand his replies. He gazed at faces and figures, and all seemed to him equally meaningless.

From the moment when Pierre saw that fearful murder committed by men who did not want to do it, it seemed as though the spring in his soul, by which everything was held together and given the semblance of life, had been wrenched out, and all seemed to have collapsed into a heap of meaningless refuse. Though he had no clear apprehension of it, it had annihilated in his soul all faith in the beneficent ordering of the universe, and in the soul of men, and in his own soul, and in God. This state of mind Pierre had experienced before, but never with such intensity as now. When such doubts had come upon him in the past they had arisen from his own fault. And at the very bottom of his heart Pierre had been aware then that salvation from that despair and from these doubts lay in his own hands. But now he felt that it was not his fault that the world was collapsing before his eyes, and that nothing was left but meaningless ruins. He felt that to get back to faith in life was not in his power.

Around him in the darkness stood men. Probably they found something very entertaining in him. They were telling him something, asking him something, then leading him somewhere, and at last he found himself in a corner of the shed beside men of some sort, who were talking on all sides, and laughing.

“And so, mates…that same prince who” (with a special emphasis on the last word)…some voice was saying in the opposite corner of the shed.

Sitting in the straw against the wall, mute and motionless, Pierre opened, and then closed, his eyes. As soon as he shut his eyes he saw the fearful face of the factory lad, fearful especially from its simplicity, and the faces of the involuntary murderers, still more fearful in their uneasiness. And he opened his eyes again and stared blankly about him in the darkness.

Close by him a little man was sitting bent up, of whose presence Pierre was first aware from the strong smell of sweat that rose at every movement he made. This man was doing something with his feet in the darkness, and although Pierre did not see his face, he was aware that he was continually glancing at him. Peering intently at him in the dark, Pierre made out that the man was undoing his foot-gear. And the way he was doing it began to interest Pierre.

Undoing the strings in which one foot was tied up, he wound them neatly off, and at once set to work on the other leg, glancing at Pierre. While one hand hung up the first leg-binder, the other was already beginning to untie the other leg. In this way, deftly, with rounded, effective movements following one another without delay, the man unrolled his leg-wrappers and hung them up on pegs driven in over- head, took out a knife, cut off something, shut the knife up, put it under his bolster and settling himself more at his ease, clasped his arms round his knees, and stared straight at Pierre. Pierre was conscious of something pleasant, soothing, and rounded off in those deft movements, in his comfortable establishment of his belongings in the corner, and even in the very smell of the man, and he did not take his eyes off him.

“And have you seen a lot of trouble, sir? Eh?” said the little man suddenly. And there was a tone of such friendliness and simplicity in the sing-song voice that Pierre wanted to answer, but his jaw quivered,


  By PanEris using Melati.

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