‘‘Why, what can honest men do?’’ said Nikolay, frowning slightly. ‘‘What can be done?’’

‘‘Why, this…’’

‘‘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

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