War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy Book III: Chapters 1–5

CHAPTER II

In November, 1805, Prince Vasili had to go on a tour of inspection in four different provinces. He had arranged this for himself so as to visit his neglected estates at the same time and pick up his son Anatole where his regiment was stationed, and take him to visit Prince Nicholas Bolkonski in order to arrange a match for him with the daughter of that rich old man. But before leaving home and undertaking these new affairs, Prince Vasili had to settle matters with Pierre, who, it is true, had latterly spent whole days at home, that is, in Prince Vasili's house where he was staying, and had been absurd, excited, and foolish in Helene's presence (as a lover should be), but had not yet proposed to her.

"This is all very fine, but things must be settled," said Prince Vasili to himself, with a sorrowful sigh, one morning, feeling that Pierre who was under such obligations to him ("But never mind that") was not behaving very well in this matter."Youth, frivolity . . . well, God be with him," thought he, relishing his own goodness of heart,"but it must be brought to a head. The day after tomorrow will be Lelya's name day. I will invite two or three people, and if he does not understand what he ought to do then it will be my affair- yes, my affair. I am her father."

Six weeks after Anna Pavlovna's"At Home" and after the sleepless night when he had decided that to marry Helene would be a calamity and that he ought to avoid her and go away, Pierre, despite that decision, had not left Prince Vasili's and felt with terror that in people's eyes he was every day more and more connected with her, that it was impossible for him to return to his former conception of her, that he could not break away from her, and that though it would be a terrible thing he would have to unite his fate with hers. He might perhaps have been able to free himself but that Prince Vasili (who had rarely before given receptions) now hardly let a day go by without having an evening party at which Pierre had to be present unless he wished to spoil the general pleasure and disappoint everyone's expectation. Prince Vasili, in the rare moments when he was at home, would take Pierre's hand in passing and draw it downwards, or absent-mindedly hold out his wrinkled, clean-shaven cheek for Pierre to kiss and would say:"Till tomorrow," or,"Be in to dinner or I shall not see you," or,"I am staying in for your sake," and so on. And though Prince Vasili, when he stayed in (as he said) for Pierre's sake, hardly exchanged a couple of words with him, Pierre felt unable to disappoint him. Every day he said to himself one and the same thing:"It is time I understood her and made up my mind what she really is. Was I mistaken before, or am I mistaken now? No, she is not stupid, she is an excellent girl," he sometimes said to himself"she never makes a mistake, never says anything stupid. She says little, but what she does say is always clear and simple, so she is not stupid. She never was abashed and is not abashed now, so she cannot be a bad woman!" He had often begun to make reflections or think aloud in her company, and she had always answered him either by a brief but appropriate remark — showing that it did not interest her — or by a silent look and smile which more palpably than anything else showed Pierre her superiority. She was right in regarding all arguments as nonsense in comparison with that smile.

She always addressed him with a radiantly confiding smile meant for him alone, in which there was something more significant than in the general smile that usually brightened her face. Pierre knew that everyone was waiting for him to say a word and cross a certain line, and he knew that sooner or later he would step across it, but an incomprehensible terror seized him at the thought of that dreadful step. A thousand times during that month and a half while he felt himself drawn nearer and nearer to that dreadful abyss, Pierre said to himself:"What am I doing? I need resolution. Can it be that I have none?"

He wished to take a decision, but felt with dismay that in this matter he lacked that strength of will which he had known in himself and really possessed. Pierre was one of those who are only strong when they feel themselves quite innocent, and since that day when he was overpowered by a feeling of desire while stooping over the snuffbox at Anna Pavlovna's, an unacknowledged sense of the guilt of that desire paralyzed his will.

On Helene's name day, a small party of just their own people — as his wife said — met for supper at Prince Vasili's. All these friends and relations had been given to understand that the fate of the young girl would be decided that evening. The visitors were seated at supper. Princess Kuragina, a portly imposing woman who had once been handsome, was sitting at the head of the table. On either side of her sat the more important guests — an old general and his wife, and Anna Pavlovna Scherer. At the other end sat the younger and less important guests, and there too sat the members of the family, and Pierre and Helene, side by side. Prince Vasili was not having any supper: he went round the table in a merry mood, sitting down now by one, now by another, of the guests. To each of them he made some careless and agreeable remark except to Pierre and Helene, whose presence he seemed not to notice. He enlivened the whole party. The wax candles burned brightly, the silver and crystal gleamed, so did the ladies' toilets and the gold and silver of the men's epaulets; servants in scarlet liveries moved round the table, the clatter of plates, knives, and glasses mingled with the animated hum of several conversations. At one end of the table, the old chamberlain was heard assuring an old baroness that he loved her passionately, at which she laughed; at the other could be heard the story of the misfortunes of some Mary Viktorovna or other. At the center of the table, Prince Vasili attracted everybody's attention. With a facetious smile on his face, he was telling the ladies about last Wednesday's meeting of the Imperial Council, at which Sergey Kuzmich Vyazmitinov, the new military governor general of Petersburg, had received and read the then famous rescript of the Emperor Alexander from the army to Sergey Kuzmich, in which the Emperor said that he was receiving from all sides declarations of the people's loyalty, that the declaration from Petersburg gave him particular pleasure, and that he was proud to be at the head of such a nation and would endeavor to be worthy of it. This rescript began with the words:"Sergey Kuzmich, From all sides reports reach me," etc.

"Well, and so he never got farther than: 'Sergey Kuzmich'?" asked one of the ladies.

"Exactly, not a hair's breadth farther," answered Prince Vasili, laughing,"'Sergey Kuzmich . . . From all sides . . . From all sides . . . Sergey Kuzmich . . . ' Poor Vyazmitinov could not get any farther! He began the rescript again and again, but as soon as he uttered 'Sergey' he sobbed, 'Kuz-mi-ch,' tears, and 'From all sides' was smothered in sobs and he could get no farther. And again his handkerchief, and again: 'Sergey Kuzmich, From all sides,' . . . and tears, till at last somebody else was asked to read it."

"Kuzmich . . . From all sides . . . and then tears," someone repeated laughing.

"Don't be unkind," cried Anna Pavlovna from her end of the table holding up a threatening finger."He is such a worthy and excellent man, our dear Vyazmitinov . . . ."

Everybody laughed a great deal. At the head of the table, where the honored guests sat, everyone seemed to be in high spirits and under the influence of a variety of exciting sensations. Only Pierre and Helene sat silently side by side almost at the bottom of the table, a suppressed smile brightening both their faces, a smile that had nothing to do with Sergey Kuzmich — a smile of bashfulness at their own feelings. But much as all the rest laughed, talked, and joked, much as they enjoyed their Rhine wine, saute, and ices, and however they avoided looking at the young couple, and heedless and unobservant as they seemed of them, one could feel by the occasional glances they gave that the story about Sergey Kuzmich, the laughter, and the food were all a pretense, and that the whole attention of that company was directed to — Pierre and Helene. Prince Vasili mimicked the sobbing of Sergey Kuzmich and at the same time his eyes glanced toward his daughter, and while he laughed the expression on his face clearly said:"Yes . . . it's getting on, it will all be settled today." Anna Pavlovna threatened him on behalf of"our dear Vyazmitinov," and in her eyes, which, for an instant, glanced at Pierre, Prince Vasili read a congratulation on his future son-in-law and on his daughter's happiness. The old princess sighed sadly as she offered some wine to the old lady next to her and glanced angrily at her daughter, and her sigh seemed to say:"Yes, there's nothing left for you and me but to sip sweet wine, my dear, now that the time has come for these young ones to be thus boldly, provocatively happy.""And what nonsense all this is that I am saying!" thought a diplomatist, glancing at the happy faces of the lovers."That's happiness!"

Into the insignificant, trifling, and artificial interests uniting that society had entered the simple feeling of the attraction of a healthy and handsome young man and woman for one another. And this human feeling dominated everything else and soared above all their affected chatter. Jests fell flat, news was not interesting, and the animation was evidently forced. Not only the guests but even the footmen waiting at table seemed to feel this, and they forgot their duties as they looked at the beautiful Helene with her radiant face and at the red, broad, and happy though uneasy face of Pierre. It seemed as if the very light of the candles was focused on those two happy faces alone.

Pierre felt that he was the center of it all, and this both pleased and embarrassed him. He was like a man entirely absorbed in some occupation. He did not see, hear, or understand anything clearly. Only now and then detached ideas and impressions from the world of reality shot unexpectedly through his mind.

"So it is all finished!" he thought."And how has it all happened? How quickly! Now I know that not because of her alone, nor of myself alone, but because of everyone, it must inevitably come about. They are all expecting it, they are so sure that it will happen that I cannot, I cannot, disappoint them. But how will it be? I do not know, but it will certainly happen!" thought Pierre, glancing at those dazzling shoulders close to his eyes.

Or he would suddenly feel ashamed of he knew not what. He felt it awkward to attract everyone's attention and to be considered a lucky man and, with his plain face, to be looked on as a sort of Paris possessed of a Helen."But no doubt it always is and must be so!" he consoled himself."And besides, what have I done to bring it about? How did it begin? I traveled from Moscow with Prince Vasili. Then there was nothing. So why should I not stay at his house? Then I played cards with her and picked up her reticule and drove out with her. How did it begin, when did it all come about?" And here he was sitting by her side as her betrothed, seeing, hearing, feeling her nearness, her breathing, her movements, her beauty. Then it would suddenly seem to him that it was not she but he was so unusually beautiful, and that that was why they all looked so at him, and flattered by this general admiration he would expand his chest, raise his head, and rejoice at his good fortune. Suddenly he heard a familiar voice repeating something to him a second time. But Pierre was so absorbed that he did not understand what was said.

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