Two days later, on the fifteenth of July, an immense number of carriages were standing outside the Sloboda Palace.
The great halls were full. In the first were the nobility and gentry in their uniforms, in the second bearded merchants in full-skirted coats of blue cloth and wearing medals. In the noblemen's hall there was an incessant movement and buzz of voices. The chief magnates sat on high-backed chairs at a large table under the portrait of the Emperor, but most of the gentry were strolling about the room.
All these nobles, whom Pierre met every day at the Club or in their own houses, were in uniform — some in that of Catherine's day, others in that of Emperor Paul, others again in the new uniforms of Alexander's time or the ordinary uniform of the nobility, and the general characteristic of being in uniform imparted something strange and fantastic to these diverse and familiar personalities, both old and young. The old men, dim-eyed, toothless, bald, sallow, and bloated, or gaunt and wrinkled, were especially striking. For the most part they sat quietly in their places and were silent, or, if they walked about and talked, attached themselves to someone younger. On all these faces, as on the faces of the crowd Petya had seen in the Square, there was a striking contradiction: the general expectation of a solemn event, and at the same time the everyday interests in a boston card party, Peter the cook, Zinaida Dmitrievna's health, and so on.
Pierre was there too, buttoned up since early morning in a nobleman's uniform that had become too tight for him. He was agitated; this extraordinary gathering not only of nobles but also of the merchant-class — les etats generaux (States-General) — evoked in him a whole series of ideas he had long laid aside but which were deeply graven in his soul: thoughts of the Contrat social and the French Revolution. The words that had struck him in the Emperor's appeal- that the sovereign was coming to the capital for consultation with his people — strengthened this idea. And imagining that in this direction something important which he had long awaited was drawing near, he strolled about watching and listening to conversations, but nowhere finding any confirmation of the ideas that occupied him.
The Emperor's manifesto was read, evoking enthusiasm, and then all moved about discussing it. Besides the ordinary topics of conversation, Pierre heard questions of where the marshals of the nobility were to stand when the Emperor entered, when a ball should be given in the Emperor's honor, whether they should group themselves by districts or by whole provinces . . . and so on; but as soon as the war was touched on, or what the nobility had been convened for, the talk became undecided and indefinite. Then all preferred listening to speaking.
A middle-aged man, handsome and virile, in the uniform of a retired naval officer, was speaking in one of the rooms, and a small crowd was pressing round him. Pierre went up to the circle that had formed round the speaker and listened. Count Ilya Rostov, in a military uniform of Catherine's time, was sauntering with a pleasant smile among the crowd, with all of whom he was acquainted. He too approached that group and listened with a kindly smile and nods of approval, as he always did, to what the speaker was saying. The retired naval man was speaking very boldly, as was evident from the expression on the faces of the listeners and from the fact that some people Pierre knew as the meekest and quietest of men walked away disapprovingly or expressed disagreement with him. Pierre pushed his way into the middle of the group, listened, and convinced himself that the man was indeed a liberal, but of views quite different from his own. The naval officer spoke in a particularly sonorous, musical, and aristocratic baritone voice, pleasantly swallowing his r's and generally slurring his consonants: the voice of a man calling out to his servant,"Heah! Bwing me my pipe!" It was indicative of dissipation and the exercise of authority.
"What if the Smolensk people have offahd to waise militia for the Empewah? Ah we to take Smolensk as our patte'n? If the noble awistocwacy of the pwovince of Moscow thinks fit, it can show its loyalty to our sov'weign the Empewah in other ways. Have we fo'gotten the waising of the militia in the yeah 'seven? All that did was to enwich the pwiests' sons and thieves and wobbahs . . . ."
Count Ilya Rostov smiled blandly and nodded approval.
"And was our militia of any use to the Empia? Not at all! It only wuined our farming! Bettah have another conscwiption . . . o' ou' men will wetu'n neithah soldiers no' peasants, and we'll get only depwavity fwom them. The nobility don't gwudge theah lives — evewy one of us will go and bwing in more wecwuits, and the sov'weign" (that was the way he referred to the Emperor)"need only say the word and we'll all die fo' him!" added the orator with animation.
Count Rostov's mouth watered with pleasure and he nudged Pierre, but Pierre wanted to speak himself. He pushed forward, feeling stirred, but not yet sure what stirred him or what he would say. Scarcely had he opened his mouth when one of the senators, a man without a tooth in his head, with a shrewd though angry expression, standing near the first speaker, interrupted him. Evidently accustomed to managing debates and to maintaining an argument, he began in low but distinct tones:
"I imagine, sir," said he, mumbling with his toothless mouth,"that we have been summoned here not to discuss whether it's best for the empire at the present moment to adopt conscription or to call out the militia. We have been summoned to reply to the appeal with which our sovereign the Emperor has honored us. But to judge what is best — conscription or the militia — we can leave to the supreme authority . . . ."
Pierre suddenly saw an outlet for his excitement. He hardened his heart against the senator who was introducing this set and narrow attitude into the deliberations of the nobility. Pierre stepped forward and interrupted him. He himself did not yet know what he would say, but he began to speak eagerly, occasionally lapsing into French or expressing himself in bookish Russian.
"Excuse me, your excellency," he began. (He was well acquainted with the senator, but thought it necessary on this occasion to address him formally.)"Though I don't agree with the gentleman . . ." (he hesitated: he wished to say,"Mon tres honorable preopinant" —"My very honorable opponent")"with the gentleman . . . whom I have not the honor of knowing, I suppose that the nobility have been summoned not merely to express their sympathy and enthusiasm but also to consider the means by which we can assist our Fatherland! I imagine," he went on, warming to his subject,"that the Emperor himself would not be satisfied to find in us merely owners of serfs whom we are willing to devote to his service, and chair a canon* we are ready to make of ourselves — and not to obtain from us any co-co-counsel."
*"Food for cannon."
Many persons withdrew from the circle, noticing the senator's sarcastic smile and the freedom of Pierre's remarks. Only Count Rostov was pleased with them as he had been pleased with those of the naval officer, the senator, and in general with whatever speech he had last heard.
"I think that before discussing these questions," Pierre continued,"we should ask the Emperor — most respectfully ask His Majesty — to let us know the number of our troops and the position in which our army and our forces now are, and then . . ."
But scarcely had Pierre uttered these words before he was attacked from three sides. The most vigorous attack came from an old acquaintance, a boston player who had always been well disposed toward him, Stepan Stepanovich Adraksin. Adraksin was in uniform, and whether as a result of the uniform or from some other cause Pierre saw before him quite a different man. With a sudden expression of malevolence on his aged face, Adraksin shouted at Pierre:
"In the first place, I tell you we have no right to question the Emperor about that, and secondly, if the Russian nobility had that right, the Emperor could not answer such a question. The troops are moved according to the enemy's movements and the number of men increases and decreases . . ."