When Princess Mary came down, Prince Vasíli and his son were already in the drawing room, talking to the little princess and Mademoiselle Bourienne. When she entered with her heavy step, treading on her heels, the gentlemen and Mademoiselle Bourienne rose and the little princess, indicating her to the gentlemen, said: “Voilà Marie!” Princess Mary saw them all and saw them in detail. She saw Prince Vasíli’s face, serious for an instant at the sight of her, but immediately smiling again, and the little princess curiously noting the impression “Marie” produced on the visitors. And she saw Mademoiselle Bourienne, with her ribbon and pretty face, and her unusually animated look which was fixed on him, but him she could not see, she only saw something large, brilliant, and handsome moving toward her as she entered the room. Prince Vasíli approached first, and she kissed the bold forehead that bent over her hand and answered his question by saying that, on the contrary, she remembered him quite well. Then Anatole came up to her. She still could not see him. She only felt a soft hand taking hers firmly, and she touched with her lips a white forehead, over which was beautiful light-brown hair smelling of pomade. When she looked up at him she was struck by his beauty. Anatole stood with his right thumb under a button of his uniform, his chest expanded and his back drawn in, slightly swinging one foot, and, with his head a little bent, looked with beaming face at the princess without speaking and evidently not thinking about her at all. Anatole was not quick-witted, nor ready or eloquent in conversation, but he had the faculty, so invaluable in society, of composure and imperturbable self-possession. If a man lacking in self-confidence remains dumb on a first introduction and betrays a consciousness of the impropriety of such silence and an anxiety to find something to say, the effect is bad. But Anatole was dumb, swung his foot, and smilingly examined the princess’ hair. It was evident that he could be silent in this way for a very long time. “If anyone finds this silence inconvenient, let him talk, but I don’t want to,” he seemed to say. Besides this, in his behavior to women Anatole had a manner which particularly inspires in them curiosity, awe, and even love—a supercilious consciousness of his own superiority. It was as if he said to them: “I know you, I know you, but why should I bother about you? You’d be only too glad, of course.” Perhaps he did not really think this when he met women—even probably he did not, for in general he thought very little—but his looks and manner gave that impression. The princess felt this, and as if wishing to show him that she did not even dare expect to interest him, she turned to his father. The conversation was general and animated, thanks to Princess Lise’s voice and little downy lip that lifted over her white teeth. She met Prince Vasíli with that playful manner often employed by lively chatty people, and consisting in the assumption that between the person they so address and themselves there are some semi-private, long-established jokes and amusing reminiscences, though no such reminiscences really exist—just as none existed in this case. Prince Vasíli readily adopted her tone and the little princess also drew Anatole, whom she hardly knew, into these amusing recollections of things that had never occurred. Mademoiselle Bourienne also shared them and even Princess Mary felt herself pleasantly made to share in these merry reminiscences.
“Here at least we shall have the benefit of your company all to ourselves, dear prince,” said the little princess (of course, in French) to Prince Vasíli. “It’s not as at Annette’s * receptions where you always ran away; you remember cette chère Annette!”
“Ah, but you won’t talk politics to me like Annette!”
“And our little tea table?”
“Why is it you were never at Annette’s?” the little princess asked Anatole. “Ah, I know, I know,” she said with a sly glance, “your brother Hippolyte told me about your goings on. Oh!” and she shook her finger at him, “I have even heard of your doings in Paris!”
“And didn’t Hippolyte tell you?” asked Prince Vasíli, turning to his son and seizing the little princess’ arm as if she would have run away and he had just managed to catch her, “didn’t he tell you how he himself was pining for the dear princess, and how she showed him the door? Oh, she is a pearl among women, Princess,” he added, turning to Princess Mary.
When Paris was mentioned, Mademoiselle Bourienne for her part seized the opportunity of joining in the general current of recollections.
She took the liberty of inquiring whether it was long since Anatole had left Paris and how he had liked that city. Anatole answered the Frenchwoman very readily and, looking at her with a smile, talked to her about her native land. When he saw the pretty little Bourienne, Anatole came to the conclusion that he would not find Bald Hills dull either. “Not at all bad!” he thought, examining her, “not at all bad, that little companion! I hope she will bring her along with her when we’re married, la petite est gentille.” *
The old prince dressed leisurely in his study, frowning and considering what he was to do. The coming of these visitors annoyed him. “What are Prince Vasíli and that son of his to me? Prince Vasíli is a shallow braggart and his son, no doubt, is a fine specimen,” he grumbled to himself. What angered him was that the coming of these visitors revived in his mind an unsettled question he always tried to stifle, one about which he always deceived himself. The question was whether he could ever bring himself to part from his daughter and give her to a husband. The prince never directly asked himself that question, knowing beforehand that he would have to answer it justly, and justice clashed not only with his feelings but with the very possibility of life. Life without Princess Mary, little as he seemed to value her, was unthinkable to him. “And why should she marry?” he thought. “To be unhappy for certain. There’s Lise, married to Andrew—a better husband one would think could hardly be found nowadays—but is she contented with her lot? And who would marry Marie for love? Plain and awkward! They’ll take her for her connections and wealth. Are there no women living unmarried, and even the happier for it?” So thought Prince Bolkónski while dressing, and yet the question he was always putting off demanded an immediate answer. Prince Vasíli had brought his son with the evident intention of proposing, and today or tomorrow he would probably ask for an answer. His birth and position in society were not bad. “Well, I’ve nothing against it,” the prince said to himself, “but he must be worthy of her. And that is what we shall see.”
“That is what we shall see! That is what we shall see!” he added aloud.
He entered the drawing room with his usual alert step, glancing rapidly round the company. He noticed the change in the little princess’ dress, Mademoiselle Bourienne’s ribbon, Princess Mary’s unbecoming coiffure, Mademoiselle Bourienne’s and Anatole’s smiles, and the loneliness of his daughter amid the general conversation. “Got herself up like a fool!” he thought, looking irritably at her. “She is shameless, and he ignores her!”
He went straight up to Prince Vasíli.
“Well! How d’ye do? How d’ye do? Glad to see you!”
“Friendship laughs at distance,” began Prince Vasíli in his usual rapid, self-confident, familiar tone. “Here is my second son; please love and befriend him.”
Prince Bolkónski surveyed Anatole.
“Fine young fellow! Fine young fellow!” he said. “Well, come and kiss me,” and he offered his cheek.
Anatole kissed the old man, and looked at him with curiosity and perfect composure, waiting for a display of the eccentricities his father had told him to expect.
Prince Bolkónski sat down in his usual place in the corner of the sofa and, drawing up an armchair for Prince Vasíli, pointed to it and began questioning him about political affairs and news. He seemed to listen attentively to what Prince Vasíli said, but kept glancing at Princess Mary.
“And so they are writing from Potsdam already?” he said, repeating Prince Vasíli’s last words. Then rising, he suddenly went up to his daughter.
“Is it for visitors you’ve got yourself up like that, eh?” said he. “Fine, very fine! You have done up your hair in this new way for the visitors, and before the visitors I tell you that in future you are never to dare to change your way of dress without my consent.”
“It was my fault, mon père,” interceded the little princess, with a blush.
“You must do as you please,” said Prince Bolkónski, bowing to his daughter-in-law, “but she need not make a fool of herself, she’s plain enough as it is.”
And he sat down again, paying no more attention to his daughter, who was reduced to tears.
“On the contrary, that coiffure suits the princess very well,” said Prince Vasíli.
“Now you, young prince, what’s your name?” said Prince Bolkónski, turning to Anatole, “come here, let us talk and get acquainted.”
“Now the fun begins,” thought Anatole, sitting down with a smile beside the old prince.
“Well, my dear boy, I hear you’ve been educated abroad, not taught to read and write by the deacon, like your father and me. Now tell me, my dear boy, are you serving in the Horse Guards?” asked the old man, scrutinizing Anatole closely and intently.
“No, I have been transferred to the line,” said Anatole, hardly able to restrain his laughter.
“Ah! That’s a good thing. So, my dear boy, you wish to serve the Tsar and the country? It is wartime. Such a fine fellow must serve. Well, are you off to the front?”
“No, Prince, our regiment has gone to the front, but I am attached... what is it I am attached to, Papa?” said Anatole, turning to his father with a laugh.
“A splendid soldier, splendid! ‘What am I attached to!’ Ha, ha, ha!” laughed Prince Bolkónski, and Anatole laughed still louder. Suddenly Prince Bolkónski frowned.
“You may go,” he said to Anatole.
Anatole returned smiling to the ladies.
“And so you’ve had him educated abroad, Prince Vasíli, haven’t you?” said the old prince to Prince Vasíli.
“I have done my best for him, and I can assure you the education there is much better than ours.”
“Yes, everything is different nowadays, everything is changed. The lad’s a fine fellow, a fine fellow! Well, come with me now.” He took Prince Vasíli’s arm and led him to his study. As soon as they were alone together, Prince Vasíli announced his hopes and wishes to the old prince.
“Well, do you think I shall prevent her, that I can’t part from her?” said the old prince angrily. “What an idea! I’m ready for it tomorrow! Only let me tell you, I want to know my son-in-law better. You know my principles—everything aboveboard! I will ask her tomorrow in your presence; if she is willing, then he can stay on. He can stay and I’ll see.” The old prince snorted. “Let her marry, it’s all the same to me!” he screamed in the same piercing tone as when parting from his son.
“I will tell you frankly,” said Prince Vasíli in the tone of a crafty man convinced of the futility of being cunning with so keen-sighted a companion. “You know, you see right through people. Anatole is no genius, but he is an honest, goodhearted lad; an excellent son or kinsman.”
“All right, all right, we’ll see!”
As always happens when women lead lonely lives for any length of time without male society, on Anatole’s appearance all the three women of Prince Bolkónski’s household felt that their life had not been real till then. Their powers of reasoning, feeling, and observing immediately increased tenfold, and their life, which seemed to have been passed in darkness, was suddenly lit up by a new brightness, full of significance.
Princess Mary grew quite unconscious of her face and coiffure. The handsome open face of the man who might perhaps be her husband absorbed all her attention. He seemed to her kind, brave, determined, manly, and magnanimous. She felt convinced of that. Thousands of dreams of a future family life continually rose in her imagination. She drove them away and tried to conceal them.
“But am I not too cold with him?” thought the princess. “I try to be reserved because in the depth of my soul I feel too near to him already, but then he cannot know what I think of him and may imagine that I do not like him.”
And Princess Mary tried, but could not manage, to be cordial to her new guest. “Poor girl, she’s devilish ugly!” thought Anatole.
Mademoiselle Bourienne, also roused to great excitement by Anatole’s arrival, thought in another way. Of course, she, a handsome young woman without any definite position, without relations or even a country, did not intend to devote her life to serving Prince Bolkónski, to reading aloud to him and being friends with Princess Mary. Mademoiselle Bourienne had long been waiting for a Russian prince who, able to appreciate at a glance her superiority to the plain, badly dressed, ungainly Russian princesses, would fall in love with her and carry her off; and here at last was a Russian prince. Mademoiselle Bourienne knew a story, heard from her aunt but finished in her own way, which she liked to repeat to herself. It was the story of a girl who had been seduced, and to whom her poor mother (sa pauvre mère) appeared, and reproached her for yielding to a man without being married. Mademoiselle Bourienne was often touched to tears as in imagination she told this story to him, her seducer. And now he, a real Russian prince, had appeared. He would carry her away and then sa pauvre mère would appear and he would marry her. So her future shaped itself in Mademoiselle Bourienne’s head at the very time she was talking to Anatole about Paris. It was not calculation that guided her (she did not even for a moment consider what she should do), but all this had long been familiar to her, and now that Anatole had appeared it just grouped itself around him and she wished and tried to please him as much as possible.
The little princess, like an old war horse that hears the trumpet, unconsciously and quite forgetting her condition, prepared for the familiar gallop of coquetry, without any ulterior motive or any struggle, but with naïve and lighthearted gaiety.
Although in female society Anatole usually assumed the role of a man tired of being run after by women, his vanity was flattered by the spectacle of his power over these three women. Besides that, he was beginning to feel for the pretty and provocative Mademoiselle Bourienne that passionate animal feeling which was apt to master him with great suddenness and prompt him to the coarsest and most reckless actions.
After tea, the company went into the sitting room and Princess Mary was asked to play on the clavichord. Anatole, laughing and in high spirits, came and leaned on his elbows, facing her and beside Mademoiselle Bourienne. Princess Mary felt his look with a painfully joyous emotion. Her favorite sonata bore her into a most intimately poetic world and the look she felt upon her made that world still more poetic. But Anatole’s expression, though his eyes were fixed on her, referred not to her but to the movements of Mademoiselle Bourienne’s little foot, which he was then touching with his own under the clavichord. Mademoiselle Bourienne was also looking at Princess Mary, and in her lovely eyes there was a look of fearful joy and hope that was also new to the princess.
“How she loves me!” thought Princess Mary. “How happy I am now, and how happy I may be with such a friend and such a husband! Husband? Can it be possible?” she thought, not daring to look at his face, but still feeling his eyes gazing at her.
In the evening, after supper, when all were about to retire, Anatole kissed Princess Mary’s hand. She did not know how she found the courage, but she looked straight into his handsome face as it came near to her shortsighted eyes. Turning from Princess Mary he went up and kissed Mademoiselle Bourienne’s hand. (This was not etiquette, but then he did everything so simply and with such assurance!) Mademoiselle Bourienne flushed, and gave the princess a frightened look.
“What delicacy!” thought the princess. “Is it possible that Amélie” (Mademoiselle Bourienne) “thinks I could be jealous of her, and not value her pure affection and devotion to me?” She went up to her and kissed her warmly. Anatole went up to kiss the little princess’ hand.
“No! No! No! When your father writes to tell me that you are behaving well I will give you my hand to kiss. Not till then!” she said. And smilingly raising a finger at him, she left the room.
They all separated, but, except Anatole who fell asleep as soon as he got into bed, all kept awake a long time that night.
“Is he really to be my husband, this stranger who is so kind—yes, kind, that is the chief thing,” thought Princess Mary; and fear, which she had seldom experienced, came upon her. She feared to look round, it seemed to her that someone was there standing behind the screen in the dark corner. And this someone was he—the devil—and he was also this man with the white forehead, black eyebrows, and red lips.
She rang for her maid and asked her to sleep in her room.
Mademoiselle Bourienne walked up and down the conservatory for a long time that evening, vainly expecting someone, now smiling at someone, now working herself up to tears with the imaginary words of her pauvre mère rebuking her for her fall.
The little princess grumbled to her maid that her bed was badly made. She could not lie either on her face or on her side. Every position was awkward and uncomfortable, and her burden oppressed her now more than ever because Anatole’s presence had vividly recalled to her the time when she was not like that and when everything was light and gay. She sat in an armchair in her dressing jacket and nightcap and Katie, sleepy and disheveled, beat and turned the heavy feather bed for the third time, muttering to herself.
“I told you it was all lumps and holes!” the little princess repeated. “I should be glad enough to fall asleep, so it’s not my fault!” and her voice quivered like that of a child about to cry.
The old prince did not sleep either. Tíkhon, half asleep, heard him pacing angrily about and snorting. The old prince felt as though he had been insulted through his daughter. The insult was the more pointed because it concerned not himself but another, his daughter, whom he loved more than himself. He kept telling himself that he would consider the whole matter and decide what was right and how he should act, but instead of that he only excited himself more and more.
“The first man that turns up—she forgets her father and everything else, runs upstairs and does up her hair and wags her tail and is unlike herself! Glad to throw her father over! And she knew I should notice it. Fr... fr... fr! And don’t I see that that idiot had eyes only for Bourienne—I shall have to get rid of her. And how is it she has not pride enough to see it? If she has no pride for herself she might at least have some for my sake! She must be shown that the blockhead thinks nothing of her and looks only at Bourienne. No, she has no pride... but I’ll let her see....”
The old prince knew that if he told his daughter she was making a mistake and that Anatole meant to flirt with Mademoiselle Bourienne, Princess Mary’s self-esteem would be wounded and his point (not to be parted from her) would be gained, so pacifying himself with this thought, he called Tíkhon and began to undress.
“What devil brought them here?” thought he, while Tíkhon was putting the nightshirt over his dried-up old body and gray-haired chest. “I never invited them. They came to disturb my life—and there is not much of it left.”
“Devil take ‘em!” he muttered, while his head was still covered by the shirt.
Tíkhon knew his master’s habit of sometimes thinking aloud, and therefore met with unaltered looks the angrily inquisitive expression of the face that emerged from the shirt.
“Gone to bed?” asked the prince.
Tíkhon, like all good valets, instinctively knew the direction of his master’s thoughts. He guessed that the question referred to Prince Vasíli and his son.
“They have gone to bed and put out their lights, your excellency.”
“No good... no good...” said the prince rapidly, and thrusting his feet into his slippers and his arms into the sleeves of his dressing gown, he went to the couch on which he slept.
Though no words had passed between Anatole and Mademoiselle Bourienne, they quite understood one another as to the first part of their romance, up to the appearance of the pauvre mère; they understood that they had much to say to one another in private and so they had been seeking an opportunity since morning to meet one another alone. When Princess Mary went to her father’s room at the usual hour, Mademoiselle Bourienne and Anatole met in the conservatory.
Princess Mary went to the door of the study with special trepidation. It seemed to her that not only did everybody know that her fate would be decided that day, but that they also knew what she thought about it. She read this in Tíkhon’s face and in that of Prince Vasíli’s valet, who made her a low bow when she met him in the corridor carrying hot water.
The old prince was very affectionate and careful in his treatment of his daughter that morning. Princess Mary well knew this painstaking expression of her father’s. His face wore that expression when his dry hands clenched with vexation at her not understanding a sum in arithmetic, when rising from his chair he would walk away from her, repeating in a low voice the same words several times over.
He came to the point at once, treating her ceremoniously.
“I have had a proposition made me concerning you,” he said with an unnatural smile. “I expect you have guessed that Prince Vasíli has not come and brought his pupil with him” (for some reason Prince Bolkónski referred to Anatole as a “pupil”) “for the sake of my beautiful eyes. Last night a proposition was made me on your account and, as you know my principles, I refer it to you.”
“How am I to understand you, mon père?” said the princess, growing pale and then blushing.
“How understand me!” cried her father angrily. “Prince Vasíli finds you to his taste as a daughter-in-law and makes a proposal to you on his pupil’s behalf. That’s how it’s to be understood! ‘How understand it’!... And I ask you!”
“I do not know what you think, Father,” whispered the princess.
“I? I? What of me? Leave me out of the question. I’m not going to get married. What about you? That’s what I want to know.”
The princess saw that her father regarded the matter with disapproval, but at that moment the thought occurred to her that her fate would be decided now or never. She lowered her eyes so as not to see the gaze under which she felt that she could not think, but would only be able to submit from habit, and she said: “I wish only to do your will, but if I had to express my own desire...” She had no time to finish. The old prince interrupted her.
“That’s admirable!” he shouted. “He will take you with your dowry and take Mademoiselle Bourienne into the bargain. She’ll be the wife, while you...”
The prince stopped. He saw the effect these words had produced on his daughter. She lowered her head and was ready to burst into tears.
“Now then, now then, I’m only joking!” he said. “Remember this, Princess, I hold to the principle that a maiden has a full right to choose. I give you freedom. Only remember that your life’s happiness depends on your decision. Never mind me!”
“But I do not know, Father!”
“There’s no need to talk! He receives his orders and will marry you or anybody; but you are free to choose.... Go to your room, think it over, and come back in an hour and tell me in his presence: yes or no. I know you will pray over it. Well, pray if you like, but you had better think it over. Go! Yes or no, yes or no, yes or no!” he still shouted when the princess, as if lost in a fog, had already staggered out of the study.
Her fate was decided and happily decided. But what her father had said about Mademoiselle Bourienne was dreadful. It was untrue to be sure, but still it was terrible, and she could not help thinking of it. She was going straight on through the conservatory, neither seeing nor hearing anything, when suddenly the well-known whispering of Mademoiselle Bourienne aroused her. She raised her eyes, and two steps away saw Anatole embracing the Frenchwoman and whispering something to her. With a horrified expression on his handsome face, Anatole looked at Princess Mary, but did not at once take his arm from the waist of Mademoiselle Bourienne who had not yet seen her.
“Who’s that? Why? Wait a moment!” Anatole’s face seemed to say. Princess Mary looked at them in silence. She could not understand it. At last Mademoiselle Bourienne gave a scream and ran away. Anatole bowed to Princess Mary with a gay smile, as if inviting her to join in a laugh at this strange incident, and then shrugging his shoulders went to the door that led to his own apartments.
An hour later, Tíkhon came to call Princess Mary to the old prince; he added that Prince Vasíli was also there. When Tíkhon came to her Princess Mary was sitting on the sofa in her room, holding the weeping Mademoiselle Bourienne in her arms and gently stroking her hair. The princess’ beautiful eyes with all their former calm radiance were looking with tender affection and pity at Mademoiselle Bourienne’s pretty face.
“No, Princess, I have lost your affection forever!” said Mademoiselle Bourienne.
“Why? I love you more than ever,” said Princess Mary, “and I will try to do all I can for your happiness.”
“But you despise me. You who are so pure can never understand being so carried away by passion. Oh, only my poor mother...”
“I quite understand,” answered Princess Mary, with a sad smile. “Calm yourself, my dear. I will go to my father,” she said, and went out.
Prince Vasíli, with one leg thrown high over the other and a snuffbox in his hand, was sitting there with a smile of deep emotion on his face, as if stirred to his heart’s core and himself regretting and laughing at his own sensibility, when Princess Mary entered. He hurriedly took a pinch of snuff.
“Ah, my dear, my dear!” he began, rising and taking her by both hands. Then, sighing, he added: “My son’s fate is in your hands. Decide, my dear, good, gentle Marie, whom I have always loved as a daughter!”
He drew back and a real tear appeared in his eye.
“Fr... fr...” snorted Prince Bolkónski. “The prince is making a proposition to you in his pupil’s—I mean, his son’s—name. Do you wish or not to be Prince Anatole Kurágin’s wife? Reply: yes or no,” he shouted, “and then I shall reserve the right to state my opinion also. Yes, my opinion, and only my opinion,” added Prince Bolkónski, turning to Prince Vasíli and answering his imploring look. “Yes, or no?”
“My desire is never to leave you, Father, never to separate my life from yours. I don’t wish to marry,” she answered positively, glancing at Prince Vasíli and at her father with her beautiful eyes.
“Humbug! Nonsense! Humbug, humbug, humbug!” cried Prince Bolkónski, frowning and taking his daughter’s hand; he did not kiss her, but only bending his forehead to hers just touched it, and pressed her hand so that she winced and uttered a cry.
Prince Vasíli rose.
“My dear, I must tell you that this is a moment I shall never, never forget. But, my dear, will you not give us a little hope of touching this heart, so kind and generous? Say ‘perhaps’... The future is so long. Say ‘perhaps.’”
“Prince, what I have said is all there is in my heart. I thank you for the honor, but I shall never be your son’s wife.”
“Well, so that’s finished, my dear fellow! I am very glad to have seen you. Very glad! Go back to your rooms, Princess. Go!” said the old prince. “Very, very glad to have seen you,” repeated he, embracing Prince Vasíli.
“My vocation is a different one,” thought Princess Mary. “My vocation is to be happy with another kind of happiness, the happiness of love and self-sacrifice. And cost what it may, I will arrange poor Amélie’s happiness, she loves him so passionately, and so passionately repents. I will do all I can to arrange the match between them. If he is not rich I will give her the means; I will ask my father and Andrew. I shall be so happy when she is his wife. She is so unfortunate, a stranger, alone, helpless! And, oh God, how passionately she must love him if she could so far forget herself! Perhaps I might have done the same!...” thought Princess Mary.
It was long since the Rostóvs had news of Nicholas. Not till midwinter was the count at last handed a letter addressed in his son’s handwriting. On receiving it, he ran on tiptoe to his study in alarm and haste, trying to escape notice, closed the door, and began to read the letter.
Anna Mikháylovna, who always knew everything that passed in the house, on hearing of the arrival of the letter went softly into the room and found the count with it in his hand, sobbing and laughing at the same time.
Anna Mikháylovna, though her circumstances had improved, was still living with the Rostóvs.
“My dear friend?” said she, in a tone of pathetic inquiry, prepared to sympathize in any way.
The count sobbed yet more.
“Nikólenka... a letter... wa... a... s... wounded... my darling boy... the countess... promoted to be an officer... thank God... How tell the little countess!”
Anna Mikháylovna sat down beside him, with her own handkerchief wiped the tears from his eyes and from the letter, then having dried her own eyes she comforted the count, and decided that at dinner and till teatime she would prepare the countess, and after tea, with God’s help, would inform her.
At dinner Anna Mikháylovna talked the whole time about the war news and about Nikólenka, twice asked when the last letter had been received from him, though she knew that already, and remarked that they might very likely be getting a letter from him that day. Each time that these hints began to make the countess anxious and she glanced uneasily at the count and at Anna Mikháylovna, the latter very adroitly turned the conversation to insignificant matters. Natásha, who, of the whole family, was the most gifted with a capacity to feel any shades of intonation, look, and expression, pricked up her ears from the beginning of the meal and was certain that there was some secret between her father and Anna Mikháylovna, that it had something to do with her brother, and that Anna Mikháylovna was preparing them for it. Bold as she was, Natásha, who knew how sensitive her mother was to anything relating to Nikólenka, did not venture to ask any questions at dinner, but she was too excited to eat anything and kept wriggling about on her chair regardless of her governess’ remarks. After dinner, she rushed headlong after Anna Mikháylovna and, dashing at her, flung herself on her neck as soon as she overtook her in the sitting room.
“Auntie, darling, do tell me what it is!”
“Nothing, my dear.”
“No, dearest, sweet one, honey, I won’t give up—I know you know something.”
Anna Mikháylovna shook her head.
“You are a little slyboots,” she said.
“A letter from Nikólenka! I’m sure of it!” exclaimed Natásha, reading confirmation in Anna Mikháylovna’s face.
“But for God’s sake, be careful, you know how it may affect your mamma.”
“I will, I will, only tell me! You won’t? Then I will go and tell at once.”
Anna Mikháylovna, in a few words, told her the contents of the letter, on condition that she should tell no one.
“No, on my true word of honor,” said Natásha, crossing herself, “I won’t tell anyone!” and she ran off at once to Sónya.
“Nikólenka... wounded... a letter,” she announced in gleeful triumph.
“Nicholas!” was all Sónya said, instantly turning white.
Natásha, seeing the impression the news of her brother’s wound produced on Sónya, felt for the first time the sorrowful side of the news.
She rushed to Sónya, hugged her, and began to cry.
“A little wound, but he has been made an officer; he is well now, he wrote himself,” said she through her tears.
“There now! It’s true that all you women are crybabies,” remarked Pétya, pacing the room with large, resolute strides. “Now I’m very glad, very glad indeed, that my brother has distinguished himself so. You are all blubberers and understand nothing.”
Natásha smiled through her tears.
“You haven’t read the letter?” asked Sónya.
“No, but she said that it was all over and that he’s now an officer.”
“Thank God!” said Sónya, crossing herself. “But perhaps she deceived you. Let us go to Mamma.”
Pétya paced the room in silence for a time.
“If I’d been in Nikólenka’s place I would have killed even more of those Frenchmen,” he said. “What nasty brutes they are! I’d have killed so many that there’d have been a heap of them.”
“Hold your tongue, Pétya, what a goose you are!”
“I’m not a goose, but they are who cry about trifles,” said Pétya.
“Do you remember him?” Natásha suddenly asked, after a moment’s silence.
“Do I remember Nicholas?”
“No, Sónya, but do you remember so that you remember him perfectly, remember everything?” said Natásha, with an expressive gesture, evidently wishing to give her words a very definite meaning. “I remember Nikólenka too, I remember him well,” she said. “But I don’t remember Borís. I don’t remember him a bit.”
“What! You don’t remember Borís?” asked Sónya in surprise.
“It’s not that I don’t remember—I know what he is like, but not as I remember Nikólenka. Him—I just shut my eyes and remember, but Borís... No!” (She shut her eyes.) “No! there’s nothing at all.”
“Oh, Natásha!” said Sónya, looking ecstatically and earnestly at her friend as if she did not consider her worthy to hear what she meant to say and as if she were saying it to someone else, with whom joking was out of the question, “I am in love with your brother once for all and, whatever may happen to him or to me, shall never cease to love him as long as I live.”
Natásha looked at Sónya with wondering and inquisitive eyes, and said nothing. She felt that Sónya was speaking the truth, that there was such love as Sónya was speaking of. But Natásha had not yet felt anything like it. She believed it could be, but did not understand it.
“Shall you write to him?” she asked.
Sónya became thoughtful. The question of how to write to Nicholas, and whether she ought to write, tormented her. Now that he was already an officer and a wounded hero, would it be right to remind him of herself and, as it might seem, of the obligations to her he had taken on himself?
“I don’t know. I think if he writes, I will write too,” she said, blushing.
“And you won’t feel ashamed to write to him?”
“And I should be ashamed to write to Borís. I’m not going to.”
“Why should you be ashamed?”
“Well, I don’t know. It’s awkward and would make me ashamed.”
“And I know why she’d be ashamed,” said Pétya, offended by Natásha’s previous remark. “It’s because she was in love with that fat one in spectacles” (that was how Pétya described his namesake, the new Count Bezúkhov) “and now she’s in love with that singer” (he meant Natásha’s Italian singing master), “that’s why she’s ashamed!”
“Pétya, you’re a stupid!” said Natásha.
“Not more stupid than you, madam,” said the nine-year-old Pétya, with the air of an old brigadier.
The countess had been prepared by Anna Mikháylovna’s hints at dinner. On retiring to her own room, she sat in an armchair, her eyes fixed on a miniature portrait of her son on the lid of a snuffbox, while the tears kept coming into her eyes. Anna Mikháylovna, with the letter, came on tiptoe to the countess’ door and paused.
“Don’t come in,” she said to the old count who was following her. “Come later.” And she went in, closing the door behind her.
The count put his ear to the keyhole and listened.
At first he heard the sound of indifferent voices, then Anna Mikháylovna’s voice alone in a long speech, then a cry, then silence, then both voices together with glad intonations, and then footsteps. Anna Mikháylovna opened the door. Her face wore the proud expression of a surgeon who has just performed a difficult operation and admits the public to appreciate his skill.
“It is done!” she said to the count, pointing triumphantly to the countess, who sat holding in one hand the snuffbox with its portrait and in the other the letter, and pressing them alternately to her lips.
When she saw the count, she stretched out her arms to him, embraced his bald head, over which she again looked at the letter and the portrait, and in order to press them again to her lips, she slightly pushed away the bald head. Véra, Natásha, Sónya, and Pétya now entered the room, and the reading of the letter began. After a brief description of the campaign and the two battles in which he had taken part, and his promotion, Nicholas said that he kissed his father’s and mother’s hands asking for their blessing, and that he kissed Véra, Natásha, and Pétya. Besides that, he sent greetings to Monsieur Schelling, Madame Schoss, and his old nurse, and asked them to kiss for him “dear Sónya, whom he loved and thought of just the same as ever.” When she heard this Sónya blushed so that tears came into her eyes and, unable to bear the looks turned upon her, ran away into the dancing hall, whirled round it at full speed with her dress puffed out like a balloon, and, flushed and smiling, plumped down on the floor. The countess was crying.
“Why are you crying, Mamma?” asked Véra. “From all he says one should be glad and not cry.”
This was quite true, but the count, the countess, and Natásha looked at her reproachfully. “And who is it she takes after?” thought the countess.
Nicholas’ letter was read over hundreds of times, and those who were considered worthy to hear it had to come to the countess, for she did not let it out of her hands. The tutors came, and the nurses, and Dmítri, and several acquaintances, and the countess reread the letter each time with fresh pleasure and each time discovered in it fresh proofs of Nikólenka’s virtues. How strange, how extraordinary, how joyful it seemed, that her son, the scarcely perceptible motion of whose tiny limbs she had felt twenty years ago within her, that son about whom she used to have quarrels with the too indulgent count, that son who had first learned to say “pear” and then “granny,” that this son should now be away in a foreign land amid strange surroundings, a manly warrior doing some kind of man’s work of his own, without help or guidance. The universal experience of ages, showing that children do grow imperceptibly from the cradle to manhood, did not exist for the countess. Her son’s growth toward manhood, at each of its stages, had seemed as extraordinary to her as if there had never existed the millions of human beings who grew up in the same way. As twenty years before, it seemed impossible that the little creature who lived somewhere under her heart would ever cry, suck her breast, and begin to speak, so now she could not believe that that little creature could be this strong, brave man, this model son and officer that, judging by this letter, he now was.
“What a style! How charmingly he describes!” said she, reading the descriptive part of the letter. “And what a soul! Not a word about himself.... Not a word! About some Denísov or other, though he himself, I dare say, is braver than any of them. He says nothing about his sufferings. What a heart! How like him it is! And how he has remembered everybody! Not forgetting anyone. I always said when he was only so high—I always said....”
For more than a week preparations were being made, rough drafts of letters to Nicholas from all the household were written and copied out, while under the supervision of the countess and the solicitude of the count, money and all things necessary for the uniform and equipment of the newly commissioned officer were collected. Anna Mikháylovna, practical woman that she was, had even managed by favor with army authorities to secure advantageous means of communication for herself and her son. She had opportunities of sending her letters to the Grand Duke Constantine Pávlovich, who commanded the Guards. The Rostóvs supposed that The Russian Guards, Abroad, was quite a definite address, and that if a letter reached the Grand Duke in command of the Guards there was no reason why it should not reach the Pávlograd regiment, which was presumably somewhere in the same neighborhood. And so it was decided to send the letters and money by the Grand Duke’s courier to Borís and Borís was to forward them to Nicholas. The letters were from the old count, the countess, Pétya, Véra, Natásha, and Sónya, and finally there were six thousand rubles for his outfit and various other things the old count sent to his son.