When they all drove back from Pelagéya Danílovna’s, Natásha, who always saw and noticed everything, arranged that she and Madame Schoss should go back in the sleigh with Dimmler, and Sónya with Nicholas and the maids.
On the way back Nicholas drove at a steady pace instead of racing and kept peering by that fantastic all-transforming light into Sónya’s face and searching beneath the eyebrows and mustache for his former and his present Sónya from whom he had resolved never to be parted again. He looked and recognizing in her both the old and the new Sónya, and being reminded by the smell of burnt cork of the sensation of her kiss, inhaled the frosty air with a full breast and, looking at the ground flying beneath him and at the sparkling sky, felt himself again in fairyland.
“Sónya, is it well with thee?” he asked from time to time.
“Yes!” she replied. “And with thee?”
When halfway home Nicholas handed the reins to the coachman and ran for a moment to Natásha’s sleigh and stood on its wing.
“Natásha!” he whispered in French, “do you know I have made up my mind about Sónya?”
“Have you told her?” asked Natásha, suddenly beaming all over with joy.
“Oh, how strange you are with that mustache and those eyebrows!... Natásha—are you glad?”
“I am so glad, so glad! I was beginning to be vexed with you. I did not tell you, but you have been treating her badly. What a heart she has, Nicholas! I am horrid sometimes, but I was ashamed to be happy while Sónya was not,” continued Natásha. “Now I am so glad! Well, run back to her.”
“No, wait a bit.... Oh, how funny you look!” cried Nicholas, peering into her face and finding in his sister too something new, unusual, and bewitchingly tender that he had not seen in her before. “Natásha, it’s magical, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” she replied. “You have done splendidly.”
“Had I seen her before as she is now,” thought Nicholas, “I should long ago have asked her what to do and have done whatever she told me, and all would have been well.”
“So you are glad and I have done right?”
“Oh, quite right! I had a quarrel with Mamma some time ago about it. Mamma said she was angling for you. How could she say such a thing! I nearly stormed at Mamma. I will never let anyone say anything bad of Sónya, for there is nothing but good in her.”
“Then it’s all right?” said Nicholas, again scrutinizing the expression of his sister’s face to see if she was in earnest. Then he jumped down and, his boots scrunching the snow, ran back to his sleigh. The same happy, smiling Circassian, with mustache and beaming eyes looking up from under a sable hood, was still sitting there, and that Circassian was Sónya, and that Sónya was certainly his future happy and loving wife.
When they reached home and had told their mother how they had spent the evening at the Melyukóvs’, the girls went to their bedroom. When they had undressed, but without washing off the cork mustaches, they sat a long time talking of their happiness. They talked of how they would live when they were married, how their husbands would be friends, and how happy they would be. On Natásha’s table stood two looking glasses which Dunyásha had prepared beforehand.
“Only when will all that be? I am afraid never.... It would be too good!” said Natásha, rising and going to the looking glasses.
“Sit down, Natásha; perhaps you’ll see him,” said Sónya.
Natásha lit the candles, one on each side of one of the looking glasses, and sat down.
“I see someone with a mustache,” said Natásha, seeing her own face.
“You mustn’t laugh, Miss,” said Dunyásha.
With Sónya’s help and the maid’s, Natásha got the glass she held into the right position opposite the other; her face assumed a serious expression and she sat silent. She sat a long time looking at the receding line of candles reflected in the glasses and expecting (from tales she had heard) to see a coffin, or him, Prince Andrew, in that last dim, indistinctly outlined square. But ready as she was to take the smallest speck for the image of a man or of a coffin, she saw nothing. She began blinking rapidly and moved away from the looking glasses.
“Why is it others see things and I don’t?” she said. “You sit down now, Sónya. You absolutely must, tonight! Do it for me.... Today I feel so frightened!”
Sónya sat down before the glasses, got the right position, and began looking.
“Now, Miss Sónya is sure to see something,” whispered Dunyásha; “while you do nothing but laugh.”
Sónya heard this and Natásha’s whisper:
“I know she will. She saw something last year.”
For about three minutes all were silent.
“Of course she will!” whispered Natásha, but did not finish... suddenly Sónya pushed away the glass she was holding and covered her eyes with her hand.
“Oh, Natásha!” she cried.
“Did you see? Did you? What was it?” exclaimed Natásha, holding up the looking glass.
Sónya had not seen anything, she was just wanting to blink and to get up when she heard Natásha say, “Of course she will!” She did not wish to disappoint either Dunyásha or Natásha, but it was hard to sit still. She did not herself know how or why the exclamation escaped her when she covered her eyes.
“You saw him?” urged Natásha, seizing her hand.
“Yes. Wait a bit... I... saw him,” Sónya could not help saying, not yet knowing whom Natásha meant by him, Nicholas or Prince Andrew.
“But why shouldn’t I say I saw something? Others do see! Besides who can tell whether I saw anything or not?” flashed through Sónya’s mind.
“Yes, I saw him,” she said.
“How? Standing or lying?”
“No, I saw... At first there was nothing, then I saw him lying down.”
“Andrew lying? Is he ill?” asked Natásha, her frightened eyes fixed on her friend.
“No, on the contrary, on the contrary! His face was cheerful, and he turned to me.” And when saying this she herself fancied she had really seen what she described.
“Well, and then, Sónya?...”
“After that, I could not make out what there was; something blue and red....”
“Sónya! When will he come back? When shall I see him! O, God, how afraid I am for him and for myself and about everything!...” Natásha began, and without replying to Sónya’s words of comfort she got into bed, and long after her candle was out lay open-eyed and motionless, gazing at the moonlight through the frosty windowpanes.
Soon after the Christmas holidays Nicholas told his mother of his love for Sónya and of his firm resolve to marry her. The countess, who had long noticed what was going on between them and was expecting this declaration, listened to him in silence and then told her son that he might marry whom he pleased, but that neither she nor his father would give their blessing to such a marriage. Nicholas, for the first time, felt that his mother was displeased with him and that, despite her love for him, she would not give way. Coldly, without looking at her son, she sent for her husband and, when he came, tried briefly and coldly to inform him of the facts, in her son’s presence, but unable to restrain herself she burst into tears of vexation and left the room. The old count began irresolutely to admonish Nicholas and beg him to abandon his purpose. Nicholas replied that he could not go back on his word, and his father, sighing and evidently disconcerted, very soon became silent and went in to the countess. In all his encounters with his son, the count was always conscious of his own guilt toward him for having wasted the family fortune, and so he could not be angry with him for refusing to marry an heiress and choosing the dowerless Sónya. On this occasion, he was only more vividly conscious of the fact that if his affairs had not been in disorder, no better wife for Nicholas than Sónya could have been wished for, and that no one but himself with his Mítenka and his uncomfortable habits was to blame for the condition of the family finances.
The father and mother did not speak of the matter to their son again, but a few days later the countess sent for Sónya and, with a cruelty neither of them expected, reproached her niece for trying to catch Nicholas and for ingratitude. Sónya listened silently with downcast eyes to the countess’ cruel words, without understanding what was required of her. She was ready to sacrifice everything for her benefactors. Self-sacrifice was her most cherished idea but in this case she could not see what she ought to sacrifice, or for whom. She could not help loving the countess and the whole Rostóv family, but neither could she help loving Nicholas and knowing that his happiness depended on that love. She was silent and sad and did not reply. Nicholas felt the situation to be intolerable and went to have an explanation with his mother. He first implored her to forgive him and Sónya and consent to their marriage, then he threatened that if she molested Sónya he would at once marry her secretly.
The countess, with a coldness her son had never seen in her before, replied that he was of age, that Prince Andrew was marrying without his father’s consent, and he could do the same, but that she would never receive that intriguer as her daughter.
Exploding at the word intriguer, Nicholas, raising his voice, told his mother he had never expected her to try to force him to sell his feelings, but if that were so, he would say for the last time.... But he had no time to utter the decisive word which the expression of his face caused his mother to await with terror, and which would perhaps have forever remained a cruel memory to them both. He had not time to say it, for Natásha, with a pale and set face, entered the room from the door at which she had been listening.
“Nicholas, you are talking nonsense! Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet, I tell you!...” she almost screamed, so as to drown his voice.
“Mamma darling, it’s not at all so... my poor, sweet darling,” she said to her mother, who conscious that they had been on the brink of a rupture gazed at her son with terror, but in the obstinacy and excitement of the conflict could not and would not give way.
“Nicholas, I’ll explain to you. Go away! Listen, Mamma darling,” said Natásha.
Her words were incoherent, but they attained the purpose at which she was aiming.
The countess, sobbing heavily, hid her face on her daughter’s breast, while Nicholas rose, clutching his head, and left the room.
Natásha set to work to effect a reconciliation, and so far succeeded that Nicholas received a promise from his mother that Sónya should not be troubled, while he on his side promised not to undertake anything without his parents’ knowledge.
Firmly resolved, after putting his affairs in order in the regiment, to retire from the army and return and marry Sónya, Nicholas, serious, sorrowful, and at variance with his parents, but, as it seemed to him, passionately in love, left at the beginning of January to rejoin his regiment.
After Nicholas had gone things in the Rostóv household were more depressing than ever, and the countess fell ill from mental agitation.
Sónya was unhappy at the separation from Nicholas and still more so on account of the hostile tone the countess could not help adopting toward her. The count was more perturbed than ever by the condition of his affairs, which called for some decisive action. Their town house and estate near Moscow had inevitably to be sold, and for this they had to go to Moscow. But the countess’ health obliged them to delay their departure from day to day.
Natásha, who had borne the first period of separation from her betrothed lightly and even cheerfully, now grew more agitated and impatient every day. The thought that her best days, which she would have employed in loving him, were being vainly wasted, with no advantage to anyone, tormented her incessantly. His letters for the most part irritated her. It hurt her to think that while she lived only in the thought of him, he was living a real life, seeing new places and new people that interested him. The more interesting his letters were the more vexed she felt. Her letters to him, far from giving her any comfort, seemed to her a wearisome and artificial obligation. She could not write, because she could not conceive the possibility of expressing sincerely in a letter even a thousandth part of what she expressed by voice, smile, and glance. She wrote to him formal, monotonous, and dry letters, to which she attached no importance herself, and in the rough copies of which the countess corrected her mistakes in spelling.
There was still no improvement in the countess’ health, but it was impossible to defer the journey to Moscow any longer. Natásha’s trousseau had to be ordered and the house sold. Moreover, Prince Andrew was expected in Moscow, where old Prince Bolkónski was spending the winter, and Natásha felt sure he had already arrived.
So the countess remained in the country, and the count, taking Sónya and Natásha with him, went to Moscow at the end of January.
BOOK EIGHT: 1811 - 12
After Prince Andrew’s engagement to Natásha, Pierre without any apparent cause suddenly felt it impossible to go on living as before. Firmly convinced as he was of the truths revealed to him by his benefactor, and happy as he had been in perfecting his inner man, to which he had devoted himself with such ardor—all the zest of such a life vanished after the engagement of Andrew and Natásha and the death of Joseph Alexéevich, the news of which reached him almost at the same time. Only the skeleton of life remained: his house, a brilliant wife who now enjoyed the favors of a very important personage, acquaintance with all Petersburg, and his court service with its dull formalities. And this life suddenly seemed to Pierre unexpectedly loathsome. He ceased keeping a diary, avoided the company of the Brothers, began going to the club again, drank a great deal, and came once more in touch with the bachelor sets, leading such a life that the Countess Hélène thought it necessary to speak severely to him about it. Pierre felt that she was right, and to avoid compromising her went away to Moscow.
In Moscow as soon as he entered his huge house in which the faded and fading princesses still lived, with its enormous retinue; as soon as, driving through the town, he saw the Iberian shrine with innumerable tapers burning before the golden covers of the icons, the Krémlin Square with its snow undisturbed by vehicles, the sleigh drivers and hovels of the Sívtsev Vrazhók, those old Moscovites who desired nothing, hurried nowhere, and were ending their days leisurely; when he saw those old Moscow ladies, the Moscow balls, and the English Club, he felt himself at home in a quiet haven. In Moscow he felt at peace, at home, warm and dirty as in an old dressing gown.
Moscow society, from the old women down to the children, received Pierre like a long-expected guest whose place was always ready awaiting him. For Moscow society Pierre was the nicest, kindest, most intellectual, merriest, and most magnanimous of cranks, a heedless, genial nobleman of the old Russian type. His purse was always empty because it was open to everyone.
Benefit performances, poor pictures, statues, benevolent societies, gypsy choirs, schools, subscription dinners, sprees, Freemasons, churches, and books—no one and nothing met with a refusal from him, and had it not been for two friends who had borrowed large sums from him and taken him under their protection, he would have given everything away. There was never a dinner or soiree at the club without him. As soon as he sank into his place on the sofa after two bottles of Margaux he was surrounded, and talking, disputing, and joking began. When there were quarrels, his kindly smile and well-timed jests reconciled the antagonists. The Masonic dinners were dull and dreary when he was not there.
When after a bachelor supper he rose with his amiable and kindly smile, yielding to the entreaties of the festive company to drive off somewhere with them, shouts of delight and triumph arose among the young men. At balls he danced if a partner was needed. Young ladies, married and unmarried, liked him because without making love to any of them, he was equally amiable to all, especially after supper. “Il est charmant; il n’a pas de sexe,” * they said of him.
Pierre was one of those retired gentlemen-in-waiting of whom there were hundreds good-humoredly ending their days in Moscow.
How horrified he would have been seven years before, when he first arrived from abroad, had he been told that there was no need for him to seek or plan anything, that his rut had long been shaped, eternally predetermined, and that wriggle as he might, he would be what all in his position were. He could not have believed it! Had he not at one time longed with all his heart to establish a republic in Russia; then himself to be a Napoleon; then to be a philosopher; and then a strategist and the conqueror of Napoleon? Had he not seen the possibility of, and passionately desired, the regeneration of the sinful human race, and his own progress to the highest degree of perfection? Had he not established schools and hospitals and liberated his serfs?
But instead of all that—here he was, the wealthy husband of an unfaithful wife, a retired gentleman-in-waiting, fond of eating and drinking and, as he unbuttoned his waistcoat, of abusing the government a bit, a member of the Moscow English Club, and a universal favorite in Moscow society. For a long time he could not reconcile himself to the idea that he was one of those same retired Moscow gentlemen-in-waiting he had so despised seven years before.
Sometimes he consoled himself with the thought that he was only living this life temporarily; but then he was shocked by the thought of how many, like himself, had entered that life and that club temporarily, with all their teeth and hair, and had only left it when not a single tooth or hair remained.
In moments of pride, when he thought of his position it seemed to him that he was quite different and distinct from those other retired gentlemen-in-waiting he had formerly despised: they were empty, stupid, contented fellows, satisfied with their position, “while I am still discontented and want to do something for mankind. But perhaps all these comrades of mine struggled just like me and sought something new, a path in life of their own, and like me were brought by force of circumstances, society, and race—by that elemental force against which man is powerless—to the condition I am in,” said he to himself in moments of humility; and after living some time in Moscow he no longer despised, but began to grow fond of, to respect, and to pity his comrades in destiny, as he pitied himself.
Pierre no longer suffered moments of despair, hypochondria, and disgust with life, but the malady that had formerly found expression in such acute attacks was driven inwards and never left him for a moment. “What for? Why? What is going on in the world?” he would ask himself in perplexity several times a day, involuntarily beginning to reflect anew on the meaning of the phenomena of life; but knowing by experience that there were no answers to these questions he made haste to turn away from them, and took up a book, or hurried off to the club or to Apollón Nikoláevich’s, to exchange the gossip of the town.
“Hélène, who has never cared for anything but her own body and is one of the stupidest women in the world,” thought Pierre, “is regarded by people as the acme of intelligence and refinement, and they pay homage to her. Napoleon Bonaparte was despised by all as long as he was great, but now that he has become a wretched comedian the Emperor Francis wants to offer him his daughter in an illegal marriage. The Spaniards, through the Catholic clergy, offer praise to God for their victory over the French on the fourteenth of June, and the French, also through the Catholic clergy, offer praise because on that same fourteenth of June they defeated the Spaniards. My brother Masons swear by the blood that they are ready to sacrifice everything for their neighbor, but they do not give a ruble each to the collections for the poor, and they intrigue, the Astraea Lodge against the Manna Seekers, and fuss about an authentic Scotch carpet and a charter that nobody needs, and the meaning of which the very man who wrote it does not understand. We all profess the Christian law of forgiveness of injuries and love of our neighbors, the law in honor of which we have built in Moscow forty times forty churches—but yesterday a deserter was knouted to death and a minister of that same law of love and forgiveness, a priest, gave the soldier a cross to kiss before his execution.” So thought Pierre, and the whole of this general deception which everyone accepts, accustomed as he was to it, astonished him each time as if it were something new. “I understand the deception and confusion,” he thought, “but how am I to tell them all that I see? I have tried, and have always found that they too in the depths of their souls understand it as I do, and only try not to see it. So it appears that it must be so! But I—what is to become of me?” thought he. He had the unfortunate capacity many men, especially Russians, have of seeing and believing in the possibility of goodness and truth, but of seeing the evil and falsehood of life too clearly to be able to take a serious part in it. Every sphere of work was connected, in his eyes, with evil and deception. Whatever he tried to be, whatever he engaged in, the evil and falsehood of it repulsed him and blocked every path of activity. Yet he had to live and to find occupation. It was too dreadful to be under the burden of these insoluble problems, so he abandoned himself to any distraction in order to forget them. He frequented every kind of society, drank much, bought pictures, engaged in building, and above all—read.
He read, and read everything that came to hand. On coming home, while his valets were still taking off his things, he picked up a book and began to read. From reading he passed to sleeping, from sleeping to gossip in drawing rooms of the club, from gossip to carousals and women; from carousals back to gossip, reading, and wine. Drinking became more and more a physical and also a moral necessity. Though the doctors warned him that with his corpulence wine was dangerous for him, he drank a great deal. He was only quite at ease when having poured several glasses of wine mechanically into his large mouth he felt a pleasant warmth in his body, an amiability toward all his fellows, and a readiness to respond superficially to every idea without probing it deeply. Only after emptying a bottle or two did he feel dimly that the terribly tangled skein of life which previously had terrified him was not as dreadful as he had thought. He was always conscious of some aspect of that skein, as with a buzzing in his head after dinner or supper he chatted or listened to conversation or read. But under the influence of wine he said to himself: “It doesn’t matter. I’ll get it unraveled. I have a solution ready, but have no time now—I’ll think it all out later on!” But the later on never came.
In the morning, on an empty stomach, all the old questions appeared as insoluble and terrible as ever, and Pierre hastily picked up a book, and if anyone came to see him he was glad.
Sometimes he remembered how he had heard that soldiers in war when entrenched under the enemy’s fire, if they have nothing to do, try hard to find some occupation the more easily to bear the danger. To Pierre all men seemed like those soldiers, seeking refuge from life: some in ambition, some in cards, some in framing laws, some in women, some in toys, some in horses, some in politics, some in sport, some in wine, and some in governmental affairs. “Nothing is trivial, and nothing is important, it’s all the same—only to save oneself from it as best one can,” thought Pierre. “Only not to see it, that dreadful it!”
At the beginning of winter Prince Nicholas Bolkónski and his daughter moved to Moscow. At that time enthusiasm for the Emperor Alexander’s regime had weakened and a patriotic and anti-French tendency prevailed there, and this, together with his past and his intellect and his originality, at once made Prince Nicholas Bolkónski an object of particular respect to the Moscovites and the center of the Moscow opposition to the government.
The prince had aged very much that year. He showed marked signs of senility by a tendency to fall asleep, forgetfulness of quite recent events, remembrance of remote ones, and the childish vanity with which he accepted the role of head of the Moscow opposition. In spite of this the old man inspired in all his visitors alike a feeling of respectful veneration—especially of an evening when he came in to tea in his old-fashioned coat and powdered wig and, aroused by anyone, told his abrupt stories of the past, or uttered yet more abrupt and scathing criticisms of the present. For them all, that old-fashioned house with its gigantic mirrors, pre-Revolution furniture, powdered footmen, and the stern shrewd old man (himself a relic of the past century) with his gentle daughter and the pretty Frenchwoman who were reverently devoted to him presented a majestic and agreeable spectacle. But the visitors did not reflect that besides the couple of hours during which they saw their host, there were also twenty-two hours in the day during which the private and intimate life of the house continued.
Latterly that private life had become very trying for Princess Mary. There in Moscow she was deprived of her greatest pleasures—talks with the pilgrims and the solitude which refreshed her at Bald Hills—and she had none of the advantages and pleasures of city life. She did not go out into society; everyone knew that her father would not let her go anywhere without him, and his failing health prevented his going out himself, so that she was not invited to dinners and evening parties. She had quite abandoned the hope of getting married. She saw the coldness and malevolence with which the old prince received and dismissed the young men, possible suitors, who sometimes appeared at their house. She had no friends: during this visit to Moscow she had been disappointed in the two who had been nearest to her. Mademoiselle Bourienne, with whom she had never been able to be quite frank, had now become unpleasant to her, and for various reasons Princess Mary avoided her. Julie, with whom she had corresponded for the last five years, was in Moscow, but proved to be quite alien to her when they met. Just then Julie, who by the death of her brothers had become one of the richest heiresses in Moscow, was in the full whirl of society pleasures. She was surrounded by young men who, she fancied, had suddenly learned to appreciate her worth. Julie was at that stage in the life of a society woman when she feels that her last chance of marrying has come and that her fate must be decided now or never. On Thursdays Princess Mary remembered with a mournful smile that she now had no one to write to, since Julie—whose presence gave her no pleasure was here and they met every week. Like the old émigré who declined to marry the lady with whom he had spent his evenings for years, she regretted Julie’s presence and having no one to write to. In Moscow Princess Mary had no one to talk to, no one to whom to confide her sorrow, and much sorrow fell to her lot just then. The time for Prince Andrew’s return and marriage was approaching, but his request to her to prepare his father for it had not been carried out; in fact, it seemed as if matters were quite hopeless, for at every mention of the young Countess Rostóva the old prince (who apart from that was usually in a bad temper) lost control of himself. Another lately added sorrow arose from the lessons she gave her six year-old nephew. To her consternation she detected in herself in relation to little Nicholas some symptoms of her father’s irritability. However often she told herself that she must not get irritable when teaching her nephew, almost every time that, pointer in hand, she sat down to show him the French alphabet, she so longed to pour her own knowledge quickly and easily into the child—who was already afraid that Auntie might at any moment get angry—that at his slightest inattention she trembled, became flustered and heated, raised her voice, and sometimes pulled him by the arm and put him in the corner. Having put him in the corner she would herself begin to cry over her cruel, evil nature, and little Nicholas, following her example, would sob, and without permission would leave his corner, come to her, pull her wet hands from her face, and comfort her. But what distressed the princess most of all was her father’s irritability, which was always directed against her and had of late amounted to cruelty. Had he forced her to prostrate herself to the ground all night, had he beaten her or made her fetch wood or water, it would never have entered her mind to think her position hard; but this loving despot—the more cruel because he loved her and for that reason tormented himself and her—knew how not merely to hurt and humiliate her deliberately, but to show her that she was always to blame for everything. Of late he had exhibited a new trait that tormented Princess Mary more than anything else; this was his ever-increasing intimacy with Mademoiselle Bourienne. The idea that at the first moment of receiving the news of his son’s intentions had occurred to him in jest—that if Andrew got married he himself would marry Bourienne—had evidently pleased him, and latterly he had persistently, and as it seemed to Princess Mary merely to offend her, shown special endearments to the companion and expressed his dissatisfaction with his daughter by demonstrations of love of Bourienne.
One day in Moscow in Princess Mary’s presence (she thought her father did it purposely when she was there) the old prince kissed Mademoiselle Bourienne’s hand and, drawing her to him, embraced her affectionately. Princess Mary flushed and ran out of the room. A few minutes later Mademoiselle Bourienne came into Princess Mary’s room smiling and making cheerful remarks in her agreeable voice. Princess Mary hastily wiped away her tears, went resolutely up to Mademoiselle Bourienne, and evidently unconscious of what she was doing began shouting in angry haste at the Frenchwoman, her voice breaking: “It’s horrible, vile, inhuman, to take advantage of the weakness...” She did not finish. “Leave my room,” she exclaimed, and burst into sobs.
Next day the prince did not say a word to his daughter, but she noticed that at dinner he gave orders that Mademoiselle Bourienne should be served first. After dinner, when the footman handed coffee and from habit began with the princess, the prince suddenly grew furious, threw his stick at Philip, and instantly gave instructions to have him conscripted for the army.
“He doesn’t obey... I said it twice... and he doesn’t obey! She is the first person in this house; she’s my best friend,” cried the prince. “And if you allow yourself,” he screamed in a fury, addressing Princess Mary for the first time, “to forget yourself again before her as you dared to do yesterday, I will show you who is master in this house. Go! Don’t let me set eyes on you; beg her pardon!”
Princess Mary asked Mademoiselle Bourienne’s pardon, and also her father’s pardon for herself and for Philip the footman, who had begged for her intervention.
At such moments something like a pride of sacrifice gathered in her soul. And suddenly that father whom she had judged would look for his spectacles in her presence, fumbling near them and not seeing them, or would forget something that had just occurred, or take a false step with his failing legs and turn to see if anyone had noticed his feebleness, or, worst of all, at dinner when there were no visitors to excite him would suddenly fall asleep, letting his napkin drop and his shaking head sink over his plate. “He is old and feeble, and I dare to condemn him!” she thought at such moments, with a feeling of revulsion against herself.
In 1811 there was living in Moscow a French doctor—Métivier—who had rapidly become the fashion. He was enormously tall, handsome, amiable as Frenchmen are, and was, as all Moscow said, an extraordinarily clever doctor. He was received in the best houses not merely as a doctor, but as an equal.
Prince Nicholas had always ridiculed medicine, but latterly on Mademoiselle Bourienne’s advice had allowed this doctor to visit him and had grown accustomed to him. Métivier came to see the prince about twice a week.
On December 6—St. Nicholas’ Day and the prince’s name day—all Moscow came to the prince’s front door but he gave orders to admit no one and to invite to dinner only a small number, a list of whom he gave to Princess Mary.
Métivier, who came in the morning with his felicitations, considered it proper in his quality of doctor de forcer la consigne, * as he told Princess Mary, and went in to see the prince. It happened that on that morning of his name day the prince was in one of his worst moods. He had been going about the house all the morning finding fault with everyone and pretending not to understand what was said to him and not to be understood himself. Princess Mary well knew this mood of quiet absorbed querulousness, which generally culminated in a burst of rage, and she went about all that morning as though facing a cocked and loaded gun and awaited the inevitable explosion. Until the doctor’s arrival the morning had passed off safely. After admitting the doctor, Princess Mary sat down with a book in the drawing room near the door through which she could hear all that passed in the study.
At first she heard only Métivier’s voice, then her father’s, then both voices began speaking at the same time, the door was flung open, and on the threshold appeared the handsome figure of the terrified Métivier with his shock of black hair, and the prince in his dressing gown and fez, his face distorted with fury and the pupils of his eyes rolled downwards.
“You don’t understand?” shouted the prince, “but I do! French spy, slave of Buonaparte, spy, get out of my house! Be off, I tell you...” and he slammed the door.
Métivier, shrugging his shoulders, went up to Mademoiselle Bourienne who at the sound of shouting had run in from an adjoining room.
“The prince is not very well: bile and rush of blood to the head. Keep calm, I will call again tomorrow,” said Métivier; and putting his fingers to his lips he hastened away.
Through the study door came the sound of slippered feet and the cry: “Spies, traitors, traitors everywhere! Not a moment’s peace in my own house!”
After Métivier’s departure the old prince called his daughter in, and the whole weight of his wrath fell on her. She was to blame that a spy had been admitted. Had he not told her, yes, told her to make a list, and not to admit anyone who was not on that list? Then why was that scoundrel admitted? She was the cause of it all. With her, he said, he could not have a moment’s peace and could not die quietly.
“No, ma’am! We must part, we must part! Understand that, understand it! I cannot endure any more,” he said, and left the room. Then, as if afraid she might find some means of consolation, he returned and trying to appear calm added: “And don’t imagine I have said this in a moment of anger. I am calm. I have thought it over, and it will be carried out—we must part; so find some place for yourself....” But he could not restrain himself and with the virulence of which only one who loves is capable, evidently suffering himself, he shook his fists at her and screamed:
“If only some fool would marry her!” Then he slammed the door, sent for Mademoiselle Bourienne, and subsided into his study.
At two o’clock the six chosen guests assembled for dinner.
These guests—the famous Count Rostopchín, Prince Lopukhín with his nephew, General Chatróv an old war comrade of the prince’s, and of the younger generation Pierre and Borís Drubetskóy—awaited the prince in the drawing room.
Borís, who had come to Moscow on leave a few days before, had been anxious to be presented to Prince Nicholas Bolkónski, and had contrived to ingratiate himself so well that the old prince in his case made an exception to the rule of not receiving bachelors in his house.
The prince’s house did not belong to what is known as fashionable society, but his little circle—though not much talked about in town—was one it was more flattering to be received in than any other. Borís had realized this the week before when the commander in chief in his presence invited Rostopchín to dinner on St. Nicholas’ Day, and Rostopchín had replied that he could not come:
“On that day I always go to pay my devotions to the relics of Prince Nicholas Bolkónski.”
“Oh, yes, yes!” replied the commander in chief. “How is he?...”
The small group that assembled before dinner in the lofty old-fashioned drawing room with its old furniture resembled the solemn gathering of a court of justice. All were silent or talked in low tones. Prince Nicholas came in serious and taciturn. Princess Mary seemed even quieter and more diffident than usual. The guests were reluctant to address her, feeling that she was in no mood for their conversation. Count Rostopchín alone kept the conversation going, now relating the latest town news, and now the latest political gossip.
Lopukhín and the old general occasionally took part in the conversation. Prince Bolkónski listened as a presiding judge receives a report, only now and then, silently or by a brief word, showing that he took heed of what was being reported to him. The tone of the conversation was such as indicated that no one approved of what was being done in the political world. Incidents were related evidently confirming the opinion that everything was going from bad to worse, but whether telling a story or giving an opinion the speaker always stopped, or was stopped, at the point beyond which his criticism might touch the sovereign himself.
At dinner the talk turned on the latest political news: Napoleon’s seizure of the Duke of Oldenburg’s territory, and the Russian Note, hostile to Napoleon, which had been sent to all the European courts.
“Bonaparte treats Europe as a pirate does a captured vessel,” said Count Rostopchín, repeating a phrase he had uttered several times before. “One only wonders at the long-suffering or blindness of the crowned heads. Now the Pope’s turn has come and Bonaparte doesn’t scruple to depose the head of the Catholic Church—yet all keep silent! Our sovereign alone has protested against the seizure of the Duke of Oldenburg’s territory, and even...” Count Rostopchín paused, feeling that he had reached the limit beyond which censure was impossible.
“Other territories have been offered in exchange for the Duchy of Oldenburg,” said Prince Bolkónski. “He shifts the Dukes about as I might move my serfs from Bald Hills to Boguchárovo or my Ryazán estates.”
“The Duke of Oldenburg bears his misfortunes with admirable strength of character and resignation,” remarked Borís, joining in respectfully.
He said this because on his journey from Petersburg he had had the honor of being presented to the Duke. Prince Bolkónski glanced at the young man as if about to say something in reply, but changed his mind, evidently considering him too young.
“I have read our protests about the Oldenburg affair and was surprised how badly the Note was worded,” remarked Count Rostopchín in the casual tone of a man dealing with a subject quite familiar to him.
Pierre looked at Rostopchín with naïve astonishment, not understanding why he should be disturbed by the bad composition of the Note.
“Does it matter, Count, how the Note is worded,” he asked, “so long as its substance is forcible?”
“My dear fellow, with our five hundred thousand troops it should be easy to have a good style,” returned Count Rostopchín.
Pierre now understood the count’s dissatisfaction with the wording of the Note.
“One would have thought quill drivers enough had sprung up,” remarked the old prince. “There in Petersburg they are always writing—not notes only but even new laws. My Andrew there has written a whole volume of laws for Russia. Nowadays they are always writing!” and he laughed unnaturally.
There was a momentary pause in the conversation; the old general cleared his throat to draw attention.
“Did you hear of the last event at the review in Petersburg? The figure cut by the new French ambassador.”
“Eh? Yes, I heard something: he said something awkward in His Majesty’s presence.”
“His Majesty drew attention to the Grenadier division and to the march past,” continued the general, “and it seems the ambassador took no notice and allowed himself to reply that: ‘We in France pay no attention to such trifles!’ The Emperor did not condescend to reply. At the next review, they say, the Emperor did not once deign to address him.”
All were silent. On this fact relating to the Emperor personally, it was impossible to pass any judgment.
“Impudent fellows!” said the prince. “You know Métivier? I turned him out of my house this morning. He was here; they admitted him in spite of my request that they should let no one in,” he went on, glancing angrily at his daughter.
And he narrated his whole conversation with the French doctor and the reasons that convinced him that Métivier was a spy. Though these reasons were very insufficient and obscure, no one made any rejoinder.
After the roast, champagne was served. The guests rose to congratulate the old prince. Princess Mary, too, went round to him.
He gave her a cold, angry look and offered her his wrinkled, clean-shaven cheek to kiss. The whole expression of his face told her that he had not forgotten the morning’s talk, that his decision remained in force, and only the presence of visitors hindered his speaking of it to her now.
When they went into the drawing room where coffee was served, the old men sat together.
Prince Nicholas grew more animated and expressed his views on the impending war.
He said that our wars with Bonaparte would be disastrous so long as we sought alliances with the Germans and thrust ourselves into European affairs, into which we had been drawn by the Peace of Tilsit. “We ought not to fight either for or against Austria. Our political interests are all in the East, and in regard to Bonaparte the only thing is to have an armed frontier and a firm policy, and he will never dare to cross the Russian frontier, as was the case in 1807!”
“How can we fight the French, Prince?” said Count Rostopchín. “Can we arm ourselves against our teachers and divinities? Look at our youths, look at our ladies! The French are our Gods: Paris is our Kingdom of Heaven.”
He began speaking louder, evidently to be heard by everyone.
“French dresses, French ideas, French feelings! There now, you turned Métivier out by the scruff of his neck because he is a Frenchman and a scoundrel, but our ladies crawl after him on their knees. I went to a party last night, and there out of five ladies three were Roman Catholics and had the Pope’s indulgence for doing woolwork on Sundays. And they themselves sit there nearly naked, like the signboards at our Public Baths if I may say so. Ah, when one looks at our young people, Prince, one would like to take Peter the Great’s old cudgel out of the museum and belabor them in the Russian way till all the nonsense jumps out of them.”
All were silent. The old prince looked at Rostopchín with a smile and wagged his head approvingly.
“Well, good-by, your excellency, keep well!” said Rostopchín, getting up with characteristic briskness and holding out his hand to the prince.
“Good-by, my dear fellow.... His words are music, I never tire of hearing him!” said the old prince, keeping hold of the hand and offering his cheek to be kissed.
Following Rostopchín’s example the others also rose.