BOOK THREE: 1805
Prince Vasíli was not a man who deliberately thought out his plans. Still less did he think of injuring anyone for his own advantage. He was merely a man of the world who had got on and to whom getting on had become a habit. Schemes and devices for which he never rightly accounted to himself, but which formed the whole interest of his life, were constantly shaping themselves in his mind, arising from the circumstances and persons he met. Of these plans he had not merely one or two in his head but dozens, some only beginning to form themselves, some approaching achievement, and some in course of disintegration. He did not, for instance, say to himself: “This man now has influence, I must gain his confidence and friendship and through him obtain a special grant.” Nor did he say to himself: “Pierre is a rich man, I must entice him to marry my daughter and lend me the forty thousand rubles I need.” But when he came across a man of position his instinct immediately told him that this man could be useful, and without any premeditation Prince Vasíli took the first opportunity to gain his confidence, flatter him, become intimate with him, and finally make his request.
He had Pierre at hand in Moscow and procured for him an appointment as Gentleman of the Bedchamber, which at that time conferred the status of Councilor of State, and insisted on the young man accompanying him to Petersburg and staying at his house. With apparent absent-mindedness, yet with unhesitating assurance that he was doing the right thing, Prince Vasíli did everything to get Pierre to marry his daughter. Had he thought out his plans beforehand he could not have been so natural and shown such unaffected familiarity in intercourse with everybody both above and below him in social standing. Something always drew him toward those richer and more powerful than himself and he had rare skill in seizing the most opportune moment for making use of people.
Pierre, on unexpectedly becoming Count Bezúkhov and a rich man, felt himself after his recent loneliness and freedom from cares so beset and preoccupied that only in bed was he able to be by himself. He had to sign papers, to present himself at government offices, the purpose of which was not clear to him, to question his chief steward, to visit his estate near Moscow, and to receive many people who formerly did not even wish to know of his existence but would now have been offended and grieved had he chosen not to see them. These different people—businessmen, relations, and acquaintances alike—were all disposed to treat the young heir in the most friendly and flattering manner: they were all evidently firmly convinced of Pierre’s noble qualities. He was always hearing such words as: “With your remarkable kindness,” or, “With your excellent heart,” “You are yourself so honorable, Count,” or, “Were he as clever as you,” and so on, till he began sincerely to believe in his own exceptional kindness and extraordinary intelligence, the more so as in the depth of his heart it had always seemed to him that he really was very kind and intelligent. Even people who had formerly been spiteful toward him and evidently unfriendly now became gentle and affectionate. The angry eldest princess, with the long waist and hair plastered down like a doll’s, had come into Pierre’s room after the funeral. With drooping eyes and frequent blushes she told him she was very sorry about their past misunderstandings and did not now feel she had a right to ask him for anything, except only for permission, after the blow she had received, to remain for a few weeks longer in the house she so loved and where she had sacrificed so much. She could not refrain from weeping at these words. Touched that this statuesque princess could so change, Pierre took her hand and begged her forgiveness, without knowing what for. From that day the eldest princess quite changed toward Pierre and began knitting a striped scarf for him.
“Do this for my sake, mon cher; after all, she had to put up with a great deal from the deceased,” said Prince Vasíli to him, handing him a deed to sign for the princess’ benefit.
Prince Vasíli had come to the conclusion that it was necessary to throw this bone—a bill for thirty thousand rubles—to the poor princess that it might not occur to her to speak of his share in the affair of the inlaid portfolio. Pierre signed the deed and after that the princess grew still kinder. The younger sisters also became affectionate to him, especially the youngest, the pretty one with the mole, who often made him feel confused by her smiles and her own confusion when meeting him.
It seemed so natural to Pierre that everyone should like him, and it would have seemed so unnatural had anyone disliked him, that he could not but believe in the sincerity of those around him. Besides, he had no time to ask himself whether these people were sincere or not. He was always busy and always felt in a state of mild and cheerful intoxication. He felt as though he were the center of some important and general movement; that something was constantly expected of him, that if he did not do it he would grieve and disappoint many people, but if he did this and that, all would be well; and he did what was demanded of him, but still that happy result always remained in the future.
More than anyone else, Prince Vasíli took possession of Pierre’s affairs and of Pierre himself in those early days. From the death of Count Bezúkhov he did not let go his hold of the lad. He had the air of a man oppressed by business, weary and suffering, who yet would not, for pity’s sake, leave this helpless youth who, after all, was the son of his old friend and the possessor of such enormous wealth, to the caprice of fate and the designs of rogues. During the few days he spent in Moscow after the death of Count Bezúkhov, he would call Pierre, or go to him himself, and tell him what ought to be done in a tone of weariness and assurance, as if he were adding every time: “You know I am overwhelmed with business and it is purely out of charity that I trouble myself about you, and you also know quite well that what I propose is the only thing possible.”
“Well, my dear fellow, tomorrow we are off at last,” said Prince Vasíli one day, closing his eyes and fingering Pierre’s elbow, speaking as if he were saying something which had long since been agreed upon and could not now be altered. “We start tomorrow and I’m giving you a place in my carriage. I am very glad. All our important business here is now settled, and I ought to have been off long ago. Here is something I have received from the chancellor. I asked him for you, and you have been entered in the diplomatic corps and made a Gentleman of the Bedchamber. The diplomatic career now lies open before you.”
Notwithstanding the tone of wearied assurance with which these words were pronounced, Pierre, who had so long been considering his career, wished to make some suggestion. But Prince Vasíli interrupted him in the special deep cooing tone, precluding the possibility of interrupting his speech, which he used in extreme cases when special persuasion was needed.
“Mais, mon cher, I did this for my own sake, to satisfy my conscience, and there is nothing to thank me for. No one has ever complained yet of being too much loved; and besides, you are free, you could throw it up tomorrow. But you will see everything for yourself when you get to Petersburg. It is high time for you to get away from these terrible recollections.” Prince Vasíli sighed. “Yes, yes, my boy. And my valet can go in your carriage. Ah! I was nearly forgetting,” he added. “You know, mon cher, your father and I had some accounts to settle, so I have received what was due from the Ryazán estate and will keep it; you won’t require it. We’ll go into the accounts later.”
By “what was due from the Ryazán estate” Prince Vasíli meant several thousand rubles quitrent received from Pierre’s peasants, which the prince had retained for himself.
In Petersburg, as in Moscow, Pierre found the same atmosphere of gentleness and affection. He could not refuse the post, or rather the rank (for he did nothing), that Prince Vasíli had procured for him, and acquaintances, invitations, and social occupations were so numerous that, even more than in Moscow, he felt a sense of bewilderment, bustle, and continual expectation of some good, always in front of him but never attained.
Of his former bachelor acquaintances many were no longer in Petersburg. The Guards had gone to the front; Dólokhov had been reduced to the ranks; Anatole was in the army somewhere in the provinces; Prince Andrew was abroad; so Pierre had not the opportunity to spend his nights as he used to like to spend them, or to open his mind by intimate talks with a friend older than himself and whom he respected. His whole time was taken up with dinners and balls and was spent chiefly at Prince Vasíli’s house in the company of the stout princess, his wife, and his beautiful daughter Hélène.
Like the others, Anna Pávlovna Schérer showed Pierre the change of attitude toward him that had taken place in society.
Formerly in Anna Pávlovna’s presence, Pierre had always felt that what he was saying was out of place, tactless and unsuitable, that remarks which seemed to him clever while they formed in his mind became foolish as soon as he uttered them, while on the contrary Hippolyte’s stupidest remarks came out clever and apt. Now everything Pierre said was charmant. Even if Anna Pávlovna did not say so, he could see that she wished to and only refrained out of regard for his modesty.
In the beginning of the winter of 1805-6 Pierre received one of Anna Pávlovna’s usual pink notes with an invitation to which was added: “You will find the beautiful Hélène here, whom it is always delightful to see.”
When he read that sentence, Pierre felt for the first time that some link which other people recognized had grown up between himself and Hélène, and that thought both alarmed him, as if some obligation were being imposed on him which he could not fulfill, and pleased him as an entertaining supposition.
Anna Pávlovna’s “At Home” was like the former one, only the novelty she offered her guests this time was not Mortemart, but a diplomatist fresh from Berlin with the very latest details of the Emperor Alexander’s visit to Potsdam, and of how the two august friends had pledged themselves in an indissoluble alliance to uphold the cause of justice against the enemy of the human race. Anna Pávlovna received Pierre with a shade of melancholy, evidently relating to the young man’s recent loss by the death of Count Bezúkhov (everyone constantly considered it a duty to assure Pierre that he was greatly afflicted by the death of the father he had hardly known), and her melancholy was just like the august melancholy she showed at the mention of her most august Majesty the Empress Márya Fëdorovna. Pierre felt flattered by this. Anna Pávlovna arranged the different groups in her drawing room with her habitual skill. The large group, in which were Prince Vasíli and the generals, had the benefit of the diplomat. Another group was at the tea table. Pierre wished to join the former, but Anna Pávlovna—who was in the excited condition of a commander on a battlefield to whom thousands of new and brilliant ideas occur which there is hardly time to put in action—seeing Pierre, touched his sleeve with her finger, saying:
“Wait a bit, I have something in view for you this evening.” (She glanced at Hélène and smiled at her.) “My dear Hélène, be charitable to my poor aunt who adores you. Go and keep her company for ten minutes. And that it will not be too dull, here is the dear count who will not refuse to accompany you.”
The beauty went to the aunt, but Anna Pávlovna detained Pierre, looking as if she had to give some final necessary instructions.
“Isn’t she exquisite?” she said to Pierre, pointing to the stately beauty as she glided away. “And how she carries herself! For so young a girl, such tact, such masterly perfection of manner! It comes from her heart. Happy the man who wins her! With her the least worldly of men would occupy a most brilliant position in society. Don’t you think so? I only wanted to know your opinion,” and Anna Pávlovna let Pierre go.
Pierre, in reply, sincerely agreed with her as to Hélène’s perfection of manner. If he ever thought of Hélène, it was just of her beauty and her remarkable skill in appearing silently dignified in society.
The old aunt received the two young people in her corner, but seemed desirous of hiding her adoration for Hélène and inclined rather to show her fear of Anna Pávlovna. She looked at her niece, as if inquiring what she was to do with these people. On leaving them, Anna Pávlovna again touched Pierre’s sleeve, saying: “I hope you won’t say that it is dull in my house again,” and she glanced at Hélène.
Hélène smiled, with a look implying that she did not admit the possibility of anyone seeing her without being enchanted. The aunt coughed, swallowed, and said in French that she was very pleased to see Hélène, then she turned to Pierre with the same words of welcome and the same look. In the middle of a dull and halting conversation, Hélène turned to Pierre with the beautiful bright smile that she gave to everyone. Pierre was so used to that smile, and it had so little meaning for him, that he paid no attention to it. The aunt was just speaking of a collection of snuffboxes that had belonged to Pierre’s father, Count Bezúkhov, and showed them her own box. Princess Hélène asked to see the portrait of the aunt’s husband on the box lid.
“That is probably the work of Vinesse,” said Pierre, mentioning a celebrated miniaturist, and he leaned over the table to take the snuffbox while trying to hear what was being said at the other table.
He half rose, meaning to go round, but the aunt handed him the snuffbox, passing it across Hélène’s back. Hélène stooped forward to make room, and looked round with a smile. She was, as always at evening parties, wearing a dress such as was then fashionable, cut very low at front and back. Her bust, which had always seemed like marble to Pierre, was so close to him that his shortsighted eyes could not but perceive the living charm of her neck and shoulders, so near to his lips that he need only have bent his head a little to have touched them. He was conscious of the warmth of her body, the scent of perfume, and the creaking of her corset as she moved. He did not see her marble beauty forming a complete whole with her dress, but all the charm of her body only covered by her garments. And having once seen this he could not help being aware of it, just as we cannot renew an illusion we have once seen through.
“So you have never noticed before how beautiful I am?” Hélène seemed to say. “You had not noticed that I am a woman? Yes, I am a woman who may belong to anyone—to you too,” said her glance. And at that moment Pierre felt that Hélène not only could, but must, be his wife, and that it could not be otherwise.
He knew this at that moment as surely as if he had been standing at the altar with her. How and when this would be he did not know, he did not even know if it would be a good thing (he even felt, he knew not why, that it would be a bad thing), but he knew it would happen.
Pierre dropped his eyes, lifted them again, and wished once more to see her as a distant beauty far removed from him, as he had seen her every day until then, but he could no longer do it. He could not, any more than a man who has been looking at a tuft of steppe grass through the mist and taking it for a tree can again take it for a tree after he has once recognized it to be a tuft of grass. She was terribly close to him. She already had power over him, and between them there was no longer any barrier except the barrier of his own will.
“Well, I will leave you in your little corner,” came Anna Pávlovna’s voice, “I see you are all right there.”
And Pierre, anxiously trying to remember whether he had done anything reprehensible, looked round with a blush. It seemed to him that everyone knew what had happened to him as he knew it himself.
A little later when he went up to the large circle, Anna Pávlovna said to him: “I hear you are refitting your Petersburg house?”
This was true. The architect had told him that it was necessary, and Pierre, without knowing why, was having his enormous Petersburg house done up.
“That’s a good thing, but don’t move from Prince Vasíli’s. It is good to have a friend like the prince,” she said, smiling at Prince Vasíli. “I know something about that. Don’t I? And you are still so young. You need advice. Don’t be angry with me for exercising an old woman’s privilege.”
She paused, as women always do, expecting something after they have mentioned their age. “If you marry it will be a different thing,” she continued, uniting them both in one glance. Pierre did not look at Hélène nor she at him. But she was just as terribly close to him. He muttered something and colored.
When he got home he could not sleep for a long time for thinking of what had happened. What had happened? Nothing. He had merely understood that the woman he had known as a child, of whom when her beauty was mentioned he had said absent-mindedly: “Yes, she’s good looking,” he had understood that this woman might belong to him.
“But she’s stupid. I have myself said she is stupid,” he thought. “There is something nasty, something wrong, in the feeling she excites in me. I have been told that her brother Anatole was in love with her and she with him, that there was quite a scandal and that that’s why he was sent away. Hippolyte is her brother... Prince Vasíli is her father... It’s bad....” he reflected, but while he was thinking this (the reflection was still incomplete), he caught himself smiling and was conscious that another line of thought had sprung up, and while thinking of her worthlessness he was also dreaming of how she would be his wife, how she would love him become quite different, and how all he had thought and heard of her might be false. And he again saw her not as the daughter of Prince Vasíli, but visualized her whole body only veiled by its gray dress. “But no! Why did this thought never occur to me before?” and again he told himself that it was impossible, that there would be something unnatural, and as it seemed to him dishonorable, in this marriage. He recalled her former words and looks and the words and looks of those who had seen them together. He recalled Anna Pávlovna’s words and looks when she spoke to him about his house, recalled thousands of such hints from Prince Vasíli and others, and was seized by terror lest he had already, in some way, bound himself to do something that was evidently wrong and that he ought not to do. But at the very time he was expressing this conviction to himself, in another part of his mind her image rose in all its womanly beauty.
In November, 1805, Prince Vasíli had to go on a tour of inspection in four different provinces. He had arranged this for himself so as to visit his neglected estates at the same time and pick up his son Anatole where his regiment was stationed, and take him to visit Prince Nicholas Bolkónski in order to arrange a match for him with the daughter of that rich old man. But before leaving home and undertaking these new affairs, Prince Vasíli had to settle matters with Pierre, who, it is true, had latterly spent whole days at home, that is, in Prince Vasíli’s house where he was staying, and had been absurd, excited, and foolish in Hélène’s presence (as a lover should be), but had not yet proposed to her.
“This is all very fine, but things must be settled,” said Prince Vasíli to himself, with a sorrowful sigh, one morning, feeling that Pierre who was under such obligations to him (“But never mind that”) was not behaving very well in this matter. “Youth, frivolity... well, God be with him,” thought he, relishing his own goodness of heart, “but it must be brought to a head. The day after tomorrow will be Lëlya’s name day. I will invite two or three people, and if he does not understand what he ought to do then it will be my affair—yes, my affair. I am her father.”
Six weeks after Anna Pávlovna’s “At Home” and after the sleepless night when he had decided that to marry Hélène would be a calamity and that he ought to avoid her and go away, Pierre, despite that decision, had not left Prince Vasíli’s and felt with terror that in people’s eyes he was every day more and more connected with her, that it was impossible for him to return to his former conception of her, that he could not break away from her, and that though it would be a terrible thing he would have to unite his fate with hers. He might perhaps have been able to free himself but that Prince Vasíli (who had rarely before given receptions) now hardly let a day go by without having an evening party at which Pierre had to be present unless he wished to spoil the general pleasure and disappoint everyone’s expectation. Prince Vasíli, in the rare moments when he was at home, would take Pierre’s hand in passing and draw it downwards, or absent-mindedly hold out his wrinkled, clean-shaven cheek for Pierre to kiss and would say: “Till tomorrow,” or, “Be in to dinner or I shall not see you,” or, “I am staying in for your sake,” and so on. And though Prince Vasíli, when he stayed in (as he said) for Pierre’s sake, hardly exchanged a couple of words with him, Pierre felt unable to disappoint him. Every day he said to himself one and the same thing: “It is time I understood her and made up my mind what she really is. Was I mistaken before, or am I mistaken now? No, she is not stupid, she is an excellent girl,” he sometimes said to himself “she never makes a mistake, never says anything stupid. She says little, but what she does say is always clear and simple, so she is not stupid. She never was abashed and is not abashed now, so she cannot be a bad woman!” He had often begun to make reflections or think aloud in her company, and she had always answered him either by a brief but appropriate remark—showing that it did not interest her—or by a silent look and smile which more palpably than anything else showed Pierre her superiority. She was right in regarding all arguments as nonsense in comparison with that smile.
She always addressed him with a radiantly confiding smile meant for him alone, in which there was something more significant than in the general smile that usually brightened her face. Pierre knew that everyone was waiting for him to say a word and cross a certain line, and he knew that sooner or later he would step across it, but an incomprehensible terror seized him at the thought of that dreadful step. A thousand times during that month and a half while he felt himself drawn nearer and nearer to that dreadful abyss, Pierre said to himself: “What am I doing? I need resolution. Can it be that I have none?”
He wished to take a decision, but felt with dismay that in this matter he lacked that strength of will which he had known in himself and really possessed. Pierre was one of those who are only strong when they feel themselves quite innocent, and since that day when he was overpowered by a feeling of desire while stooping over the snuffbox at Anna Pávlovna’s, an unacknowledged sense of the guilt of that desire paralyzed his will.
On Hélène’s name day, a small party of just their own people—as his wife said—met for supper at Prince Vasíli’s. All these friends and relations had been given to understand that the fate of the young girl would be decided that evening. The visitors were seated at supper. Princess Kurágina, a portly imposing woman who had once been handsome, was sitting at the head of the table. On either side of her sat the more important guests—an old general and his wife, and Anna Pávlovna Schérer. At the other end sat the younger and less important guests, and there too sat the members of the family, and Pierre and Hélène, side by side. Prince Vasíli was not having any supper: he went round the table in a merry mood, sitting down now by one, now by another, of the guests. To each of them he made some careless and agreeable remark except to Pierre and Hélène, whose presence he seemed not to notice. He enlivened the whole party. The wax candles burned brightly, the silver and crystal gleamed, so did the ladies’ toilets and the gold and silver of the men’s epaulets; servants in scarlet liveries moved round the table, the clatter of plates, knives, and glasses mingled with the animated hum of several conversations. At one end of the table, the old chamberlain was heard assuring an old baroness that he loved her passionately, at which she laughed; at the other could be heard the story of the misfortunes of some Mary Víktorovna or other. At the center of the table, Prince Vasíli attracted everybody’s attention. With a facetious smile on his face, he was telling the ladies about last Wednesday’s meeting of the Imperial Council, at which Sergéy Kuzmích Vyazmítinov, the new military governor general of Petersburg, had received and read the then famous rescript of the Emperor Alexander from the army to Sergéy Kuzmích, in which the Emperor said that he was receiving from all sides declarations of the people’s loyalty, that the declaration from Petersburg gave him particular pleasure, and that he was proud to be at the head of such a nation and would endeavor to be worthy of it. This rescript began with the words: “Sergéy Kuzmích, From all sides reports reach me,” etc.
“Well, and so he never got farther than: ‘Sergéy Kuzmích’?” asked one of the ladies.
“Exactly, not a hair’s breadth farther,” answered Prince Vasíli, laughing, “‘Sergéy Kuzmích... From all sides... From all sides... Sergéy Kuzmích...’ Poor Vyazmítinov could not get any farther! He began the rescript again and again, but as soon as he uttered ‘Sergéy’ he sobbed, ‘Kuz-mí-ch,’ tears, and ‘From all sides’ was smothered in sobs and he could get no farther. And again his handkerchief, and again: ‘Sergéy Kuzmích, From all sides,’... and tears, till at last somebody else was asked to read it.”
“Kuzmích... From all sides... and then tears,” someone repeated laughing.
“Don’t be unkind,” cried Anna Pávlovna from her end of the table holding up a threatening finger. “He is such a worthy and excellent man, our dear Vyazmítinov....”
Everybody laughed a great deal. At the head of the table, where the honored guests sat, everyone seemed to be in high spirits and under the influence of a variety of exciting sensations. Only Pierre and Hélène sat silently side by side almost at the bottom of the table, a suppressed smile brightening both their faces, a smile that had nothing to do with Sergéy Kuzmích—a smile of bashfulness at their own feelings. But much as all the rest laughed, talked, and joked, much as they enjoyed their Rhine wine, sauté, and ices, and however they avoided looking at the young couple, and heedless and unobservant as they seemed of them, one could feel by the occasional glances they gave that the story about Sergéy Kuzmích, the laughter, and the food were all a pretense, and that the whole attention of that company was directed to—Pierre and Hélène. Prince Vasíli mimicked the sobbing of Sergéy Kuzmích and at the same time his eyes glanced toward his daughter, and while he laughed the expression on his face clearly said: “Yes... it’s getting on, it will all be settled today.” Anna Pávlovna threatened him on behalf of “our dear Vyazmítinov,” and in her eyes, which, for an instant, glanced at Pierre, Prince Vasíli read a congratulation on his future son-in-law and on his daughter’s happiness. The old princess sighed sadly as she offered some wine to the old lady next to her and glanced angrily at her daughter, and her sigh seemed to say: “Yes, there’s nothing left for you and me but to sip sweet wine, my dear, now that the time has come for these young ones to be thus boldly, provocatively happy.” “And what nonsense all this is that I am saying!” thought a diplomatist, glancing at the happy faces of the lovers. “That’s happiness!”
Into the insignificant, trifling, and artificial interests uniting that society had entered the simple feeling of the attraction of a healthy and handsome young man and woman for one another. And this human feeling dominated everything else and soared above all their affected chatter. Jests fell flat, news was not interesting, and the animation was evidently forced. Not only the guests but even the footmen waiting at table seemed to feel this, and they forgot their duties as they looked at the beautiful Hélène with her radiant face and at the red, broad, and happy though uneasy face of Pierre. It seemed as if the very light of the candles was focused on those two happy faces alone.
Pierre felt that he was the center of it all, and this both pleased and embarrassed him. He was like a man entirely absorbed in some occupation. He did not see, hear, or understand anything clearly. Only now and then detached ideas and impressions from the world of reality shot unexpectedly through his mind.
“So it is all finished!” he thought. “And how has it all happened? How quickly! Now I know that not because of her alone, nor of myself alone, but because of everyone, it must inevitably come about. They are all expecting it, they are so sure that it will happen that I cannot, I cannot, disappoint them. But how will it be? I do not know, but it will certainly happen!” thought Pierre, glancing at those dazzling shoulders close to his eyes.
Or he would suddenly feel ashamed of he knew not what. He felt it awkward to attract everyone’s attention and to be considered a lucky man and, with his plain face, to be looked on as a sort of Paris possessed of a Helen. “But no doubt it always is and must be so!” he consoled himself. “And besides, what have I done to bring it about? How did it begin? I traveled from Moscow with Prince Vasíli. Then there was nothing. So why should I not stay at his house? Then I played cards with her and picked up her reticule and drove out with her. How did it begin, when did it all come about?” And here he was sitting by her side as her betrothed, seeing, hearing, feeling her nearness, her breathing, her movements, her beauty. Then it would suddenly seem to him that it was not she but he was so unusually beautiful, and that that was why they all looked so at him, and flattered by this general admiration he would expand his chest, raise his head, and rejoice at his good fortune. Suddenly he heard a familiar voice repeating something to him a second time. But Pierre was so absorbed that he did not understand what was said.
“I am asking you when you last heard from Bolkónski,” repeated Prince Vasíli a third time. “How absent-minded you are, my dear fellow.”
Prince Vasíli smiled, and Pierre noticed that everyone was smiling at him and Hélène. “Well, what of it, if you all know it?” thought Pierre. “What of it? It’s the truth!” and he himself smiled his gentle childlike smile, and Hélène smiled too.
“When did you get the letter? Was it from Olmütz?” repeated Prince Vasíli, who pretended to want to know this in order to settle a dispute.
“How can one talk or think of such trifles?” thought Pierre.
“Yes, from Olmütz,” he answered, with a sigh.
After supper Pierre with his partner followed the others into the drawing room. The guests began to disperse, some without taking leave of Hélène. Some, as if unwilling to distract her from an important occupation, came up to her for a moment and made haste to go away, refusing to let her see them off. The diplomatist preserved a mournful silence as he left the drawing room. He pictured the vanity of his diplomatic career in comparison with Pierre’s happiness. The old general grumbled at his wife when she asked how his leg was. “Oh, the old fool,” he thought. “That Princess Hélène will be beautiful still when she’s fifty.”
“I think I may congratulate you,” whispered Anna Pávlovna to the old princess, kissing her soundly. “If I hadn’t this headache I’d have stayed longer.”
The old princess did not reply, she was tormented by jealousy of her daughter’s happiness.
While the guests were taking their leave Pierre remained for a long time alone with Hélène in the little drawing room where they were sitting. He had often before, during the last six weeks, remained alone with her, but had never spoken to her of love. Now he felt that it was inevitable, but he could not make up his mind to take the final step. He felt ashamed; he felt that he was occupying someone else’s place here beside Hélène. “This happiness is not for you,” some inner voice whispered to him. “This happiness is for those who have not in them what there is in you.”
But, as he had to say something, he began by asking her whether she was satisfied with the party. She replied in her usual simple manner that this name day of hers had been one of the pleasantest she had ever had.
Some of the nearest relatives had not yet left. They were sitting in the large drawing room. Prince Vasíli came up to Pierre with languid footsteps. Pierre rose and said it was getting late. Prince Vasíli gave him a look of stern inquiry, as though what Pierre had just said was so strange that one could not take it in. But then the expression of severity changed, and he drew Pierre’s hand downwards, made him sit down, and smiled affectionately.
“Well, Lëlya?” he asked, turning instantly to his daughter and addressing her with the careless tone of habitual tenderness natural to parents who have petted their children from babyhood, but which Prince Vasíli had only acquired by imitating other parents.
And he again turned to Pierre.
“Sergéy Kuzmích—From all sides—” he said, unbuttoning the top button of his waistcoat.
Pierre smiled, but his smile showed that he knew it was not the story about Sergéy Kuzmích that interested Prince Vasíli just then, and Prince Vasíli saw that Pierre knew this. He suddenly muttered something and went away. It seemed to Pierre that even the prince was disconcerted. The sight of the discomposure of that old man of the world touched Pierre: he looked at Hélène and she too seemed disconcerted, and her look seemed to say: “Well, it is your own fault.”
“The step must be taken but I cannot, I cannot!” thought Pierre, and he again began speaking about indifferent matters, about Sergéy Kuzmích, asking what the point of the story was as he had not heard it properly. Hélène answered with a smile that she too had missed it.
When Prince Vasíli returned to the drawing room, the princess, his wife, was talking in low tones to the elderly lady about Pierre.
“Of course, it is a very brilliant match, but happiness, my dear...”
“Marriages are made in heaven,” replied the elderly lady.
Prince Vasíli passed by, seeming not to hear the ladies, and sat down on a sofa in a far corner of the room. He closed his eyes and seemed to be dozing. His head sank forward and then he roused himself.
“Aline,” he said to his wife, “go and see what they are about.”
The princess went up to the door, passed by it with a dignified and indifferent air, and glanced into the little drawing room. Pierre and Hélène still sat talking just as before.
“Still the same,” she said to her husband.
Prince Vasíli frowned, twisting his mouth, his cheeks quivered and his face assumed the coarse, unpleasant expression peculiar to him. Shaking himself, he rose, threw back his head, and with resolute steps went past the ladies into the little drawing room. With quick steps he went joyfully up to Pierre. His face was so unusually triumphant that Pierre rose in alarm on seeing it.
“Thank God!” said Prince Vasíli. “My wife has told me everything!” (He put one arm around Pierre and the other around his daughter.)—“My dear boy... Lëlya... I am very pleased.” (His voice trembled.) “I loved your father... and she will make you a good wife... God bless you!...”
He embraced his daughter, and then again Pierre, and kissed him with his malodorous mouth. Tears actually moistened his cheeks.
“Princess, come here!” he shouted.
The old princess came in and also wept. The elderly lady was using her handkerchief too. Pierre was kissed, and he kissed the beautiful Hélène’s hand several times. After a while they were left alone again.
“All this had to be and could not be otherwise,” thought Pierre, “so it is useless to ask whether it is good or bad. It is good because it’s definite and one is rid of the old tormenting doubt.” Pierre held the hand of his betrothed in silence, looking at her beautiful bosom as it rose and fell.
“Hélène!” he said aloud and paused.
“Something special is always said in such cases,” he thought, but could not remember what it was that people say. He looked at her face. She drew nearer to him. Her face flushed.
“Oh, take those off... those...” she said, pointing to his spectacles.
Pierre took them off, and his eyes, besides the strange look eyes have from which spectacles have just been removed, had also a frightened and inquiring look. He was about to stoop over her hand and kiss it, but with a rapid, almost brutal movement of her head, she intercepted his lips and met them with her own. Her face struck Pierre, by its altered, unpleasantly excited expression.
“It is too late now, it’s done; besides I love her,” thought Pierre.
“Je vous aime!” * he said, remembering what has to be said at such moments: but his words sounded so weak that he felt ashamed of himself.
Six weeks later he was married, and settled in Count Bezúkhov’s large, newly furnished Petersburg house, the happy possessor, as people said, of a wife who was a celebrated beauty and of millions of money.
Old Prince Nicholas Bolkónski received a letter from Prince Vasíli in November, 1805, announcing that he and his son would be paying him a visit. “I am starting on a journey of inspection, and of course I shall think nothing of an extra seventy miles to come and see you at the same time, my honored benefactor,” wrote Prince Vasíli. “My son Anatole is accompanying me on his way to the army, so I hope you will allow him personally to express the deep respect that, emulating his father, he feels for you.”
“It seems that there will be no need to bring Mary out, suitors are coming to us of their own accord,” incautiously remarked the little princess on hearing the news.
Prince Nicholas frowned, but said nothing.
A fortnight after the letter Prince Vasíli’s servants came one evening in advance of him, and he and his son arrived next day.
Old Bolkónski had always had a poor opinion of Prince Vasíli’s character, but more so recently, since in the new reigns of Paul and Alexander Prince Vasíli had risen to high position and honors. And now, from the hints contained in his letter and given by the little princess, he saw which way the wind was blowing, and his low opinion changed into a feeling of contemptuous ill will. He snorted whenever he mentioned him. On the day of Prince Vasíli’s arrival, Prince Bolkónski was particularly discontented and out of temper. Whether he was in a bad temper because Prince Vasíli was coming, or whether his being in a bad temper made him specially annoyed at Prince Vasíli’s visit, he was in a bad temper, and in the morning Tíkhon had already advised the architect not to go to the prince with his report.
“Do you hear how he’s walking?” said Tíkhon, drawing the architect’s attention to the sound of the prince’s footsteps. “Stepping flat on his heels—we know what that means....”
However, at nine o’clock the prince, in his velvet coat with a sable collar and cap, went out for his usual walk. It had snowed the day before and the path to the hothouse, along which the prince was in the habit of walking, had been swept: the marks of the broom were still visible in the snow and a shovel had been left sticking in one of the soft snowbanks that bordered both sides of the path. The prince went through the conservatories, the serfs’ quarters, and the outbuildings, frowning and silent.
“Can a sleigh pass?” he asked his overseer, a venerable man, resembling his master in manners and looks, who was accompanying him back to the house.
“The snow is deep. I am having the avenue swept, your honor.”
The prince bowed his head and went up to the porch. “God be thanked,” thought the overseer, “the storm has blown over!”
“It would have been hard to drive up, your honor,” he added. “I heard, your honor, that a minister is coming to visit your honor.”
The prince turned round to the overseer and fixed his eyes on him, frowning.
“What? A minister? What minister? Who gave orders?” he said in his shrill, harsh voice. “The road is not swept for the princess my daughter, but for a minister! For me, there are no ministers!”
“Your honor, I thought...”
“You thought!” shouted the prince, his words coming more and more rapidly and indistinctly. “You thought!... Rascals! Blackguards!... I’ll teach you to think!” and lifting his stick he swung it and would have hit Alpátych, the overseer, had not the latter instinctively avoided the blow. “Thought... Blackguards...” shouted the prince rapidly.
But although Alpátych, frightened at his own temerity in avoiding the stroke, came up to the prince, bowing his bald head resignedly before him, or perhaps for that very reason, the prince, though he continued to shout: “Blackguards!... Throw the snow back on the road!” did not lift his stick again but hurried into the house.
Before dinner, Princess Mary and Mademoiselle Bourienne, who knew that the prince was in a bad humor, stood awaiting him; Mademoiselle Bourienne with a radiant face that said: “I know nothing, I am the same as usual,” and Princess Mary pale, frightened, and with downcast eyes. What she found hardest to bear was to know that on such occasions she ought to behave like Mademoiselle Bourienne, but could not. She thought: “If I seem not to notice he will think that I do not sympathize with him; if I seem sad and out of spirits myself, he will say (as he has done before) that I’m in the dumps.”
The prince looked at his daughter’s frightened face and snorted.
“Fool... or dummy!” he muttered.
“And the other one is not here. They’ve been telling tales,” he thought—referring to the little princess who was not in the dining room.
“Where is the princess?” he asked. “Hiding?”
“She is not very well,” answered Mademoiselle Bourienne with a bright smile, “so she won’t come down. It is natural in her state.”
“Hm! Hm!” muttered the prince, sitting down.
His plate seemed to him not quite clean, and pointing to a spot he flung it away. Tíkhon caught it and handed it to a footman. The little princess was not unwell, but had such an overpowering fear of the prince that, hearing he was in a bad humor, she had decided not to appear.
“I am afraid for the baby,” she said to Mademoiselle Bourienne: “Heaven knows what a fright might do.”
In general at Bald Hills the little princess lived in constant fear, and with a sense of antipathy to the old prince which she did not realize because the fear was so much the stronger feeling. The prince reciprocated this antipathy, but it was overpowered by his contempt for her. When the little princess had grown accustomed to life at Bald Hills, she took a special fancy to Mademoiselle Bourienne, spent whole days with her, asked her to sleep in her room, and often talked with her about the old prince and criticized him.
“So we are to have visitors, mon prince?” remarked Mademoiselle Bourienne, unfolding her white napkin with her rosy fingers. “His Excellency Prince Vasíli Kurágin and his son, I understand?” she said inquiringly.
“Hm!—his excellency is a puppy.... I got him his appointment in the service,” said the prince disdainfully. “Why his son is coming I don’t understand. Perhaps Princess Elizabeth and Princess Mary know. I don’t want him.” (He looked at his blushing daughter.) “Are you unwell today? Eh? Afraid of the ‘minister’ as that idiot Alpátych called him this morning?”
“No, mon père.”
Though Mademoiselle Bourienne had been so unsuccessful in her choice of a subject, she did not stop talking, but chattered about the conservatories and the beauty of a flower that had just opened, and after the soup the prince became more genial.
After dinner, he went to see his daughter-in-law. The little princess was sitting at a small table, chattering with Másha, her maid. She grew pale on seeing her father-in-law.
She was much altered. She was now plain rather than pretty. Her cheeks had sunk, her lip was drawn up, and her eyes drawn down.
“Yes, I feel a kind of oppression,” she said in reply to the prince’s question as to how she felt.
“Do you want anything?”
“No, merci, mon père.”
“Well, all right, all right.”
He left the room and went to the waiting room where Alpátych stood with bowed head.
“Has the snow been shoveled back?”
“Yes, your excellency. Forgive me for heaven’s sake... It was only my stupidity.”
“All right, all right,” interrupted the prince, and laughing his unnatural way, he stretched out his hand for Alpátych to kiss, and then proceeded to his study.
Prince Vasíli arrived that evening. He was met in the avenue by coachmen and footmen, who, with loud shouts, dragged his sleighs up to one of the lodges over the road purposely laden with snow.
Prince Vasíli and Anatole had separate rooms assigned to them.
Anatole, having taken off his overcoat, sat with arms akimbo before a table on a corner of which he smilingly and absent-mindedly fixed his large and handsome eyes. He regarded his whole life as a continual round of amusement which someone for some reason had to provide for him. And he looked on this visit to a churlish old man and a rich and ugly heiress in the same way. All this might, he thought, turn out very well and amusingly. “And why not marry her if she really has so much money? That never does any harm,” thought Anatole.
He shaved and scented himself with the care and elegance which had become habitual to him and, his handsome head held high, entered his father’s room with the good-humored and victorious air natural to him. Prince Vasíli’s two valets were busy dressing him, and he looked round with much animation and cheerfully nodded to his son as the latter entered, as if to say: “Yes, that’s how I want you to look.”
“I say, Father, joking apart, is she very hideous?” Anatole asked, as if continuing a conversation the subject of which had often been mentioned during the journey.
“Enough! What nonsense! Above all, try to be respectful and cautious with the old prince.”
“If he starts a row I’ll go away,” said Prince Anatole. “I can’t bear those old men! Eh?”
“Remember, for you everything depends on this.”
In the meantime, not only was it known in the maidservants’ rooms that the minister and his son had arrived, but the appearance of both had been minutely described. Princess Mary was sitting alone in her room, vainly trying to master her agitation.
“Why did they write, why did Lise tell me about it? It can never happen!” she said, looking at herself in the glass. “How shall I enter the drawing room? Even if I like him I can’t now be myself with him.” The mere thought of her father’s look filled her with terror. The little princess and Mademoiselle Bourienne had already received from Másha, the lady’s maid, the necessary report of how handsome the minister’s son was, with his rosy cheeks and dark eyebrows, and with what difficulty the father had dragged his legs upstairs while the son had followed him like an eagle, three steps at a time. Having received this information, the little princess and Mademoiselle Bourienne, whose chattering voices had reached her from the corridor, went into Princess Mary’s room.
“You know they’ve come, Marie?” said the little princess, waddling in, and sinking heavily into an armchair.
She was no longer in the loose gown she generally wore in the morning, but had on one of her best dresses. Her hair was carefully done and her face was animated, which, however, did not conceal its sunken and faded outlines. Dressed as she used to be in Petersburg society, it was still more noticeable how much plainer she had become. Some unobtrusive touch had been added to Mademoiselle Bourienne’s toilet which rendered her fresh and pretty face yet more attractive.
“What! Are you going to remain as you are, dear princess?” she began. “They’ll be announcing that the gentlemen are in the drawing room and we shall have to go down, and you have not smartened yourself up at all!”
The little princess got up, rang for the maid, and hurriedly and merrily began to devise and carry out a plan of how Princess Mary should be dressed. Princess Mary’s self-esteem was wounded by the fact that the arrival of a suitor agitated her, and still more so by both her companions’ not having the least conception that it could be otherwise. To tell them that she felt ashamed for herself and for them would be to betray her agitation, while to decline their offers to dress her would prolong their banter and insistence. She flushed, her beautiful eyes grew dim, red blotches came on her face, and it took on the unattractive martyrlike expression it so often wore, as she submitted herself to Mademoiselle Bourienne and Lise. Both these women quite sincerely tried to make her look pretty. She was so plain that neither of them could think of her as a rival, so they began dressing her with perfect sincerity, and with the naïve and firm conviction women have that dress can make a face pretty.
“No really, my dear, this dress is not pretty,” said Lise, looking sideways at Princess Mary from a little distance. “You have a maroon dress, have it fetched. Really! You know the fate of your whole life may be at stake. But this one is too light, it’s not becoming!”
It was not the dress, but the face and whole figure of Princess Mary that was not pretty, but neither Mademoiselle Bourienne nor the little princess felt this; they still thought that if a blue ribbon were placed in the hair, the hair combed up, and the blue scarf arranged lower on the best maroon dress, and so on, all would be well. They forgot that the frightened face and the figure could not be altered, and that however they might change the setting and adornment of that face, it would still remain piteous and plain. After two or three changes to which Princess Mary meekly submitted, just as her hair had been arranged on the top of her head (a style that quite altered and spoiled her looks) and she had put on a maroon dress with a pale-blue scarf, the little princess walked twice round her, now adjusting a fold of the dress with her little hand, now arranging the scarf and looking at her with her head bent first on one side and then on the other.
“No, it will not do,” she said decidedly, clasping her hands. “No, Mary, really this dress does not suit you. I prefer you in your little gray everyday dress. Now please, do it for my sake. Katie,” she said to the maid, “bring the princess her gray dress, and you’ll see, Mademoiselle Bourienne, how I shall arrange it,” she added, smiling with a foretaste of artistic pleasure.
But when Katie brought the required dress, Princess Mary remained sitting motionless before the glass, looking at her face, and saw in the mirror her eyes full of tears and her mouth quivering, ready to burst into sobs.
“Come, dear princess,” said Mademoiselle Bourienne, “just one more little effort.”
The little princess, taking the dress from the maid, came up to Princess Mary.
“Well, now we’ll arrange something quite simple and becoming,” she said.
The three voices, hers, Mademoiselle Bourienne’s, and Katie’s, who was laughing at something, mingled in a merry sound, like the chirping of birds.
“No, leave me alone,” said Princess Mary.
Her voice sounded so serious and so sad that the chirping of the birds was silenced at once. They looked at the beautiful, large, thoughtful eyes full of tears and of thoughts, gazing shiningly and imploringly at them, and understood that it was useless and even cruel to insist.
“At least, change your coiffure,” said the little princess. “Didn’t I tell you,” she went on, turning reproachfully to Mademoiselle Bourienne, “Mary’s is a face which such a coiffure does not suit in the least. Not in the least! Please change it.”
“Leave me alone, please leave me alone! It is all quite the same to me,” answered a voice struggling with tears.
Mademoiselle Bourienne and the little princess had to own to themselves that Princess Mary in this guise looked very plain, worse than usual, but it was too late. She was looking at them with an expression they both knew, an expression thoughtful and sad. This expression in Princess Mary did not frighten them (she never inspired fear in anyone), but they knew that when it appeared on her face, she became mute and was not to be shaken in her determination.
“You will change it, won’t you?” said Lise. And as Princess Mary gave no answer, she left the room.
Princess Mary was left alone. She did not comply with Lise’s request, she not only left her hair as it was, but did not even look in her glass. Letting her arms fall helplessly, she sat with downcast eyes and pondered. A husband, a man, a strong dominant and strangely attractive being rose in her imagination, and carried her into a totally different happy world of his own. She fancied a child, her own—such as she had seen the day before in the arms of her nurse’s daughter—at her own breast, the husband standing by and gazing tenderly at her and the child. “But no, it is impossible, I am too ugly,” she thought.
“Please come to tea. The prince will be out in a moment,” came the maid’s voice at the door.
She roused herself, and felt appalled at what she had been thinking, and before going down she went into the room where the icons hung and, her eyes fixed on the dark face of a large icon of the Saviour lit by a lamp, she stood before it with folded hands for a few moments. A painful doubt filled her soul. Could the joy of love, of earthly love for a man, be for her? In her thoughts of marriage Princess Mary dreamed of happiness and of children, but her strongest, most deeply hidden longing was for earthly love. The more she tried to hide this feeling from others and even from herself, the stronger it grew. “O God,” she said, “how am I to stifle in my heart these temptations of the devil? How am I to renounce forever these vile fancies, so as peacefully to fulfill Thy will?” And scarcely had she put that question than God gave her the answer in her own heart. “Desire nothing for thyself, seek nothing, be not anxious or envious. Man’s future and thy own fate must remain hidden from thee, but live so that thou mayest be ready for anything. If it be God’s will to prove thee in the duties of marriage, be ready to fulfill His will.” With this consoling thought (but yet with a hope for the fulfillment of her forbidden earthly longing) Princess Mary sighed, and having crossed herself went down, thinking neither of her gown and coiffure nor of how she would go in nor of what she would say. What could all that matter in comparison with the will of God, without Whose care not a hair of man’s head can fall?