During the entr’acte a whiff of cold air came into Hélène’s box, the door opened, and Anatole entered, stooping and trying not to brush against anyone.
“Let me introduce my brother to you,” said Hélène, her eyes shifting uneasily from Natásha to Anatole.
Natásha turned her pretty little head toward the elegant young officer and smiled at him over her bare shoulder. Anatole, who was as handsome at close quarters as at a distance, sat down beside her and told her he had long wished to have this happiness—ever since the Narýshkins’ ball in fact, at which he had had the well-remembered pleasure of seeing her. Kurágin was much more sensible and simple with women than among men. He talked boldly and naturally, and Natásha was strangely and agreeably struck by the fact that there was nothing formidable in this man about whom there was so much talk, but that on the contrary his smile was most naïve, cheerful, and good-natured.
Kurágin asked her opinion of the performance and told her how at a previous performance Semënova had fallen down on the stage.
“And do you know, Countess,” he said, suddenly addressing her as an old, familiar acquaintance, “we are getting up a costume tournament; you ought to take part in it! It will be great fun. We shall all meet at the Karágins’! Please come! No! Really, eh?” said he.
While saying this he never removed his smiling eyes from her face, her neck, and her bare arms. Natásha knew for certain that he was enraptured by her. This pleased her, yet his presence made her feel constrained and oppressed. When she was not looking at him she felt that he was looking at her shoulders, and she involuntarily caught his eye so that he should look into hers rather than this. But looking into his eyes she was frightened, realizing that there was not that barrier of modesty she had always felt between herself and other men. She did not know how it was that within five minutes she had come to feel herself terribly near to this man. When she turned away she feared he might seize her from behind by her bare arm and kiss her on the neck. They spoke of most ordinary things, yet she felt that they were closer to one another than she had ever been to any man. Natásha kept turning to Hélène and to her father, as if asking what it all meant, but Hélène was engaged in conversation with a general and did not answer her look, and her father’s eyes said nothing but what they always said: “Having a good time? Well, I’m glad of it!”
During one of these moments of awkward silence when Anatole’s prominent eyes were gazing calmly and fixedly at her, Natásha, to break the silence, asked him how he liked Moscow. She asked the question and blushed. She felt all the time that by talking to him she was doing something improper. Anatole smiled as though to encourage her.
“At first I did not like it much, because what makes a town pleasant ce sont les jolies femmes, * isn’t that so? But now I like it very much indeed,” he said, looking at her significantly. “You’ll come to the costume tournament, Countess? Do come!” and putting out his hand to her bouquet and dropping his voice, he added, “You will be the prettiest there. Do come, dear countess, and give me this flower as a pledge!”
Natásha did not understand what he was saying any more than he did himself, but she felt that his incomprehensible words had an improper intention. She did not know what to say and turned away as if she had not heard his remark. But as soon as she had turned away she felt that he was there, behind, so close behind her.
“How is he now? Confused? Angry? Ought I to put it right?” she asked herself, and she could not refrain from turning round. She looked straight into his eyes, and his nearness, self-assurance, and the good-natured tenderness of his smile vanquished her. She smiled just as he was doing, gazing straight into his eyes. And again she felt with horror that no barrier lay between him and her.
The curtain rose again. Anatole left the box, serene and gay. Natásha went back to her father in the other box, now quite submissive to the world she found herself in. All that was going on before her now seemed quite natural, but on the other hand all her previous thoughts of her betrothed, of Princess Mary, or of life in the country did not once recur to her mind and were as if belonging to a remote past.
In the fourth act there was some sort of devil who sang waving his arm about, till the boards were withdrawn from under him and he disappeared down below. That was the only part of the fourth act that Natásha saw. She felt agitated and tormented, and the cause of this was Kurágin whom she could not help watching. As they were leaving the theater Anatole came up to them, called their carriage, and helped them in. As he was putting Natásha in he pressed her arm above the elbow. Agitated and flushed she turned round. He was looking at her with glittering eyes, smiling tenderly.
Only after she had reached home was Natásha able clearly to think over what had happened to her, and suddenly remembering Prince Andrew she was horrified, and at tea to which all had sat down after the opera, she gave a loud exclamation, flushed, and ran out of the room.
“O God! I am lost!” she said to herself. “How could I let him?” She sat for a long time hiding her flushed face in her hands trying to realize what had happened to her, but was unable either to understand what had happened or what she felt. Everything seemed dark, obscure, and terrible. There in that enormous, illuminated theater where the bare-legged Duport, in a tinsel-decorated jacket, jumped about to the music on wet boards, and young girls and old men, and the nearly naked Hélène with her proud, calm smile, rapturously cried “bravo!”—there in the presence of that Hélène it had all seemed clear and simple; but now, alone by herself, it was incomprehensible. “What is it? What was that terror I felt of him? What is this gnawing of conscience I am feeling now?” she thought.
Only to the old countess at night in bed could Natásha have told all she was feeling. She knew that Sónya with her severe and simple views would either not understand it at all or would be horrified at such a confession. So Natásha tried to solve what was torturing her by herself.
“Am I spoiled for Andrew’s love or not?” she asked herself, and with soothing irony replied: “What a fool I am to ask that! What did happen to me? Nothing! I have done nothing, I didn’t lead him on at all. Nobody will know and I shall never see him again,” she told herself. “So it is plain that nothing has happened and there is nothing to repent of, and Andrew can love me still. But why ‘still?’ O God, why isn’t he here?” Natásha quieted herself for a moment, but again some instinct told her that though all this was true, and though nothing had happened, yet the former purity of her love for Prince Andrew had perished. And again in imagination she went over her whole conversation with Kurágin, and again saw the face, gestures, and tender smile of that bold handsome man when he pressed her arm.
Anatole Kurágin was staying in Moscow because his father had sent him away from Petersburg, where he had been spending twenty thousand rubles a year in cash, besides running up debts for as much more, which his creditors demanded from his father.
His father announced to him that he would now pay half his debts for the last time, but only on condition that he went to Moscow as adjutant to the commander in chief—a post his father had procured for him—and would at last try to make a good match there. He indicated to him Princess Mary and Julie Karágina.
Anatole consented and went to Moscow, where he put up at Pierre’s house. Pierre received him unwillingly at first, but got used to him after a while, sometimes even accompanied him on his carousals, and gave him money under the guise of loans.
As Shinshín had remarked, from the time of his arrival Anatole had turned the heads of the Moscow ladies, especially by the fact that he slighted them and plainly preferred the gypsy girls and French actresses—with the chief of whom, Mademoiselle George, he was said to be on intimate relations. He had never missed a carousal at Danílov’s or other Moscow revelers’, drank whole nights through, outvying everyone else, and was at all the balls and parties of the best society. There was talk of his intrigues with some of the ladies, and he flirted with a few of them at the balls. But he did not run after the unmarried girls, especially the rich heiresses who were most of them plain. There was a special reason for this, as he had got married two years before—a fact known only to his most intimate friends. At that time while with his regiment in Poland, a Polish landowner of small means had forced him to marry his daughter. Anatole had very soon abandoned his wife and, for a payment which he agreed to send to his father-in-law, had arranged to be free to pass himself off as a bachelor.
Anatole was always content with his position, with himself, and with others. He was instinctively and thoroughly convinced that it was impossible for him to live otherwise than as he did and that he had never in his life done anything base. He was incapable of considering how his actions might affect others or what the consequences of this or that action of his might be. He was convinced that, as a duck is so made that it must live in water, so God had made him such that he must spend thirty thousand rubles a year and always occupy a prominent position in society. He believed this so firmly that others, looking at him, were persuaded of it too and did not refuse him either a leading place in society or money, which he borrowed from anyone and everyone and evidently would not repay.
He was not a gambler, at any rate he did not care about winning. He was not vain. He did not mind what people thought of him. Still less could he be accused of ambition. More than once he had vexed his father by spoiling his own career, and he laughed at distinctions of all kinds. He was not mean, and did not refuse anyone who asked of him. All he cared about was gaiety and women, and as according to his ideas there was nothing dishonorable in these tastes, and he was incapable of considering what the gratification of his tastes entailed for others, he honestly considered himself irreproachable, sincerely despised rogues and bad people, and with a tranquil conscience carried his head high.
Rakes, those male Magdalenes, have a secret feeling of innocence similar to that which female Magdalenes have, based on the same hope of forgiveness. “All will be forgiven her, for she loved much; and all will be forgiven him, for he enjoyed much.”
Dólokhov, who had reappeared that year in Moscow after his exile and his Persian adventures, and was leading a life of luxury, gambling, and dissipation, associated with his old Petersburg comrade Kurágin and made use of him for his own ends.
Anatole was sincerely fond of Dólokhov for his cleverness and audacity. Dólokhov, who needed Anatole Kurágin’s name, position, and connections as a bait to draw rich young men into his gambling set, made use of him and amused himself at his expense without letting the other feel it. Apart from the advantage he derived from Anatole, the very process of dominating another’s will was in itself a pleasure, a habit, and a necessity to Dólokhov.
Natásha had made a strong impression on Kurágin. At supper after the opera he described to Dólokhov with the air of a connoisseur the attractions of her arms, shoulders, feet, and hair and expressed his intention of making love to her. Anatole had no notion and was incapable of considering what might come of such love-making, as he never had any notion of the outcome of any of his actions.
“She’s first-rate, my dear fellow, but not for us,” replied Dólokhov.
“I will tell my sister to ask her to dinner,” said Anatole. “Eh?”
“You’d better wait till she’s married....”
“You know, I adore little girls, they lose their heads at once,” pursued Anatole.
“You have been caught once already by a ‘little girl,’” said Dólokhov who knew of Kurágin’s marriage. “Take care!”
“Well, that can’t happen twice! Eh?” said Anatole, with a good-humored laugh.
The day after the opera the Rostóvs went nowhere and nobody came to see them. Márya Dmítrievna talked to the count about something which they concealed from Natásha. Natásha guessed they were talking about the old prince and planning something, and this disquieted and offended her. She was expecting Prince Andrew any moment and twice that day sent a manservant to the Vozdvízhenka to ascertain whether he had come. He had not arrived. She suffered more now than during her first days in Moscow. To her impatience and pining for him were now added the unpleasant recollection of her interview with Princess Mary and the old prince, and a fear and anxiety of which she did not understand the cause. She continually fancied that either he would never come or that something would happen to her before he came. She could no longer think of him by herself calmly and continuously as she had done before. As soon as she began to think of him, the recollection of the old prince, of Princess Mary, of the theater, and of Kurágin mingled with her thoughts. The question again presented itself whether she was not guilty, whether she had not already broken faith with Prince Andrew, and again she found herself recalling to the minutest detail every word, every gesture, and every shade in the play of expression on the face of the man who had been able to arouse in her such an incomprehensible and terrifying feeling. To the family Natásha seemed livelier than usual, but she was far less tranquil and happy than before.
On Sunday morning Márya Dmítrievna invited her visitors to Mass at her parish church—the Church of the Assumption built over the graves of victims of the plague.
“I don’t like those fashionable churches,” she said, evidently priding herself on her independence of thought. “God is the same everywhere. We have an excellent priest, he conducts the service decently and with dignity, and the deacon is the same. What holiness is there in giving concerts in the choir? I don’t like it, it’s just self-indulgence!”
Márya Dmítrievna liked Sundays and knew how to keep them. Her whole house was scrubbed and cleaned on Saturdays; neither she nor the servants worked, and they all wore holiday dress and went to church. At her table there were extra dishes at dinner, and the servants had vodka and roast goose or suckling pig. But in nothing in the house was the holiday so noticeable as in Márya Dmítrievna’s broad, stern face, which on that day wore an invariable look of solemn festivity.
After Mass, when they had finished their coffee in the dining room where the loose covers had been removed from the furniture, a servant announced that the carriage was ready, and Márya Dmítrievna rose with a stern air. She wore her holiday shawl, in which she paid calls, and announced that she was going to see Prince Nicholas Bolkónski to have an explanation with him about Natásha.
After she had gone, a dressmaker from Madame Suppert-Roguet waited on the Rostóvs, and Natásha, very glad of this diversion, having shut herself into a room adjoining the drawing room, occupied herself trying on the new dresses. Just as she had put on a bodice without sleeves and only tacked together, and was turning her head to see in the glass how the back fitted, she heard in the drawing room the animated sounds of her father’s voice and another’s—a woman’s—that made her flush. It was Hélène. Natásha had not time to take off the bodice before the door opened and Countess Bezúkhova, dressed in a purple velvet gown with a high collar, came into the room beaming with good-humored amiable smiles.
“Oh, my enchantress!” she cried to the blushing Natásha. “Charming! No, this is really beyond anything, my dear count,” said she to Count Rostóv who had followed her in. “How can you live in Moscow and go nowhere? No, I won’t let you off! Mademoiselle George will recite at my house tonight and there’ll be some people, and if you don’t bring your lovely girls—who are prettier than Mademoiselle George—I won’t know you! My husband is away in Tver or I would send him to fetch you. You must come. You positively must! Between eight and nine.”
She nodded to the dressmaker, whom she knew and who had curtsied respectfully to her, and seated herself in an armchair beside the looking glass, draping the folds of her velvet dress picturesquely. She did not cease chattering good-naturedly and gaily, continually praising Natásha’s beauty. She looked at Natásha’s dresses and praised them, as well as a new dress of her own made of “metallic gauze,” which she had received from Paris, and advised Natásha to have one like it.
“But anything suits you, my charmer!” she remarked.
A smile of pleasure never left Natásha’s face. She felt happy and as if she were blossoming under the praise of this dear Countess Bezúkhova who had formerly seemed to her so unapproachable and important and was now so kind to her. Natásha brightened up and felt almost in love with this woman, who was so beautiful and so kind. Hélène for her part was sincerely delighted with Natásha and wished to give her a good time. Anatole had asked her to bring him and Natásha together, and she was calling on the Rostóvs for that purpose. The idea of throwing her brother and Natásha together amused her.
Though at one time, in Petersburg, she had been annoyed with Natásha for drawing Borís away, she did not think of that now, and in her own way heartily wished Natásha well. As she was leaving the Rostóvs she called her protégée aside.
“My brother dined with me yesterday—we nearly died of laughter—he ate nothing and kept sighing for you, my charmer! He is madly, quite madly, in love with you, my dear.”
Natásha blushed scarlet when she heard this.
“How she blushes, how she blushes, my pretty!” said Hélène. “You must certainly come. If you love somebody, my charmer, that is not a reason to shut yourself up. Even if you are engaged, I am sure your fiancé would wish you to go into society rather than be bored to death.”
“So she knows I am engaged, and she and her husband Pierre—that good Pierre—have talked and laughed about this. So it’s all right.” And again, under Hélène’s influence, what had seemed terrible now seemed simple and natural. “And she is such a grande dame, so kind, and evidently likes me so much. And why not enjoy myself?” thought Natásha, gazing at Hélène with wide-open, wondering eyes.
Márya Dmítrievna came back to dinner taciturn and serious, having evidently suffered a defeat at the old prince’s. She was still too agitated by the encounter to be able to talk of the affair calmly. In answer to the count’s inquiries she replied that things were all right and that she would tell about it next day. On hearing of Countess Bezúkhova’s visit and the invitation for that evening, Márya Dmítrievna remarked:
“I don’t care to have anything to do with Bezúkhova and don’t advise you to; however, if you’ve promised—go. It will divert your thoughts,” she added, addressing Natásha.
Count Rostóv took the girls to Countess Bezúkhova’s. There were a good many people there, but nearly all strangers to Natásha. Count Rostóv was displeased to see that the company consisted almost entirely of men and women known for the freedom of their conduct. Mademoiselle George was standing in a corner of the drawing room surrounded by young men. There were several Frenchmen present, among them Métivier who from the time Hélène reached Moscow had been an intimate in her house. The count decided not to sit down to cards or let his girls out of his sight and to get away as soon as Mademoiselle George’s performance was over.
Anatole was at the door, evidently on the lookout for the Rostóvs. Immediately after greeting the count he went up to Natásha and followed her. As soon as she saw him she was seized by the same feeling she had had at the opera—gratified vanity at his admiration of her and fear at the absence of a moral barrier between them.
Hélène welcomed Natásha delightedly and was loud in admiration of her beauty and her dress. Soon after their arrival Mademoiselle George went out of the room to change her costume. In the drawing room people began arranging the chairs and taking their seats. Anatole moved a chair for Natásha and was about to sit down beside her, but the count, who never lost sight of her, took the seat himself. Anatole sat down behind her.
Mademoiselle George, with her bare, fat, dimpled arms, and a red shawl draped over one shoulder, came into the space left vacant for her, and assumed an unnatural pose. Enthusiastic whispering was audible.
Mademoiselle George looked sternly and gloomily at the audience and began reciting some French verses describing her guilty love for her son. In some places she raised her voice, in others she whispered, lifting her head triumphantly; sometimes she paused and uttered hoarse sounds, rolling her eyes.
“Adorable! divine! delicious!” was heard from every side.
Natásha looked at the fat actress, but neither saw nor heard nor understood anything of what went on before her. She only felt herself again completely borne away into this strange senseless world—so remote from her old world—a world in which it was impossible to know what was good or bad, reasonable or senseless. Behind her sat Anatole, and conscious of his proximity she experienced a frightened sense of expectancy.
After the first monologue the whole company rose and surrounded Mademoiselle George, expressing their enthusiasm.
“How beautiful she is!” Natásha remarked to her father who had also risen and was moving through the crowd toward the actress.
“I don’t think so when I look at you!” said Anatole, following Natásha. He said this at a moment when she alone could hear him. “You are enchanting... from the moment I saw you I have never ceased...”
“Come, come, Natásha!” said the count, as he turned back for his daughter. “How beautiful she is!” Natásha without saying anything stepped up to her father and looked at him with surprised inquiring eyes.
After giving several recitations, Mademoiselle George left, and Countess Bezúkhova asked her visitors into the ballroom.
The count wished to go home, but Hélène entreated him not to spoil her improvised ball, and the Rostóvs stayed on. Anatole asked Natásha for a valse and as they danced he pressed her waist and hand and told her she was bewitching and that he loved her. During the écossaise, which she also danced with him, Anatole said nothing when they happened to be by themselves, but merely gazed at her. Natásha lifted her frightened eyes to him, but there was such confident tenderness in his affectionate look and smile that she could not, whilst looking at him, say what she had to say. She lowered her eyes.
“Don’t say such things to me. I am betrothed and love another,” she said rapidly.... She glanced at him.
Anatole was not upset or pained by what she had said.
“Don’t speak to me of that! What can I do?” said he. “I tell you I am madly, madly, in love with you! Is it my fault that you are enchanting?... It’s our turn to begin.”
Natásha, animated and excited, looked about her with wide-open frightened eyes and seemed merrier than usual. She understood hardly anything that went on that evening. They danced the écossaise and the Grossvater. Her father asked her to come home, but she begged to remain. Wherever she went and whomever she was speaking to, she felt his eyes upon her. Later on she recalled how she had asked her father to let her go to the dressing room to rearrange her dress, that Hélène had followed her and spoken laughingly of her brother’s love, and that she again met Anatole in the little sitting room. Hélène had disappeared leaving them alone, and Anatole had taken her hand and said in a tender voice:
“I cannot come to visit you but is it possible that I shall never see you? I love you madly. Can I never...?” and, blocking her path, he brought his face close to hers.
His large, glittering, masculine eyes were so close to hers that she saw nothing but them.
“Natalie?” he whispered inquiringly while she felt her hands being painfully pressed. “Natalie?”
“I don’t understand. I have nothing to say,” her eyes replied.
Burning lips were pressed to hers, and at the same instant she felt herself released, and Hélène’s footsteps and the rustle of her dress were heard in the room. Natásha looked round at her, and then, red and trembling, threw a frightened look of inquiry at Anatole and moved toward the door.
“One word, just one, for God’s sake!” cried Anatole.
She paused. She so wanted a word from him that would explain to her what had happened and to which she could find no answer.
“Natalie, just a word, only one!” he kept repeating, evidently not knowing what to say and he repeated it till Hélène came up to them.
Hélène returned with Natásha to the drawing room. The Rostóvs went away without staying for supper.
After reaching home Natásha did not sleep all night. She was tormented by the insoluble question whether she loved Anatole or Prince Andrew. She loved Prince Andrew—she remembered distinctly how deeply she loved him. But she also loved Anatole, of that there was no doubt. “Else how could all this have happened?” thought she. “If, after that, I could return his smile when saying good-by, if I was able to let it come to that, it means that I loved him from the first. It means that he is kind, noble, and splendid, and I could not help loving him. What am I to do if I love him and the other one too?” she asked herself, unable to find an answer to these terrible questions.
Morning came with its cares and bustle. Everyone got up and began to move about and talk, dressmakers came again. Márya Dmítrievna appeared, and they were called to breakfast. Natásha kept looking uneasily at everybody with wide-open eyes, as if wishing to intercept every glance directed toward her, and tried to appear the same as usual.
After breakfast, which was her best time, Márya Dmítrievna sat down in her armchair and called Natásha and the count to her.
“Well, friends, I have now thought the whole matter over and this is my advice,” she began. “Yesterday, as you know, I went to see Prince Bolkónski. Well, I had a talk with him.... He took it into his head to begin shouting, but I am not one to be shouted down. I said what I had to say!”
“Well, and he?” asked the count.
“He? He’s crazy... he did not want to listen. But what’s the use of talking? As it is we have worn the poor girl out,” said Márya Dmítrievna. “My advice to you is finish your business and go back home to Otrádnoe... and wait there.”
“Oh, no!” exclaimed Natásha.
“Yes, go back,” said Márya Dmítrievna, “and wait there. If your betrothed comes here now—there will be no avoiding a quarrel; but alone with the old man he will talk things over and then come on to you.”
Count Rostóv approved of this suggestion, appreciating its reasonableness. If the old man came round it would be all the better to visit him in Moscow or at Bald Hills later on; and if not, the wedding, against his wishes, could only be arranged at Otrádnoe.
“That is perfectly true. And I am sorry I went to see him and took her,” said the old count.
“No, why be sorry? Being here, you had to pay your respects. But if he won’t—that’s his affair,” said Márya Dmítrievna, looking for something in her reticule. “Besides, the trousseau is ready, so there is nothing to wait for; and what is not ready I’ll send after you. Though I don’t like letting you go, it is the best way. So go, with God’s blessing!”
Having found what she was looking for in the reticule she handed it to Natásha. It was a letter from Princess Mary.
“She has written to you. How she torments herself, poor thing! She’s afraid you might think that she does not like you.”
“But she doesn’t like me,” said Natásha.
“Don’t talk nonsense!” cried Márya Dmítrievna.
“I shan’t believe anyone, I know she doesn’t like me,” replied Natásha boldly as she took the letter, and her face expressed a cold and angry resolution that caused Márya Dmítrievna to look at her more intently and to frown.
“Don’t answer like that, my good girl!” she said. “What I say is true! Write an answer!”
Natásha did not reply and went to her own room to read Princess Mary’s letter.
Princess Mary wrote that she was in despair at the misunderstanding that had occurred between them. Whatever her father’s feelings might be, she begged Natásha to believe that she could not help loving her as the one chosen by her brother, for whose happiness she was ready to sacrifice everything.
“Do not think, however,” she wrote, “that my father is ill-disposed toward you. He is an invalid and an old man who must be forgiven; but he is good and magnanimous and will love her who makes his son happy.” Princess Mary went on to ask Natásha to fix a time when she could see her again.
After reading the letter Natásha sat down at the writing table to answer it. “Dear Princess,” she wrote in French quickly and mechanically, and then paused. What more could she write after all that had happened the evening before? “Yes, yes! All that has happened, and now all is changed,” she thought as she sat with the letter she had begun before her. “Must I break off with him? Must I really? That’s awful...” and to escape from these dreadful thoughts she went to Sónya and began sorting patterns with her.
After dinner Natásha went to her room and again took up Princess Mary’s letter. “Can it be that it is all over?” she thought. “Can it be that all this has happened so quickly and has destroyed all that went before?” She recalled her love for Prince Andrew in all its former strength, and at the same time felt that she loved Kurágin. She vividly pictured herself as Prince Andrew’s wife, and the scenes of happiness with him she had so often repeated in her imagination, and at the same time, aglow with excitement, recalled every detail of yesterday’s interview with Anatole.
“Why could that not be as well?” she sometimes asked herself in complete bewilderment. “Only so could I be completely happy; but now I have to choose, and I can’t be happy without either of them. Only,” she thought, “to tell Prince Andrew what has happened or to hide it from him are both equally impossible. But with that one nothing is spoiled. But am I really to abandon forever the joy of Prince Andrew’s love, in which I have lived so long?”
“Please, Miss!” whispered a maid entering the room with a mysterious air. “A man told me to give you this—” and she handed Natásha a letter.
“Only, for Christ’s sake...” the girl went on, as Natásha, without thinking, mechanically broke the seal and read a love letter from Anatole, of which, without taking in a word, she understood only that it was a letter from him—from the man she loved. Yes, she loved him, or else how could that have happened which had happened? And how could she have a love letter from him in her hand?
With trembling hands Natásha held that passionate love letter which Dólokhov had composed for Anatole, and as she read it she found in it an echo of all that she herself imagined she was feeling.
“Since yesterday evening my fate has been sealed; to be loved by you or to die. There is no other way for me,” the letter began. Then he went on to say that he knew her parents would not give her to him—for this there were secret reasons he could reveal only to her—but that if she loved him she need only say the word yes, and no human power could hinder their bliss. Love would conquer all. He would steal her away and carry her off to the ends of the earth.
“Yes, yes! I love him!” thought Natásha, reading the letter for the twentieth time and finding some peculiarly deep meaning in each word of it.
That evening Márya Dmítrievna was going to the Akhárovs’ and proposed to take the girls with her. Natásha, pleading a headache, remained at home.
On returning late in the evening Sónya went to Natásha’s room, and to her surprise found her still dressed and asleep on the sofa. Open on the table, beside her lay Anatole’s letter. Sónya picked it up and read it.
As she read she glanced at the sleeping Natásha, trying to find in her face an explanation of what she was reading, but did not find it. Her face was calm, gentle, and happy. Clutching her breast to keep herself from choking, Sónya, pale and trembling with fear and agitation, sat down in an armchair and burst into tears.
“How was it I noticed nothing? How could it go so far? Can she have left off loving Prince Andrew? And how could she let Kurágin go to such lengths? He is a deceiver and a villain, that’s plain! What will Nicholas, dear noble Nicholas, do when he hears of it? So this is the meaning of her excited, resolute, unnatural look the day before yesterday, yesterday, and today,” thought Sónya. “But it can’t be that she loves him! She probably opened the letter without knowing who it was from. Probably she is offended by it. She could not do such a thing!”
Sónya wiped away her tears and went up to Natásha, again scanning her face.
“Natásha!” she said, just audibly.
Natásha awoke and saw Sónya.
“Ah, you’re back?”
And with the decision and tenderness that often come at the moment of awakening, she embraced her friend, but noticing Sónya’s look of embarrassment, her own face expressed confusion and suspicion.
“Sónya, you’ve read that letter?” she demanded.
“Yes,” answered Sónya softly.
Natásha smiled rapturously.
“No, Sónya, I can’t any longer!” she said. “I can’t hide it from you any longer. You know, we love one another! Sónya, darling, he writes... Sónya...”
Sónya stared open-eyed at Natásha, unable to believe her ears.
“And Bolkónski?” she asked.
“Ah, Sónya, if you only knew how happy I am!” cried Natásha. “You don’t know what love is....”
“But, Natásha, can that be all over?”
Natásha looked at Sónya with wide-open eyes as if she could not grasp the question.
“Well, then, are you refusing Prince Andrew?” said Sónya.
“Oh, you don’t understand anything! Don’t talk nonsense, just listen!” said Natásha, with momentary vexation.
“But I can’t believe it,” insisted Sónya. “I don’t understand. How is it you have loved a man for a whole year and suddenly... Why, you have only seen him three times! Natásha, I don’t believe you, you’re joking! In three days to forget everything and so...”
“Three days?” said Natásha. “It seems to me I’ve loved him a hundred years. It seems to me that I have never loved anyone before. You can’t understand it.... Sónya, wait a bit, sit here,” and Natásha embraced and kissed her.
“I had heard that it happens like this, and you must have heard it too, but it’s only now that I feel such love. It’s not the same as before. As soon as I saw him I felt he was my master and I his slave, and that I could not help loving him. Yes, his slave! Whatever he orders I shall do. You don’t understand that. What can I do? What can I do, Sónya?” cried Natásha with a happy yet frightened expression.
“But think what you are doing,” cried Sónya. “I can’t leave it like this. This secret correspondence... How could you let him go so far?” she went on, with a horror and disgust she could hardly conceal.
“I told you that I have no will,” Natásha replied. “Why can’t you understand? I love him!”
“Then I won’t let it come to that... I shall tell!” cried Sónya, bursting into tears.
“What do you mean? For God’s sake... If you tell, you are my enemy!” declared Natásha. “You want me to be miserable, you want us to be separated....”
When she saw Natásha’s fright, Sónya shed tears of shame and pity for her friend.
“But what has happened between you?” she asked. “What has he said to you? Why doesn’t he come to the house?”
Natásha did not answer her questions.
“For God’s sake, Sónya, don’t tell anyone, don’t torture me,” Natásha entreated. “Remember no one ought to interfere in such matters! I have confided in you....”
“But why this secrecy? Why doesn’t he come to the house?” asked Sónya. “Why doesn’t he openly ask for your hand? You know Prince Andrew gave you complete freedom—if it is really so; but I don’t believe it! Natásha, have you considered what these secret reasons can be?”
Natásha looked at Sónya with astonishment. Evidently this question presented itself to her mind for the first time and she did not know how to answer it.
“I don’t know what the reasons are. But there must be reasons!”
Sónya sighed and shook her head incredulously.
“If there were reasons...” she began.
But Natásha, guessing her doubts, interrupted her in alarm.
“Sónya, one can’t doubt him! One can’t, one can’t! Don’t you understand?” she cried.
“Does he love you?”
“Does he love me?” Natásha repeated with a smile of pity at her friend’s lack of comprehension. “Why, you have read his letter and you have seen him.”
“But if he is dishonorable?”
“He! dishonorable? If you only knew!” exclaimed Natásha.
“If he is an honorable man he should either declare his intentions or cease seeing you; and if you won’t do this, I will. I will write to him, and I will tell Papa!” said Sónya resolutely.
“But I can’t live without him!” cried Natásha.
“Natásha, I don’t understand you. And what are you saying! Think of your father and of Nicholas.”
“I don’t want anyone, I don’t love anyone but him. How dare you say he is dishonorable? Don’t you know that I love him?” screamed Natásha. “Go away, Sónya! I don’t want to quarrel with you, but go, for God’s sake go! You see how I am suffering!” Natásha cried angrily, in a voice of despair and repressed irritation. Sónya burst into sobs and ran from the room.
Natásha went to the table and without a moment’s reflection wrote that answer to Princess Mary which she had been unable to write all the morning. In this letter she said briefly that all their misunderstandings were at an end; that availing herself of the magnanimity of Prince Andrew who when he went abroad had given her her freedom, she begged Princess Mary to forget everything and forgive her if she had been to blame toward her, but that she could not be his wife. At that moment this all seemed quite easy, simple, and clear to Natásha.
On Friday the Rostóvs were to return to the country, but on Wednesday the count went with the prospective purchaser to his estate near Moscow.
On the day the count left, Sónya and Natásha were invited to a big dinner party at the Karágins’, and Márya Dmítrievna took them there. At that party Natásha again met Anatole, and Sónya noticed that she spoke to him, trying not to be overheard, and that all through dinner she was more agitated than ever. When they got home Natásha was the first to begin the explanation Sónya expected.
“There, Sónya, you were talking all sorts of nonsense about him,” Natásha began in a mild voice such as children use when they wish to be praised. “We have had an explanation today.”
“Well, what happened? What did he say? Natásha, how glad I am you’re not angry with me! Tell me everything—the whole truth. What did he say?”
Natásha became thoughtful.
“Oh, Sónya, if you knew him as I do! He said... He asked me what I had promised Bolkónski. He was glad I was free to refuse him.”
Sónya sighed sorrowfully.
“But you haven’t refused Bolkónski?” said she.
“Perhaps I have. Perhaps all is over between me and Bolkónski. Why do you think so badly of me?”
“I don’t think anything, only I don’t understand this...”
“Wait a bit, Sónya, you’ll understand everything. You’ll see what a man he is! Now don’t think badly of me or of him. I don’t think badly of anyone: I love and pity everybody. But what am I to do?”
Sónya did not succumb to the tender tone Natásha used toward her. The more emotional and ingratiating the expression of Natásha’s face became, the more serious and stern grew Sónya’s.
“Natásha,” said she, “you asked me not to speak to you, and I haven’t spoken, but now you yourself have begun. I don’t trust him, Natásha. Why this secrecy?”
“Again, again!” interrupted Natásha.
“Natásha, I am afraid for you!”
“Afraid of what?”
“I am afraid you’re going to your ruin,” said Sónya resolutely, and was herself horrified at what she had said.
Anger again showed in Natásha’s face.
“And I’ll go to my ruin, I will, as soon as possible! It’s not your business! It won’t be you, but I, who’ll suffer. Leave me alone, leave me alone! I hate you!”
“Natásha!” moaned Sónya, aghast.
“I hate you, I hate you! You’re my enemy forever!” And Natásha ran out of the room.
Natásha did not speak to Sónya again and avoided her. With the same expression of agitated surprise and guilt she went about the house, taking up now one occupation, now another, and at once abandoning them.
Hard as it was for Sónya, she watched her friend and did not let her out of her sight.
The day before the count was to return, Sónya noticed that Natásha sat by the drawing room window all the morning as if expecting something and that she made a sign to an officer who drove past, whom Sónya took to be Anatole.
Sónya began watching her friend still more attentively and noticed that at dinner and all that evening Natásha was in a strange and unnatural state. She answered questions at random, began sentences she did not finish, and laughed at everything.
After tea Sónya noticed a housemaid at Natásha’s door timidly waiting to let her pass. She let the girl go in, and then listening at the door learned that another letter had been delivered.
Then suddenly it became clear to Sónya that Natásha had some dreadful plan for that evening. Sónya knocked at her door. Natásha did not let her in.
“She will run away with him!” thought Sónya. “She is capable of anything. There was something particularly pathetic and resolute in her face today. She cried as she said good-by to Uncle,” Sónya remembered. “Yes, that’s it, she means to elope with him, but what am I to do?” thought she, recalling all the signs that clearly indicated that Natásha had some terrible intention. “The count is away. What am I to do? Write to Kurágin demanding an explanation? But what is there to oblige him to reply? Write to Pierre, as Prince Andrew asked me to in case of some misfortune?... But perhaps she really has already refused Bolkónski—she sent a letter to Princess Mary yesterday. And Uncle is away....” To tell Márya Dmítrievna who had such faith in Natásha seemed to Sónya terrible. “Well, anyway,” thought Sónya as she stood in the dark passage, “now or never I must prove that I remember the family’s goodness to me and that I love Nicholas. Yes! If I don’t sleep for three nights I’ll not leave this passage and will hold her back by force and will and not let the family be disgraced,” thought she.