Natásha had married in the early spring of 1813, and in 1820 already had three daughters besides a son for whom she had longed and whom she was now nursing. She had grown stouter and broader, so that it was difficult to recognize in this robust, motherly woman the slim, lively Natásha of former days. Her features were more defined and had a calm, soft, and serene expression. In her face there was none of the ever-glowing animation that had formerly burned there and constituted its charm. Now her face and body were often all that one saw, and her soul was not visible at all. All that struck the eye was a strong, handsome, and fertile woman. The old fire very rarely kindled in her face now. That happened only when, as was the case that day, her husband returned home, or a sick child was convalescent, or when she and Countess Mary spoke of Prince Andrew (she never mentioned him to her husband, who she imagined was jealous of Prince Andrew’s memory), or on the rare occasions when something happened to induce her to sing, a practice she had quite abandoned since her marriage. At the rare moments when the old fire did kindle in her handsome, fully developed body she was even more attractive than in former days.
Since their marriage Natásha and her husband had lived in Moscow, in Petersburg, on their estate near Moscow, or with her mother, that is to say, in Nicholas’ house. The young Countess Bezúkhova was not often seen in society, and those who met her there were not pleased with her and found her neither attractive nor amiable. Not that Natásha liked solitude—she did not know whether she liked it or not, she even thought that she did not—but with her pregnancies, her confinements, the nursing of her children, and sharing every moment of her husband’s life, she had demands on her time which could be satisfied only by renouncing society. All who had known Natásha before her marriage wondered at the change in her as at something extraordinary. Only the old countess with her maternal instinct had realized that all Natásha’s outbursts had been due to her need of children and a husband—as she herself had once exclaimed at Otrádnoe not so much in fun as in earnest—and her mother was now surprised at the surprise expressed by those who had never understood Natásha, and she kept saying that she had always known that Natásha would make an exemplary wife and mother.
“Only she lets her love of her husband and children overflow all bounds,” said the countess, “so that it even becomes absurd.”
Natásha did not follow the golden rule advocated by clever folk, especially by the French, which says that a girl should not let herself go when she marries, should not neglect her accomplishments, should be even more careful of her appearance than when she was unmarried, and should fascinate her husband as much as she did before he became her husband. Natásha on the contrary had at once abandoned all her witchery, of which her singing had been an unusually powerful part. She gave it up just because it was so powerfully seductive. She took no pains with her manners or with delicacy of speech, or with her toilet, or to show herself to her husband in her most becoming attitudes, or to avoid inconveniencing him by being too exacting. She acted in contradiction to all those rules. She felt that the allurements instinct had formerly taught her to use would now be merely ridiculous in the eyes of her husband, to whom she had from the first moment given herself up entirely—that is, with her whole soul, leaving no corner of it hidden from him. She felt that her unity with her husband was not maintained by the poetic feelings that had attracted him to her, but by something else—indefinite but firm as the bond between her own body and soul.
To fluff out her curls, put on fashionable dresses, and sing romantic songs to fascinate her husband would have seemed as strange as to adorn herself to attract herself. To adorn herself for others might perhaps have been agreeable—she did not know—but she had no time at all for it. The chief reason for devoting no time either to singing, to dress, or to choosing her words was that she really had no time to spare for these things.
We know that man has the faculty of becoming completely absorbed in a subject however trivial it may be, and that there is no subject so trivial that it will not grow to infinite proportions if one’s entire attention is devoted to it.
The subject which wholly engrossed Natásha’s attention was her family: that is, her husband whom she had to keep so that he should belong entirely to her and to the home, and the children whom she had to bear, bring into the world, nurse, and bring up.
And the deeper she penetrated, not with her mind only but with her whole soul, her whole being, into the subject that absorbed her, the larger did that subject grow and the weaker and more inadequate did her powers appear, so that she concentrated them wholly on that one thing and yet was unable to accomplish all that she considered necessary.
There were then as now conversations and discussions about women’s rights, the relations of husband and wife and their freedom and rights, though these themes were not yet termed questions as they are now; but these topics were not merely uninteresting to Natásha, she positively did not understand them.
These questions, then as now, existed only for those who see nothing in marriage but the pleasure married people get from one another, that is, only the beginnings of marriage and not its whole significance, which lies in the family.
Discussions and questions of that kind, which are like the question of how to get the greatest gratification from one’s dinner, did not then and do not now exist for those for whom the purpose of a dinner is the nourishment it affords; and the purpose of marriage is the family.
If the purpose of dinner is to nourish the body, a man who eats two dinners at once may perhaps get more enjoyment but will not attain his purpose, for his stomach will not digest the two dinners.
If the purpose of marriage is the family, the person who wishes to have many wives or husbands may perhaps obtain much pleasure, but in that case will not have a family.
If the purpose of food is nourishment and the purpose of marriage is the family, the whole question resolves itself into not eating more than one can digest, and not having more wives or husbands than are needed for the family—that is, one wife or one husband. Natásha needed a husband. A husband was given her and he gave her a family. And she not only saw no need of any other or better husband, but as all the powers of her soul were intent on serving that husband and family, she could not imagine and saw no interest in imagining how it would be if things were different.
Natásha did not care for society in general, but prized the more the society of her relatives—Countess Mary, and her brother, her mother, and Sónya. She valued the company of those to whom she could come striding disheveled from the nursery in her dressing gown, and with joyful face show a yellow instead of a green stain on baby’s napkin, and from whom she could hear reassuring words to the effect that baby was much better.
To such an extent had Natásha let herself go that the way she dressed and did her hair, her ill-chosen words, and her jealousy—she was jealous of Sónya, of the governess, and of every woman, pretty or plain—were habitual subjects of jest to those about her. The general opinion was that Pierre was under his wife’s thumb, which was really true. From the very first days of their married life Natásha had announced her demands. Pierre was greatly surprised by his wife’s view, to him a perfectly novel one, that every moment of his life belonged to her and to the family. His wife’s demands astonished him, but they also flattered him, and he submitted to them.
Pierre’s subjection consisted in the fact that he not only dared not flirt with, but dared not even speak smilingly to, any other woman; did not dare dine at the Club as a pastime, did not dare spend money on a whim, and did not dare absent himself for any length of time, except on business—in which his wife included his intellectual pursuits, which she did not in the least understand but to which she attributed great importance. To make up for this, at home Pierre had the right to regulate his life and that of the whole family exactly as he chose. At home Natásha placed herself in the position of a slave to her husband, and the whole household went on tiptoe when he was occupied—that is, was reading or writing in his study. Pierre had but to show a partiality for anything to get just what he liked done always. He had only to express a wish and Natásha would jump up and run to fulfill it.
The entire household was governed according to Pierre’s supposed orders, that is, by his wishes which Natásha tried to guess. Their way of life and place of residence, their acquaintances and ties, Natásha’s occupations, the children’s upbringing, were all selected not merely with regard to Pierre’s expressed wishes, but to what Natásha from the thoughts he expressed in conversation supposed his wishes to be. And she deduced the essentials of his wishes quite correctly, and having once arrived at them clung to them tenaciously. When Pierre himself wanted to change his mind she would fight him with his own weapons.
Thus in a time of trouble ever memorable to him after the birth of their first child who was delicate, when they had to change the wet nurse three times and Natásha fell ill from despair, Pierre one day told her of Rousseau’s view, with which he quite agreed, that to have a wet nurse is unnatural and harmful. When her next baby was born, despite the opposition of her mother, the doctors, and even of her husband himself—who were all vigorously opposed to her nursing her baby herself, a thing then unheard of and considered injurious—she insisted on having her own way, and after that nursed all her babies herself.
It very often happened that in a moment of irritation husband and wife would have a dispute, but long afterwards Pierre to his surprise and delight would find in his wife’s ideas and actions the very thought against which she had argued, but divested of everything superfluous that in the excitement of the dispute he had added when expressing his opinion.
After seven years of marriage Pierre had the joyous and firm consciousness that he was not a bad man, and he felt this because he saw himself reflected in his wife. He felt the good and bad within himself inextricably mingled and overlapping. But only what was really good in him was reflected in his wife, all that was not quite good was rejected. And this was not the result of logical reasoning but was a direct and mysterious reflection.
Two months previously when Pierre was already staying with the Rostóvs he had received a letter from Prince Theodore, asking him to come to Petersburg to confer on some important questions that were being discussed there by a society of which Pierre was one of the principal founders.
On reading that letter (she always read her husband’s letters) Natásha herself suggested that he should go to Petersburg, though she would feel his absence very acutely. She attributed immense importance to all her husband’s intellectual and abstract interests though she did not understand them, and she always dreaded being a hindrance to him in such matters. To Pierre’s timid look of inquiry after reading the letter she replied by asking him to go, but to fix a definite date for his return. He was given four weeks’ leave of absence.
Ever since that leave of absence had expired, more than a fortnight before, Natásha had been in a constant state of alarm, depression, and irritability.
Denísov, now a general on the retired list and much dissatisfied with the present state of affairs, had arrived during that fortnight. He looked at Natásha with sorrow and surprise as at a bad likeness of a person once dear. A dull, dejected look, random replies, and talk about the nursery was all he saw and heard from his former enchantress.
Natásha was sad and irritable all that time, especially when her mother, her brother, Sónya, or Countess Mary in their efforts to console her tried to excuse Pierre and suggested reasons for his delay in returning.
“It’s all nonsense, all rubbish—those discussions which lead to nothing and all those idiotic societies!” Natásha declared of the very affairs in the immense importance of which she firmly believed.
And she would go to the nursery to nurse Pétya, her only boy. No one else could tell her anything so comforting or so reasonable as this little three-month-old creature when he lay at her breast and she was conscious of the movement of his lips and the snuffling of his little nose. That creature said: “You are angry, you are jealous, you would like to pay him out, you are afraid—but here am I! And I am he...” and that was unanswerable. It was more than true.
During that fortnight of anxiety Natásha resorted to the baby for comfort so often, and fussed over him so much, that she overfed him and he fell ill. She was terrified by his illness, and yet that was just what she needed. While attending to him she bore the anxiety about her husband more easily.
She was nursing her boy when the sound of Pierre’s sleigh was heard at the front door, and the old nurse—knowing how to please her mistress—entered the room inaudibly but hurriedly and with a beaming face.
“Has he come?” Natásha asked quickly in a whisper, afraid to move lest she should rouse the dozing baby.
“He’s come, ma’am,” whispered the nurse.
The blood rushed to Natásha’s face and her feet involuntarily moved, but she could not jump up and run out. The baby again opened his eyes and looked at her. “You’re here?” he seemed to be saying, and again lazily smacked his lips.
Cautiously withdrawing her breast, Natásha rocked him a little, handed him to the nurse, and went with rapid steps toward the door. But at the door she stopped as if her conscience reproached her for having in her joy left the child too soon, and she glanced round. The nurse with raised elbows was lifting the infant over the rail of his cot.
“Go, ma’am! Don’t worry, go!” she whispered, smiling, with the kind of familiarity that grows up between a nurse and her mistress.
Natásha ran with light footsteps to the anteroom.
Denísov, who had come out of the study into the dancing room with his pipe, now for the first time recognized the old Natásha. A flood of brilliant, joyful light poured from her transfigured face.
“He’s come!” she exclaimed as she ran past, and Denísov felt that he too was delighted that Pierre, whom he did not much care for, had returned.
On reaching the vestibule Natásha saw a tall figure in a fur coat unwinding his scarf. “It’s he! It’s really he! He has come!” she said to herself, and rushing at him embraced him, pressed his head to her breast, and then pushed him back and gazed at his ruddy, happy face, covered with hoarfrost. “Yes, it is he, happy and contented....”
Then all at once she remembered the tortures of suspense she had experienced for the last fortnight, and the joy that had lit up her face vanished; she frowned and overwhelmed Pierre with a torrent of reproaches and angry words.
“Yes, it’s all very well for you. You are pleased, you’ve had a good time.... But what about me? You might at least have shown consideration for the children. I am nursing and my milk was spoiled.... Pétya was at death’s door. But you were enjoying yourself. Yes, enjoying...”
Pierre knew he was not to blame, for he could not have come sooner; he knew this outburst was unseemly and would blow over in a minute or two; above all he knew that he himself was bright and happy. He wanted to smile but dared not even think of doing so. He made a piteous, frightened face and bent down.
“I could not, on my honor. But how is Pétya?”
“All right now. Come along! I wonder you’re not ashamed! If only you could see what I was like without you, how I suffered!”
“You are well?”
“Come, come!” she said, not letting go of his arm. And they went to their rooms.
When Nicholas and his wife came to look for Pierre he was in the nursery holding his baby son, who was again awake, on his huge right palm and dandling him. A blissful bright smile was fixed on the baby’s broad face with its toothless open mouth. The storm was long since over and there was bright, joyous sunshine on Natásha’s face as she gazed tenderly at her husband and child.
“And have you talked everything well over with Prince Theodore?” she asked.
“You see, he holds it up.” (She meant the baby’s head.) “But how he did frighten me... You’ve seen the princess? Is it true she’s in love with that...”
“Yes, just fancy...”
At that moment Nicholas and Countess Mary came in. Pierre with the baby on his hand stooped, kissed them, and replied to their inquiries. But in spite of much that was interesting and had to be discussed, the baby with the little cap on its unsteady head evidently absorbed all his attention.
“How sweet!” said Countess Mary, looking at and playing with the baby. “Now, Nicholas,” she added, turning to her husband, “I can’t understand how it is you don’t see the charm of these delicious marvels.”
“I don’t and can’t,” replied Nicholas, looking coldly at the baby. “A lump of flesh. Come along, Pierre!”
“And yet he’s such an affectionate father,” said Countess Mary, vindicating her husband, “but only after they are a year old or so...”
“Now, Pierre nurses them splendidly,” said Natásha. “He says his hand is just made for a baby’s seat. Just look!”
“Only not for this...” Pierre suddenly exclaimed with a laugh, and shifting the baby he gave him to the nurse.
As in every large household, there were at Bald Hills several perfectly distinct worlds which merged into one harmonious whole, though each retained its own peculiarities and made concessions to the others. Every event, joyful or sad, that took place in that house was important to all these worlds, but each had its own special reasons to rejoice or grieve over that occurrence independently of the others.
For instance, Pierre’s return was a joyful and important event and they all felt it to be so.
The servants—the most reliable judges of their masters because they judge not by their conversation or expressions of feeling but by their acts and way of life—were glad of Pierre’s return because they knew that when he was there Count Nicholas would cease going every day to attend to the estate, and would be in better spirits and temper, and also because they would all receive handsome presents for the holidays.
The children and their governesses were glad of Pierre’s return because no one else drew them into the social life of the household as he did. He alone could play on the clavichord that écossaise (his only piece) to which, as he said, all possible dances could be danced, and they felt sure he had brought presents for them all.
Young Nicholas, now a slim lad of fifteen, delicate and intelligent, with curly light-brown hair and beautiful eyes, was delighted because Uncle Pierre as he called him was the object of his rapturous and passionate affection. No one had instilled into him this love for Pierre whom he saw only occasionally. Countess Mary who had brought him up had done her utmost to make him love her husband as she loved him, and little Nicholas did love his uncle, but loved him with just a shade of contempt. Pierre, however, he adored. He did not want to be an hussar or a Knight of St. George like his uncle Nicholas; he wanted to be learned, wise, and kind like Pierre. In Pierre’s presence his face always shone with pleasure and he flushed and was breathless when Pierre spoke to him. He did not miss a single word he uttered, and would afterwards, with Dessalles or by himself, recall and reconsider the meaning of everything Pierre had said. Pierre’s past life and his unhappiness prior to 1812 (of which young Nicholas had formed a vague poetic picture from some words he had overheard), his adventures in Moscow, his captivity, Platón Karatáev (of whom he had heard from Pierre), his love for Natásha (of whom the lad was also particularly fond), and especially Pierre’s friendship with the father whom Nicholas could not remember—all this made Pierre in his eyes a hero and a saint.
From broken remarks about Natásha and his father, from the emotion with which Pierre spoke of that dead father, and from the careful, reverent tenderness with which Natásha spoke of him, the boy, who was only just beginning to guess what love is, derived the notion that his father had loved Natásha and when dying had left her to his friend. But the father whom the boy did not remember appeared to him a divinity who could not be pictured, and of whom he never thought without a swelling heart and tears of sadness and rapture. So the boy also was happy that Pierre had arrived.
The guests welcomed Pierre because he always helped to enliven and unite any company he was in.
The grown-up members of the family, not to mention his wife, were pleased to have back a friend whose presence made life run more smoothly and peacefully.
The old ladies were pleased with the presents he brought them, and especially that Natásha would now be herself again.
Pierre felt the different outlooks of these various worlds and made haste to satisfy all their expectations.
Though the most absent-minded and forgetful of men, Pierre, with the aid of a list his wife drew up, had now bought everything, not forgetting his mother—and brother-in-law’s commissions, nor the dress material for a present to Belóva, nor toys for his wife’s nephews. In the early days of his marriage it had seemed strange to him that his wife should expect him not to forget to procure all the things he undertook to buy, and he had been taken aback by her serious annoyance when on his first trip he forgot everything. But in time he grew used to this demand. Knowing that Natásha asked nothing for herself, and gave him commissions for others only when he himself had offered to undertake them, he now found an unexpected and childlike pleasure in this purchase of presents for everyone in the house, and never forgot anything. If he now incurred Natásha’s censure it was only for buying too many and too expensive things. To her other defects (as most people thought them, but which to Pierre were qualities) of untidiness and neglect of herself, she now added stinginess.
From the time that Pierre began life as a family man on a footing entailing heavy expenditure, he had noticed to his surprise that he spent only half as much as before, and that his affairs—which had been in disorder of late, chiefly because of his first wife’s debts—had begun to improve.
Life was cheaper because it was circumscribed: that most expensive luxury, the kind of life that can be changed at any moment, was no longer his nor did he wish for it. He felt that his way of life had now been settled once for all till death and that to change it was not in his power, and so that way of life proved economical.
With a merry, smiling face Pierre was sorting his purchases.
“What do you think of this?” said he, unrolling a piece of stuff like a shopman.
Natásha, who was sitting opposite to him with her eldest daughter on her lap, turned her sparkling eyes swiftly from her husband to the things he showed her.
“That’s for Belóva? Excellent!” She felt the quality of the material. “It was a ruble an arshin, I suppose?”
Pierre told her the price.
“Too dear!” Natásha remarked. “How pleased the children will be and Mamma too! Only you need not have bought me this,” she added, unable to suppress a smile as she gazed admiringly at a gold comb set with pearls, of a kind then just coming into fashion.
“Adèle tempted me: she kept on telling me to buy it,” returned Pierre.
“When am I to wear it?” and Natásha stuck it in her coil of hair. “When I take little Másha into society? Perhaps they will be fashionable again by then. Well, let’s go now.”
And collecting the presents they went first to the nursery and then to the old countess’ rooms.
The countess was sitting with her companion Belóva, playing grand-patience as usual, when Pierre and Natásha came into the drawing room with parcels under their arms.
The countess was now over sixty, was quite gray, and wore a cap with a frill that surrounded her face. Her face had shriveled, her upper lip had sunk in, and her eyes were dim.
After the deaths of her son and husband in such rapid succession, she felt herself a being accidentally forgotten in this world and left without aim or object for her existence. She ate, drank, slept, or kept awake, but did not live. Life gave her no new impressions. She wanted nothing from life but tranquillity, and that tranquillity only death could give her. But until death came she had to go on living, that is, to use her vital forces. A peculiarity one sees in very young children and very old people was particularly evident in her. Her life had no external aims—only a need to exercise her various functions and inclinations was apparent. She had to eat, sleep, think, speak, weep, work, give vent to her anger, and so on, merely because she had a stomach, a brain, muscles, nerves, and a liver. She did these things not under any external impulse as people in the full vigor of life do, when behind the purpose for which they strive that of exercising their functions remains unnoticed. She talked only because she physically needed to exercise her tongue and lungs. She cried as a child does, because her nose had to be cleared, and so on. What for people in their full vigor is an aim was for her evidently merely a pretext.
Thus in the morning—especially if she had eaten anything rich the day before—she felt a need of being angry and would choose as the handiest pretext Belóva’s deafness.
She would begin to say something to her in a low tone from the other end of the room.
“It seems a little warmer today, my dear,” she would murmur.
And when Belóva replied: “Oh yes, they’ve come,” she would mutter angrily: “O Lord! How stupid and deaf she is!”
Another pretext would be her snuff, which would seem too dry or too damp or not rubbed fine enough. After these fits of irritability her face would grow yellow, and her maids knew by infallible symptoms when Belóva would again be deaf, the snuff damp, and the countess’ face yellow. Just as she needed to work off her spleen so she had sometimes to exercise her still-existing faculty of thinking—and the pretext for that was a game of patience. When she needed to cry, the deceased count would be the pretext. When she wanted to be agitated, Nicholas and his health would be the pretext, and when she felt a need to speak spitefully, the pretext would be Countess Mary. When her vocal organs needed exercise, which was usually toward seven o’clock when she had had an after-dinner rest in a darkened room, the pretext would be the retelling of the same stories over and over again to the same audience.
The old lady’s condition was understood by the whole household though no one ever spoke of it, and they all made every possible effort to satisfy her needs. Only by a rare glance exchanged with a sad smile between Nicholas, Pierre, Natásha, and Countess Mary was the common understanding of her condition expressed.
But those glances expressed something more: they said that she had played her part in life, that what they now saw was not her whole self, that we must all become like her, and that they were glad to yield to her, to restrain themselves for this once precious being formerly as full of life as themselves, but now so much to be pitied. “Memento mori,” said these glances.
Only the really heartless, the stupid ones of that household, and the little children failed to understand this and avoided her.
When Pierre and his wife entered the drawing room the countess was in one of her customary states in which she needed the mental exertion of playing patience, and so—though by force of habit she greeted him with the words she always used when Pierre or her son returned after an absence: “High time, my dear, high time! We were all weary of waiting for you. Well, thank God!” and received her presents with another customary remark: “It’s not the gift that’s precious, my dear, but that you give it to me, an old woman...”—yet it was evident that she was not pleased by Pierre’s arrival at that moment when it diverted her attention from the unfinished game.
She finished her game of patience and only then examined the presents. They consisted of a box for cards, of splendid workmanship, a bright-blue Sèvres tea cup with shepherdesses depicted on it and with a lid, and a gold snuffbox with the count’s portrait on the lid which Pierre had had done by a miniaturist in Petersburg. The countess had long wished for such a box, but as she did not want to cry just then she glanced indifferently at the portrait and gave her attention chiefly to the box for cards.
“Thank you, my dear, you have cheered me up,” said she as she always did. “But best of all you have brought yourself back—for I never saw anything like it, you ought to give your wife a scolding! What are we to do with her? She is like a mad woman when you are away. Doesn’t see anything, doesn’t remember anything,” she went on, repeating her usual phrases. “Look, Anna Timoféevna,” she added to her companion, “see what a box for cards my son has brought us!”
Belóva admired the presents and was delighted with her dress material.
Though Pierre, Natásha, Nicholas, Countess Mary, and Denísov had much to talk about that they could not discuss before the old countess—not that anything was hidden from her, but because she had dropped so far behindhand in many things that had they begun to converse in her presence they would have had to answer inopportune questions and to repeat what they had already told her many times: that so-and-so was dead and so-and-so was married, which she would again be unable to remember—yet they sat at tea round the samovar in the drawing room from habit, and Pierre answered the countess’ questions as to whether Prince Vasíli had aged and whether Countess Mary Alexéevna had sent greetings and still thought of them, and other matters that interested no one and to which she herself was indifferent.
Conversation of this kind, interesting to no one yet unavoidable, continued all through teatime. All the grown-up members of the family were assembled near the round tea table at which Sónya presided beside the samovar. The children with their tutors and governesses had had tea and their voices were audible from the next room. At tea all sat in their accustomed places: Nicholas beside the stove at a small table where his tea was handed to him; Mílka, the old gray borzoi bitch (daughter of the first Mílka), with a quite gray face and large black eyes that seemed more prominent than ever, lay on the armchair beside him; Denísov, whose curly hair, mustache, and whiskers had turned half gray, sat beside countess Mary with his general’s tunic unbuttoned; Pierre sat between his wife and the old countess. He spoke of what he knew might interest the old lady and that she could understand. He told her of external social events and of the people who had formed the circle of her contemporaries and had once been a real, living, and distinct group, but who were now for the most part scattered about the world and like herself were garnering the last ears of the harvests they had sown in earlier years. But to the old countess those contemporaries of hers seemed to be the only serious and real society. Natásha saw by Pierre’s animation that his visit had been interesting and that he had much to tell them but dare not say it before the old countess. Denísov, not being a member of the family, did not understand Pierre’s caution and being, as a malcontent, much interested in what was occurring in Petersburg, kept urging Pierre to tell them about what had happened in the Semënovsk regiment, then about Arakchéev, and then about the Bible Society. Once or twice Pierre was carried away and began to speak of these things, but Nicholas and Natásha always brought him back to the health of Prince Iván and Countess Mary Alexéevna.
“Well, and all this idiocy—Gossner and Tatáwinova?” Denísov asked. “Is that weally still going on?”
“Going on?” Pierre exclaimed. “Why more than ever! The Bible Society is the whole government now!”
“What is that, mon cher ami?” asked the countess, who had finished her tea and evidently needed a pretext for being angry after her meal. “What are you saying about the government? I don’t understand.”
“Well, you know, Maman,” Nicholas interposed, knowing how to translate things into his mother’s language, “Prince Alexander Golítsyn has founded a society and in consequence has great influence, they say.”
“Arakchéev and Golítsyn,” incautiously remarked Pierre, “are now the whole government! And what a government! They see treason everywhere and are afraid of everything.”
“Well, and how is Prince Alexander to blame? He is a most estimable man. I used to meet him at Mary Antónovna’s,” said the countess in an offended tone; and still more offended that they all remained silent, she went on: “Nowadays everyone finds fault. A Gospel Society! Well, and what harm is there in that?” and she rose (everybody else got up too) and with a severe expression sailed back to her table in the sitting room.
The melancholy silence that followed was broken by the sounds of the children’s voices and laughter from the next room. Evidently some jolly excitement was going on there.
“Finished, finished!” little Natásha’s gleeful yell rose above them all.
Pierre exchanged glances with Countess Mary and Nicholas (Natásha he never lost sight of) and smiled happily.
“That’s delightful music!” said he.
“It means that Anna Makárovna has finished her stocking,” said Countess Mary.
“Oh, I’ll go and see,” said Pierre, jumping up. “You know,” he added, stopping at the door, “why I’m especially fond of that music? It is always the first thing that tells me all is well. When I was driving here today, the nearer I got to the house the more anxious I grew. As I entered the anteroom I heard Andrúsha’s peals of laughter and that meant that all was well.”
“I know! I know that feeling,” said Nicholas. “But I mustn’t go there—those stockings are to be a surprise for me.”
Pierre went to the children, and the shouting and laughter grew still louder.
“Come, Anna Makárovna,” Pierre’s voice was heard saying, “come here into the middle of the room and at the word of command, ‘One, two,’ and when I say ‘three’... You stand here, and you in my arms—well now! One, two!...” said Pierre, and a silence followed: “three!” and a rapturously breathless cry of children’s voices filled the room. “Two, two!” they shouted.
This meant two stockings, which by a secret process known only to herself Anna Makárovna used to knit at the same time on the same needles, and which, when they were ready, she always triumphantly drew, one out of the other, in the children’s presence.
Soon after this the children came in to say good night. They kissed everyone, the tutors and governesses made their bows, and they went out. Only young Nicholas and his tutor remained. Dessalles whispered to the boy to come downstairs.
“No, Monsieur Dessalles, I will ask my aunt to let me stay,” replied Nicholas Bolkónski also in a whisper.
“Ma tante, please let me stay,” said he, going up to his aunt.
His face expressed entreaty, agitation, and ecstasy. Countess Mary glanced at him and turned to Pierre.
“When you are here he can’t tear himself away,” she said.
“I will bring him to you directly, Monsieur Dessalles. Good night!” said Pierre, giving his hand to the Swiss tutor, and he turned to young Nicholas with a smile. “You and I haven’t seen anything of one another yet.... How like he is growing, Mary!” he added, addressing Countess Mary.
“Like my father?” asked the boy, flushing crimson and looking up at Pierre with bright, ecstatic eyes.
Pierre nodded, and went on with what he had been saying when the children had interrupted. Countess Mary sat down doing woolwork; Natásha did not take her eyes off her husband. Nicholas and Denísov rose, asked for their pipes, smoked, went to fetch more tea from Sónya—who sat weary but resolute at the samovar—and questioned Pierre. The curly-headed, delicate boy sat with shining eyes unnoticed in a corner, starting every now and then and muttering something to himself, and evidently experiencing a new and powerful emotion as he turned his curly head, with his thin neck exposed by his turn-down collar, toward the place where Pierre sat.
The conversation turned on the contemporary gossip about those in power, in which most people see the chief interest of home politics. Denísov, dissatisfied with the government on account of his own disappointments in the service, heard with pleasure of the things done in Petersburg which seemed to him stupid, and made forcible and sharp comments on what Pierre told them.
“One used to have to be a German—now one must dance with Tatáwinova and Madame Kwüdener, and wead Ecka’tshausen and the bwethwen. Oh, they should let that fine fellow Bonaparte loose—he’d knock all this nonsense out of them! Fancy giving the command of the Semënov wegiment to a fellow like that Schwa’tz!” he cried.
Nicholas, though free from Denísov’s readiness to find fault with everything, also thought that discussion of the government was a very serious and weighty matter, and the fact that A had been appointed Minister of This and B Governor General of That, and that the Emperor had said so-and-so and this minister so-and-so, seemed to him very important. And so he thought it necessary to take an interest in these things and to question Pierre. The questions put by these two kept the conversation from changing its ordinary character of gossip about the higher government circles.
But Natásha, knowing all her husband’s ways and ideas, saw that he had long been wishing but had been unable to divert the conversation to another channel and express his own deeply felt idea for the sake of which he had gone to Petersburg to consult with his new friend Prince Theodore, and she helped him by asking how his affairs with Prince Theodore had gone.
“What was it about?” asked Nicholas.
“Always the same thing,” said Pierre, looking round at his listeners. “Everybody sees that things are going so badly that they cannot be allowed to go on so and that it is the duty of all decent men to counteract it as far as they can.”
“What can decent men do?” Nicholas inquired, frowning slightly. “What can be done?”
“Come into my study,” said Nicholas.
Natásha, who had long expected to be fetched to nurse her baby, now heard the nurse calling her and went to the nursery. Countess Mary followed her. The men went into the study and little Nicholas Bolkónski followed them unnoticed by his uncle and sat down at the writing table in a shady corner by the window.
“Well, what would you do?” asked Denísov.
“Always some fantastic schemes,” said Nicholas.
“Why this,” began Pierre, not sitting down but pacing the room, sometimes stopping short, gesticulating, and lisping: “the position in Petersburg is this: the Emperor does not look into anything. He has abandoned himself altogether to this mysticism” (Pierre could not tolerate mysticism in anyone now). “He seeks only for peace, and only these people sans foi ni loi * can give it him—people who recklessly hack at and strangle everything—Magnítski, Arakchéev, and tutti quanti.... You will agree that if you did not look after your estates yourself but only wanted a quiet life, the harsher your steward was the more readily your object might be attained,” he said to Nicholas.
“Well, what does that lead up to?” said Nicholas.
“Well, everything is going to ruin! Robbery in the law courts, in the army nothing but flogging, drilling, and Military Settlements; the people are tortured, enlightenment is suppressed. All that is young and honest is crushed! Everyone sees that this cannot go on. Everything is strained to such a degree that it will certainly break,” said Pierre (as those who examine the actions of any government have always said since governments began). “I told them just one thing in Petersburg.”
“Well, you know whom,” said Pierre, with a meaning glance from under his brows. “Prince Theodore and all those. To encourage culture and philanthropy is all very well of course. The aim is excellent but in the present circumstances something else is needed.”
At that moment Nicholas noticed the presence of his nephew. His face darkened and he went up to the boy.
“Why are you here?”
“Why? Let him be,” said Pierre, taking Nicholas by the arm and continuing. “That is not enough, I told them. Something else is needed. When you stand expecting the overstrained string to snap at any moment, when everyone is expecting the inevitable catastrophe, as many as possible must join hands as closely as they can to withstand the general calamity. Everything that is young and strong is being enticed away and depraved. One is lured by women, another by honors, a third by ambition or money, and they go over to that camp. No independent men, such as you or I, are left. What I say is widen the scope of our society, let the mot d’ordre be not virtue alone but independence and action as well!”
Nicholas, who had left his nephew, irritably pushed up an armchair, sat down in it, and listened to Pierre, coughing discontentedly and frowning more and more.
“But action with what aim?” he cried. “And what position will you adopt toward the government?”
“Why, the position of assistants. The society need not be secret if the government allows it. Not merely is it not hostile to government, but it is a society of true conservatives—a society of gentlemen in the full meaning of that word. It is only to prevent some Pugachëv or other from killing my children and yours, and Arakchéev from sending me off to some Military Settlement. We join hands only for the public welfare and the general safety.”
“Yes, but it’s a secret society and therefore a hostile and harmful one which can only cause harm.”
“Why? Did the Tugendbund which saved Europe” (they did not then venture to suggest that Russia had saved Europe) “do any harm? The Tugendbund is an alliance of virtue: it is love, mutual help... it is what Christ preached on the Cross.”
Natásha, who had come in during the conversation, looked joyfully at her husband. It was not what he was saying that pleased her—that did not even interest her, for it seemed to her that was all extremely simple and that she had known it a long time (it seemed so to her because she knew that it sprang from Pierre’s whole soul), but it was his animated and enthusiastic appearance that made her glad.
The boy with the thin neck stretching out from the turn-down collar—whom everyone had forgotten—gazed at Pierre with even greater and more rapturous joy. Every word of Pierre’s burned into his heart, and with a nervous movement of his fingers he unconsciously broke the sealing wax and quill pens his hands came upon on his uncle’s table.
“It is not at all what you suppose; but that is what the German Tugendbund was, and what I am proposing.”
“No, my fwiend! The Tugendbund is all vewy well for the sausage eaters, but I don’t understand it and can’t even pwonounce it,” interposed Denísov in a loud and resolute voice. “I agwee that evewything here is wotten and howwible, but the Tugendbund I don’t understand. If we’re not satisfied, let us have a bunt of our own. That’s all wight. Je suis vot’e homme!” *