accusing Pierre of Illuminism, others supporting him. At that meeting he was struck for the first time by the endless variety of men’s minds, which prevents a truth from ever presenting itself identically to two persons. Even those members who seemed to be on his side understood him in their own way with limitations and alterations he could not agree to, as what he always wanted most was to convey his thought to others just as he himself understood it.
*The Illuminati sought to substitute republican for monarchical institutions.
At the end of the meeting the Grand Master with irony and ill-will reproved Bezukhov for his vehemence and said it was not love of virtue alone, but also a love of strife that had moved him in the dispute. Pierre did not answer him and asked briefly whether his proposal would be accepted. He was told that it would not, and without waiting for the usual formalities he left the lodge and went home.
Again Pierre was overtaken by the depression he so dreaded. For three days after the delivery of his speech at the lodge he lay on a sofa at home receiving no one and going nowhere.
It was just then that he received a letter from his wife, who implored him to see her, telling him how grieved she was about him and how she wished to devote her whole life to him.
At the end of the letter she informed him that in a few days she would return to Petersburg from abroad.
Following this letter one of the Masonic Brothers whom Pierre respected less than the others forced his way in to see him and, turning the conversation upon Pierre’s matrimonial affairs, by way of fraternal advice expressed the opinion that his severity to his wife was wrong and that he was neglecting one of the first rules of Freemasonry by not forgiving the penitent.
At the same time his mother-in-law, Prince Vasili’s wife, sent to him imploring him to come if only for a few minutes to discuss a most important matter. Pierre saw that there was a conspiracy against him and that they wanted to reunite him with his wife, and in the mood he then was, this was not even unpleasant to him. Nothing mattered to him. Nothing in life seemed to him of much importance, and under the influence of the depression that possessed him he valued neither his liberty nor his resolution to punish his wife.
“No one is right and no one is to blame; so she too is not to blame,” he thought.
If he did not at once give his consent to a reunion with his wife, it was only because in his state of depression he did not feel able to take any step. Had his wife come to him, he would not have turned her away. Compared to what preoccupied him, was it not a matter of indifference whether he lived with his wife or not?
Without replying either to his wife or his mother-in-law, Pierre late one night prepared for a journey and started for Moscow to see Joseph Alexeevich. This is what he noted in his diary:
Moscow, 17th November
I have just returned from my benefactor, and hasten to write down what I have experienced. Joseph Alexeevich is living poorly and has for three years been suffering from a painful disease of the bladder. No one has ever heard him utter a groan or a word of complaint. From morning till late at night, except when he eats his very plain food, he is working at science. He received me graciously and made me sit down on the bed on which he lay. I made the sign of the Knights of the East and of Jerusalem, and he responded in the same manner, asking me with a mild smile what I had learned and gained in the Prussian and Scottish lodges. I told him everything as best I could, and told him what I had proposed to our Petersburg lodge, of the bad reception I had encountered, and of my rupture with the Brothers. Joseph Alexeevich, having remained silent and thoughtful for a good while, told me his view of the matter, which at once lit up for me my whole past and the future path I should follow. He surprised me by asking whether I remembered the threefold aim of the order: (1) The preservation and study of the mystery. (2) The purification and reformation of oneself for its reception, and (3) The improvement of the human race by striving for such purification. Which is the principal aim of these three? Certainly self-reformation and self-purification. Only to this aim can we always strive independently of circumstances. But at the same time just this aim demands the greatest efforts of us; and so, led astray by pride, losing sight of this aim, we occupy ourselves either with the mystery which in our impurity we are unworthy to receive, or seek the reformation of the human race while ourselves setting an example of baseness and profligacy. Illuminism is not a pure doctrine, just because it is attracted by social activity and puffed up by pride. On this ground Joseph Alexeevich condemned my speech and my whole activity, and in the depth of my soul I agreed with him. Talking of my family affairs he said to me, “the chief duty of a true Mason, as I have told you, lies in perfecting himself. We often think that by removing all the difficulties of our life we shall more quickly reach our aim, but on the contrary, my dear sir, it is only in the midst of worldly cares that we can attain our three chief aims: (1) Self-knowledge- for man can only know himself by comparison, (2) Self-perfecting, which can only be attained by conflict, and (3) The attainment of the chief virtue- love of death. Only the vicissitudes of life can show us its vanity and develop our innate love of death or of rebirth to a new life.” These words are all the more remarkable because, in spite of his great physical sufferings, Joseph Alexeevich is never weary of life though he loves death, for which- in spite of the purity and loftiness of his inner man- he does not yet feel himself sufficiently prepared. My benefactor then explained to me fully the meaning of the Great Square of creation and pointed out to me that the numbers three and seven are the basis of everything. He advised me not to avoid intercourse with the Petersburg Brothers, but to take up only second-grade posts in the lodge, to try, while diverting the Brothers from pride, to turn them toward the true path self-knowledge and self-perfecting. Besides this he advised me for myself personally above all to keep a watch over myself, and to that end he gave me a notebook, the one I am now writing in and in which I will in future note down all my actions.
Petersburg, 23rd November
I am again living with my wife. My mother-in-law came to me in tears and said that Helene was here and that she implored me to hear her; that she was innocent and unhappy at my desertion, and much more. I knew that if I once let myself see her I should not have strength to go on refusing what she wanted. In my perplexity I did not know whose aid and advice to seek. Had my benefactor been here he would have told me what to do. I went to my room and reread Joseph Alexeevich’s letters and recalled my conversations with him, and deduced from it all that I ought not to refuse a suppliant, and ought to reach a helping hand to everyone- especially to one so closely bound to me- and that I must bear my cross. But if I forgive her for the sake of doing right, then let union with her have only a spiritual aim. That is what I decided, and what I wrote to Joseph Alexeevich. I told my wife that I begged her to forget the past, to forgive me whatever wrong I may have done her, and that I had nothing to forgive. It gave me joy to tell her this. She need not know how hard it was for me to see her again. I have settled on the upper floor of this big house and am experiencing a happy feeling of regeneration.
At that time, as always happens, the highest society that met at court and at the grand balls was divided into several circles, each with its own particular tone. The largest of these was the French circle of the Napoleonic alliance, the circle of Count Rumyantsev and Caulaincourt. In this group Helene, as soon as she had settled in Petersburg with her husband, took a very prominent place. She was visited by the members of the French embassy and by many belonging to that circle and noted for their intellect and polished manners.
Helene had been at Erfurt during the famous meeting of the Emperors and had brought from there these connections with the Napoleonic notabilities. At Erfurt her success had been brilliant. Napoleon himself had noticed her in the theater and said of her: “C’est un superbe animal.”* Her success as a beautiful and elegant woman did not surprise Pierre, for she had become even handsomer than before. What did surprise him was that during these last two years his wife had succeeded in gaining the reputation “d’ une femme charmante, aussi spirituelle que belle.”* The distinguished Prince de Ligne wrote her eight-page letters. Bilibin saved up his epigrams to produce them in Countess Bezukhova’s presence. To be received in the Countess Bezukhova’s salon was regarded as a diploma of intellect. Young men read books before attending Helene’s evenings, to have something to say in her salon, and secretaries of the embassy, and even ambassadors, confided diplomatic secrets to her, so that in a way Helene was a power. Pierre, who knew she was very stupid, sometimes attended, with a strange feeling of perplexity and fear, her evenings and dinner parties, where politics, poetry, and philosophy were discussed. At these parties his feelings were like those of a conjuror who always expects his trick to be found out at any moment. But whether because stupidity was just what was needed to run such a salon, or because those who were deceived found pleasure in the deception, at any rate it remained unexposed and Helene Bezukhova’s reputation as a lovely and clever woman became so firmly established that she could say the emptiest and stupidest things and everybody would go into raptures over every word of hers and look for a profound meaning in it of which she herself had no conception.
*”That’s a superb animal.”
* “Of a charming woman, as witty as she is lovely.”
Pierre was just the husband needed for a brilliant society woman. He was that absent-minded crank, a grand seigneur husband who was in no one’s way, and far from spoiling the high tone and general impression of the drawing room, he served, by the contrast he presented to her, as an advantageous background to his elegant and tactful wife. Pierre during the last two years, as a result of his continual absorption in abstract interests and his sincere contempt for all else, had acquired in his wife’s circle, which did not interest him, that air of unconcern, indifference, and benevolence toward all, which cannot be acquired artificially and therefore inspires involuntary respect. He entered his wife’s drawing room as one enters a theater, was acquainted with everybody, equally pleased to see everyone, and equally indifferent to them all. Sometimes he joined in a conversation which interested him and, regardless of whether any “gentlemen of the embassy” were present or not, lispingly expressed his views, which were sometimes not at all in accord with the accepted tone of the moment. But the general opinion concerning the queer husband of “the most distinguished woman in Petersburg” was so well established that no one took his freaks seriously.
Among the many young men who frequented her house every day, Boris Drubetskoy, who had already achieved great success in the service, was the most intimate friend of the Bezukhov household since Helene’s return from Erfurt. Helene spoke of him as “mon page” and treated him like a child. Her smile for him was the same as for everybody, but sometimes that smile made Pierre uncomfortable. Toward him Boris behaved with a particularly dignified and sad deference. This shade of deference also disturbed Pierre. He had suffered so painfully three years before from the mortification to which his wife had subjected him that he now protected himself from the danger of its repetition, first by not being a husband to his wife, and secondly by not allowing himself to suspect.
“No, now that she has become a bluestocking she has finally renounced her former infatuations,” he told himself. “There has never been an instance of a bluestocking being carried away by affairs of the heart”- a statement which, though gathered from an unknown source, he believed implicitly. Yet strange to say Boris’ presence in his wife’s drawing room (and he was almost always there) had a physical effect upon Pierre; it constricted his limbs and destroyed the unconsciousness and freedom of his movements.
“What a strange antipathy,” thought Pierre, “yet I used to like him very much.”
In the eyes of the world Pierre was a great gentleman, the rather blind and absurd husband of a distinguished wife, a clever crank who did nothing but harmed nobody and was a first-rate, good-natured fellow. But a complex and difficult process of internal development was taking place all this time in Pierre’s soul, revealing much to him and causing him many spiritual doubts and joys.
Pierre went on with his diary, and this is what he wrote in it during that time:
Got up at eight, read the Scriptures, then went to my duties. [By Joseph Alexeevich’s advice Pierre had entered the service of the state and served on one of the committees.] Returned home for dinner and dined alone- the countess had many visitors I do not like. I ate and drank moderately and after dinner copied out some passages for the Brothers. In the evening I went down to the countess and told a funny story about B., and only remembered that I ought not to have done so when everybody laughed loudly at it.
I am going to bed with a happy and tranquil mind. Great God, help me to walk in Thy paths, (1) to conquer anger by calmness and deliberation, (2) to vanquish lust by self-restraint and repulsion, (3) to withdraw from worldliness, but not avoid (a) the service of the state, (b) family duties, (c) relations with my friends, and the management of my affairs.
I got up late. On waking I lay long in bed yielding to sloth. O God, help and strengthen me that I may walk in Thy ways! Read the Scriptures, but without proper feeling. Brother Urusov came and we talked about worldly vanities. He told me of the Emperor’s new projects. I began to criticize them, but remembered my rules and my benefactor’s words- that a true Freemason should be a zealous worker for the state when his aid is required and a quiet onlooker when not called on to assist. My tongue is my enemy. Brothers G. V. and O. visited me and we had a preliminary talk about the reception of a new Brother. They laid on me the duty of Rhetor. I feel myself weak and unworthy. Then our talk turned to the interpretation of the seven pillars and steps of the Temple, the seven sciences, the seven virtues, the seven vices, and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Brother O. was very eloquent. In the evening the admission took place. The new decoration of the Premises contributed much to the magnificence of the spectacle. It was Boris Drubetskoy who was admitted. I nominated him and was the Rhetor. A strange feeling agitated me all the time I was alone with him in the dark chamber. I caught myself harboring a feeling of hatred toward him which I vainly tried to overcome. That is why I should really like to save him from evil and lead him into the path of truth, but evil thoughts of him did not leave me. It seemed to me that his object in entering the Brotherhood was merely to be intimate and in favor with members of our lodge. Apart from the fact that he had asked me several times whether N. and S. were members of our lodge (a question to which I could not reply) and that according to my observation he is incapable of feeling respect for our holy order and is too preoccupied and satisfied with the outer man to desire spiritual improvement, I had no cause to doubt him, but he seemed to me insincere, and all the time I stood alone with him in the dark temple it seemed to me that he was smiling contemptuously at my words, and I wished really to stab his bare breast with the sword I held to it. I could not be eloquent, nor could I frankly mention my doubts to the Brothers and to the Grand Master. Great Architect of Nature, help me to find the true path out of the labyrinth of lies!
After this, three pages were left blank in the diary, and then the following was written:
I have had a long and instructive talk alone with Brother V., who advised me to hold fast by brother A. Though I am unworthy, much was revealed to me. Adonai is the name of the creator of the world. Elohim is the name of the ruler of all. The third name is the name unutterable which means the All. Talks with Brother V. strengthen, refresh, and support me in the path of virtue. In his presence doubt has no place. The distinction between the poor teachings of mundane science and our sacred all-embracing teaching is clear to me. Human sciences dissect everything to comprehend it, and kill everything to examine it. In the holy science of our order all is one, all is known in its entirety and life. The Trinity- the three elements of matter- are sulphur, mercury, and salt. Sulphur is of an oily and fiery nature; in combination with salt by its fiery nature it arouses a desire in the latter by means of which it attracts mercury, seizes it, holds it, and in combination produces other bodies. Mercury is a fluid, volatile, spiritual essence. Christ, the Holy Spirit, Him!…
Awoke late, read the Scriptures but was apathetic. Afterwards went and paced up and down the large hall. I wished to meditate, but instead my imagination pictured an occurrence of four years ago, when Dolokhov, meeting me in Moscow after our duel, said he hoped I was enjoying perfect peace of mind in spite of my wife’s absence. At the time I gave him no answer. Now I recalled every detail of that meeting and in my mind gave him the most malevolent and bitter replies. I recollected myself and drove away that thought only when I found myself glowing with anger, but I did not sufficiently repent. Afterwards Boris Drubetskoy came and began relating various adventures. His coming vexed me from the first, and I said something disagreeable to him. He replied. I flared up and said much that was unpleasant and even rude to him. He became silent, and I recollected myself only when it was too late. My God, I cannot get on with him at all. The cause of this is my egotism. I set myself above him and so become much worse than he, for he is lenient to my rudeness while I on the contrary nourish contempt for him. O God, grant that in his presence I may rather see my own vileness, and behave so that he too may benefit. After dinner I fell asleep and as I was drowsing off I clearly heard a voice saying in my left ear, “Thy day!”
I dreamed that I was walking in the dark and was suddenly surrounded by dogs, but I went on undismayed. Suddenly a smallish dog seized my left thigh with its teeth and would not let go. I began to throttle it with my hands. Scarcely had I torn it off before another, a bigger one, began biting me. I lifted it up, but the higher I lifted it the bigger and heavier it grew. And suddenly Brother A. came and, taking my arm, led me to a building to enter which we had to pass along a narrow plank. I stepped on it, but it bent and gave way and I began to clamber up a fence which I could scarcely reach with my hands. After much effort I dragged myself up, so that my leg hung down on one side and my body on the other. I looked round and saw Brother A. standing on the fence and pointing me to a broad avenue and garden, and in the garden was a large and beautiful building. I woke up. O Lord, great Architect of Nature, help me to tear from myself these dogs- my passions especially the last, which unites in itself the strength of all the former ones, and aid me to enter that temple of virtue to a vision of which I attained in my dream.
I dreamed that Joseph Alexeevich was sitting in my house, and that I was very glad and wished to entertain him. It seemed as if I chattered incessantly with other people and suddenly remembered that this could not please him, and I wished to come close to him and embrace him. But as soon as I drew near I saw that his face had changed and grown young, and he was quietly telling me something about the teaching of our order, but so softly that I could not hear it. Then it seemed that we all left the room and something strange happened. We were sitting or lying on the floor. He was telling me something, and I wished to show him my sensibility, and not listening to what he was saying I began picturing to myself the condition of my inner man and the grace of God sanctifying me. And tears came into my eyes, and I was glad he noticed this. But be looked at me with vexation and jumped up, breaking off his remarks. I felt abashed and asked whether what he had been saying did not concern me; but he did not reply, gave me a kind look, and then we suddenly found ourselves in my bedroom where there is a double bed. He lay down on the edge of it and I burned with longing to caress him and lie down too. And he said, “Tell me frankly what is your chief temptation? Do you know it? I think you know it already.” Abashed by this question, I replied that sloth was my chief temptation. He shook his head incredulously; and even more abashed, I said that though I was living with my wife as he advised, I was not living with her as her husband. To this he replied that one should not deprive a wife of one’s embraces and gave me to understand that that was my duty. But I replied that I should be ashamed to do it, and suddenly everything vanished. And I awoke and found in my mind the text from the Gospel: “The life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” Joseph Alexeevich’s face had looked young and bright. That day I received a letter from my benefactor in which he wrote about “conjugal duties.”
I had a dream from which I awoke with a throbbing heart. I saw that I was in Moscow in my house, in the big sitting room, and Joseph Alexeevich came in from the drawing room. I seemed to know at once that the process of regeneration had already taken place in him, and I rushed to meet him. I embraced him and kissed his hands, and he said, “Hast thou noticed that my face is different?” I looked at him, still holding him in my arms, and saw that his face was young, but that he had no hair on his head and his features were quite changed. And I said, “I should have known you had I met you by chance,” and I thought to myself, “Am I telling the truth?” And suddenly I saw him lying like a dead body; then he gradually recovered and went with me into my study carrying a large book of sheets of drawing paper; I said, “I drew that,” and he answered by bowing his head. I opened the book, and on all the pages there were excellent drawings. And in my dream I knew that these drawings represented the love adventures of the soul with its beloved. And on its pages I saw a beautiful representation of a maiden in transparent garments and with a transparent body, flying up to the clouds. And I seemed to know that this maiden was nothing else than a representation of the Song of Songs. And looking at those drawings I dreamed I felt that I was doing wrong, but could not tear myself away from them. Lord, help me! My God, if Thy forsaking me is Thy doing, Thy will be done; but if I am myself the cause, teach me what I should do! I shall perish of my debauchery if Thou utterly desertest me!
The Rostovs’ monetary affairs had not improved during the two years they had spent in the country.
Though Nicholas Rostov had kept firmly to his resolution and was still serving modestly in an obscure regiment, spending comparatively little, the way of life at Otradnoe- Mitenka’s management of affairs, in particular- was such that the debts inevitably increased every year. The only resource obviously presenting itself to the old count was to apply for an official post, so he had come to Petersburg to look for one and also, as he said, to let the lassies enjoy themselves for the last time.
Soon after their arrival in Petersburg Berg proposed to Vera and was accepted.
Though in Moscow the Rostovs belonged to the best society without themselves giving it a thought, yet in Petersburg their circle of acquaintances was a mixed and indefinite one. In Petersburg they were provincials, and the very people they had entertained in Moscow without inquiring to what set they belonged, here looked down on them.
The Rostovs lived in the same hospitable way in Petersburg as in Moscow, and the most diverse people met at their suppers. Country neighbors from Otradnoe, impoverished old squires and their daughters, Peronskaya a maid of honor, Pierre Bezukhov, and the son of their district postmaster who had obtained a post in Petersburg. Among the men who very soon became frequent visitors at the Rostovs’ house in Petersburg were Boris, Pierre whom the count had met in the street and dragged home with him, and Berg who spent whole days at the Rostovs’ and paid the eldest daughter, Countess Vera, the attentions a young man pays when he intends to propose.
Not in vain had Berg shown everybody his right hand wounded at Austerlitz and held a perfectly unnecessary sword in his left. He narrated that episode so persistently and with so important an air that everyone believed in the merit and usefulness of his deed, and he had obtained two decorations for Austerlitz.
In the Finnish war he also managed to distinguish himself. He had picked up the scrap of a grenade that had killed an aide-de-camp standing near the commander in chief and had taken it to his commander. Just as he had done after Austerlitz, he related this occurrence at such length and so insistently that everyone again believed it had been necessary to do this, and he received two decorations for the Finnish war also. In 1809 he was a captain in the Guards, wore medals, and held some special lucrative posts in Petersburg.
Though some skeptics smiled when told of Berg’s merits, it could not be denied that he was a painstaking and brave officer, on excellent terms with his superiors, and a moral young man with a brilliant career before him and an assured position in society.
Four years before, meeting a German comrade in the stalls of a Moscow theater, Berg had pointed out Vera Rostova to him and had said in German, “das soll mein Weib werden,”* and from that moment had made up his mind to marry her. Now in Petersburg, having considered the Rostovs’ position and his own, he decided that the time had come to propose.
*”That girl shall be my wife.”
Berg’s proposal was at first received with a perplexity that was not flattering to him. At first it seemed strange that the son of an obscure Livonian gentleman should propose marriage to a Countess Rostova; but Berg’s chief characteristic was such a naive and good natured egotism that the Rostovs involuntarily came to think it would be a good thing, since he himself was so firmly convinced that it was good, indeed excellent. Moreover, the Rostovs’ affairs were seriously embarrassed, as the suitor could not but know; and above all, Vera was twenty-four, had been taken out everywhere, and though she was certainly good-looking and sensible, no one up to now had proposed to her. So they gave their consent.
“You see,” said Berg to his comrade, whom he called “friend” only because he knew that everyone has friends, “you see, I have considered it all, and should not marry if I had not thought it all out or if it were in any way unsuitable. But on the contrary, my papa and mamma are now provided for- I have arranged that rent for them in the Baltic Provinces- and I can live in Petersburg on my pay, and with her fortune and my good management we can get along nicely. I am not marrying for money- I consider that dishonorable- but a wife should bring her share and a husband his. I have my position in the service, she has connections and some means. In our times that is worth something, isn’t it? But above all, she is a handsome, estimable girl, and she loves me…”
Berg blushed and smiled.
“And I love her, because her character is sensible and very good. Now the other sister, though they are the same family, is quite different- an unpleasant character and has not the same intelligence. She is so… you know?… Unpleasant… But my fiancee!… Well, you will be coming,” he was going to say, “to dine,” but changed his mind and said “to take tea with us,” and quickly doubling up his tongue he blew a small round ring of tobacco smoke, perfectly embodying his dream of happiness.
After the first feeling of perplexity aroused in the parents by Berg’s proposal, the holiday tone of joyousness usual at such times took possession of the family, but the rejoicing was external and insincere. In the family’s feeling toward this wedding a certain awkwardness and constraint was evident, as if they were ashamed of not having loved Vera sufficiently and of being so ready to get her off their hands. The old count felt this most. He would probably have been unable to state the cause of his embarrassment, but it resulted from the state of his affairs. He did not know at all how much he had, what his debts amounted to, or what dowry he could give Vera. When his daughters were born he had assigned to each of them, for her dowry, an estate with three hundred serfs; but one of these estates had already been sold, and the other was mortgaged and the interest so much in arrears that it would have to be sold, so that it was impossible to give it to Vera. Nor had he any money.
Berg had already been engaged a month, and only a week remained before the wedding, but the count had not yet decided in his own mind the question of the dowry, nor spoken to his wife about it. At one time the count thought of giving her the Ryazan estate or of selling a forest, at another time of borrowing money on a note of hand. A few days before the wedding Berg entered the count’s study early one morning and, with a pleasant smile, respectfully asked his future father-in-law to let him know what Vera’s dowry would be. The count was so disconcerted by this long-foreseen inquiry that without consideration he gave the first reply that came into his head. “I like your being businesslike about it…. I like it. You shall be satisfied….”
And patting Berg on the shoulder he got up, wishing to end the conversation. But Berg, smiling pleasantly, explained that if he did not know for certain how much Vera would have and did not receive at least part of the dowry in advance, he would have to break matters off.
“Because, consider, Count- if I allowed myself to marry now without having definite means to maintain my wife, I should be acting badly….”
The conversation ended by the count, who wished to be generous and to avoid further importunity, saying that he would give a note of hand for eighty thousand rubles. Berg smiled meekly, kissed the count on the shoulder, and said that he was very grateful, but that it was impossible for him to arrange his new life without receiving thirty thousand in ready money. “Or at least twenty thousand, Count,” he added, “and then a note of hand for only sixty thousand.”
“Yes, yes, all right!” said the count hurriedly. “Only excuse me, my dear fellow, I’ll give you twenty thousand and a note of hand for eighty thousand as well. Yes, yes! Kiss me.”
Natasha was sixteen and it was the year 1809, the very year to which she had counted on her fingers with Boris after they had kissed four years ago. Since then she had not seen him. Before Sonya and her mother, if Boris happened to be mentioned, she spoke quite freely of that episode as of some childish, long-forgotten matter that was not worth mentioning. But in the secret depths of her soul the question whether her engagement to Boris was a jest or an important, binding promise tormented her.
Since Boris left Moscow in 1805 to join the army he had had not seen the Rostovs. He had been in Moscow several times, and had passed near Otradnoe, but had never been to see them.
Sometimes it occurred to Natasha that he not wish to see her, and this conjecture was confirmed by the sad tone in which her elders spoke of him.
“Nowadays old friends are not remembered,” the countess would say when Boris was mentioned.
Anna Mikhaylovna also had of late visited them less frequently, seemed to hold herself with particular dignity, and always spoke rapturously and gratefully of the merits of her son and the brilliant career on which he had entered. When the Rostovs came to Petersburg Boris called on them.
He drove to their house in some agitation. The memory of Natasha was his most poetic recollection. But he went with the firm intention of letting her and her parents feel that the childish relations between himself and Natasha could not be binding either on her or on him. He had a brilliant position in society thanks to his intimacy with Countess Bezukhova, a brilliant position in the service thanks to the patronage of an important personage whose complete confidence he enjoyed, and he was beginning to make plans for marrying one of the richest heiresses in Petersburg, plans which might very easily be realized. When he entered the Rostovs’ drawing room Natasha was in her own room. When she heard of his arrival she almost ran into the drawing room, flushed and beaming with a more than cordial smile.
Boris remembered Natasha in a short dress, with dark eyes shining from under her curls and boisterous, childish laughter, as he had known her four years before; and so he was taken aback when quite a different Natasha entered, and his face expressed rapturous astonishment. This expression on his face pleased Natasha.
“Well, do you recognize your little madcap playmate?” asked the countess.
Boris kissed Natasha’s hand and said that he was astonished at the change in her.
“How handsome you have grown!”
“I should think so!” replied Natasha’s laughing eyes.
“And is Papa older?” she asked.
Natasha sat down and, without joining in Boris’ conversation with the countess, silently and minutely studied her childhood’s suitor. He felt the weight of that resolute and affectionate scrutiny and glanced at her occasionally.
Boris’ uniform, spurs, tie, and the way his hair was brushed were all comme il faut and in the latest fashion. This Natasha noticed at once. He sat rather sideways in the armchair next to the countess, arranging with his right hand the cleanest of gloves that fitted his left hand like a skin, and he spoke with a particularly refined compression of his lips about the amusements of the highest Petersburg society, recalling with mild irony old times in Moscow and Moscow acquaintances. It was not accidentally, Natasha felt, that he alluded, when speaking of the highest aristocracy, to an ambassador’s ball he had attended, and to invitations he had received from N.N. and S.S.
All this time Natasha sat silent, glancing up at him from under her brows. This gaze disturbed and confused Boris more and more. He looked round more frequently toward her, and broke off in what he was saying. He did not stay more than ten minutes, then rose and took his leave. The same inquisitive, challenging, and rather mocking eyes still looked at him. After his first visit Boris said to himself that Natasha attracted him just as much as ever, but that he must not yield to that feeling, because to marry her, a girl almost without fortune, would mean ruin to his career, while to renew their former relations without intending to marry her would be dishonorable. Boris made up his mind to avoid meeting Natasha, but despite that resolution he called again a few days later and began calling often and spending whole days at the Rostovs’. It seemed to him that he ought to have an explanation with Natasha and tell her that the old times must be forgotten, that in spite of everything… she could not be his wife, that he had no means, and they would never let her marry him. But he failed to do so and felt awkward about entering on such an explanation. From day to day he became more and more entangled. It seemed to her mother and Sonya that Natasha was in love with Boris as of old. She sang him his favorite songs, showed him her album, making him write in it, did not allow him to allude to the past, letting it be understood how was the present; and every day he went away in a fog, without having said what he meant to, and not knowing what he was doing or why he came, or how it would all end. He left off visiting Helene and received reproachful notes from her every day, and yet he continued to spend whole days with the Rostovs.
One night when the old countess, in nightcap and dressing jacket, without her false curls, and with her poor little knob of hair showing under her white cotton cap, knelt sighing and groaning on a rug and bowing to the ground in prayer, her door creaked and Natasha, also in a dressing jacket with slippers on her bare feet and her hair in curlpapers, ran in. The countess- her prayerful mood dispelled- looked round and frowned. She was finishing her last prayer: “Can it be that this couch will be my grave?” Natasha, flushed and eager, seeing her mother in prayer, suddenly checked her rush, half sat down, and unconsciously put out her tongue as if chiding herself. Seeing that her mother was still praying she ran on tiptoe to the bed and, rapidly slipping one little foot against the other, pushed off her slippers and jumped onto the bed the countess had feared might become her grave. This couch was high, with a feather bed and five pillows each smaller than the one below. Natasha jumped on it, sank into the feather bed, rolled over to the wall, and began snuggling up the bedclothes as she settled down, raising her knees to her chin, kicking out and laughing almost inaudibly, now covering herself up head and all, and now peeping at her mother. The countess finished her prayers and came to the bed with a stern face, but seeing, that Natasha’s head was covered, she smiled in her kind, weak way.
“Now then, now then!” said she.
“Mamma, can we have a talk? Yes?” said Natasha. “Now, just one on your throat and another… that’ll do!” And seizing her mother round the neck, she kissed her on the throat. In her behavior to her mother Natasha seemed rough, but she was so sensitive and tactful that however she clasped her mother she always managed to do it without hurting her or making her feel uncomfortable or displeased.
“Well, what is it tonight?” said the mother, having arranged her pillows and waited until Natasha, after turning over a couple of times, had settled down beside her under the quilt, spread out her arms, and assumed a serious expression.
These visits of Natasha’s at night before the count returned from his club were one of the greatest pleasures of both mother, and daughter.
“What is it tonight?- But I have to tell you…”
Natasha put her hand on her mother’s mouth.
“About Boris… I know,” she said seriously; “that’s what I have come about. Don’t say it- I know. No, do tell me!” and she removed her hand. “Tell me, Mamma! He’s nice?”
“Natasha, you are sixteen. At your age I was married. You say Boris is nice. He is very nice, and I love him like a son. But what then?… What are you thinking about? You have quite turned his head, I can see that….”
As she said this the countess looked round at her daughter. Natasha was lying looking steadily straight before her at one of the mahogany sphinxes carved on the corners of the bedstead, so that the countess only saw her daughter’s face in profile. That face struck her by its peculiarly serious and concentrated expression.
Natasha was listening and considering.
“Well, what then?” said she.
“You have quite turned his head, and why? What do you want of him? You know you can’t marry him.”
“Why not?” said Natasha, without changing her position.
“Because he is young, because he is poor, because he is a relation… and because you yourself don’t love him.”
“How do you know?”
“I know. It is not right, darling!”
“But if I want to…” said Natasha.
“Leave off talking nonsense,” said the countess.
“But if I want to…”
“Natasha, I am in earnest…”
Natasha did not let her finish. She drew the countess’ large hand to her, kissed it on the back and then on the palm, then again turned it over and began kissing first one knuckle, then the space between the knuckles, then the next knuckle, whispering, “January, February, March, April, May. Speak, Mamma, why don’t you say anything? Speak!” said she, turning to her mother, who was tenderly gazing at her daughter and in that contemplation seemed to have forgotten all she had wished to say.
“It won’t do, my love! Not everyone will understand this friendship dating from your childish days, and to see him so intimate with you may injure you in the eyes of other young men who visit us, and above all it torments him for nothing. He may already have found a suitable and wealthy match, and now he’s half crazy.”
“Crazy?” repeated Natasha.
“I’ll tell you some things about myself. I had a cousin…”
“I know! Cyril Matveich… but he is old.”
“He was not always old. But this is what I’ll do, Natasha, I’ll have a talk with Boris. He need not come so often….”
“Why not, if he likes to?”
“Because I know it will end in nothing….”
“How can you know? No, Mamma, don’t speak to him! What nonsense!” said Natasha in the tone of one being deprived of her property. “Well, I won’t marry, but let him come if he enjoys it and I enjoy it.” Natasha smiled and looked at her mother. “Not to marry, but just so,” she added.
“How so, my pet?”
“Just so. There’s no need for me to marry him. But… just so.”
“Just so, just so,” repeated the countess, and shaking all over, she went off into a good humored, unexpected, elderly laugh.
“Don’t laugh, stop!” cried Natasha. “You’re shaking the whole bed! You’re awfully like me, just such another giggler…. Wait…” and she seized the countess’ hands and kissed a knuckle of the little finger, saying, “June,” and continued, kissing, “July, August,” on the other hand. “But, Mamma, is he very much in love? What do you think? Was anybody ever so much in love with you? And he’s very nice, very, very nice. Only not quite my taste- he is so narrow, like the dining-room clock…. Don’t you understand? Narrow, you know- gray, light gray…”
“What rubbish you’re talking!” said the countess.
Natasha continued: “Don’t you really understand? Nicholas would understand…. Bezukhov, now, is blue, dark-blue and red, and he is square.”
“You flirt with him too,” said the countess, laughing.
“No, he is a Freemason, I have found out. He is fine, dark-blue and red…. How can I explain it to you?”
“Little countess!” the count’s voice called from behind the door. “You’re not asleep?” Natasha jumped up, snatched up her slippers, and ran barefoot to her own room.
It was a long time before she could sleep. She kept thinking that no one could understand all that she understood and all there was in her.
“Sonya?” she thought, glancing at that curled-up, sleeping little kitten with her enormous plait of hair. “No, how could she? She’s virtuous. She fell in love with Nicholas and does not wish to know anything more. Even Mamma does not understand. It is wonderful how clever I am and how… charming she is,” she went on, speaking of herself in the third person, and imagining it was some very wise man- the wisest and best of men- who was saying it of her. “There is everything, everything in her,” continued this man. “She is unusually intelligent, charming… and then she is pretty, uncommonly pretty, and agile- she swims and rides splendidly… and her voice! One can really say it’s a wonderful voice!”
She hummed a scrap from her favorite opera by Cherubini, threw herself on her bed, laughed at the pleasant thought that she would immediately fall asleep, called Dunyasha the maid to put out the candle, and before Dunyasha had left the room had already passed into yet another happier world of dreams, where everything was as light and beautiful as in reality, and even more so because it was different.
Next day the countess called Boris aside and had a talk with him, after which he ceased coming to the Rostovs’.
On the thirty-first of December, New Year’s Eve, 1809 – 10 an old grandee of Catherine’s day was giving a ball and midnight supper. The diplomatic corps and the Emperor himself were to be present.
The grandee’s well-known mansion on the English Quay glittered with innumerable lights. Police were stationed at the brightly lit entrance which was carpeted with red baize, and not only gendarmes but dozens of police officers and even the police master himself stood at the porch. Carriages kept driving away and fresh ones arriving, with red-liveried footmen and footmen in plumed hats. From the carriages emerged men wearing uniforms, stars, and ribbons, while ladies in satin and ermine cautiously descended the carriage steps which were let down for them with a clatter, and then walked hurriedly and noiselessly over the baize at the entrance.
Almost every time a new carriage drove up a whisper ran through the crowd and caps were doffed.
“The Emperor?… No, a minister…. prince… ambassador. Don’t you see the plumes?…” was whispered among the crowd.
One person, better dressed than the rest, seemed to know everyone and mentioned by name the greatest dignitaries of the day.
A third of the visitors had already arrived, but the Rostovs, who were to be present, were still hurrying to get dressed.
There had been many discussions and preparations for this ball in the Rostov family, many fears that the invitation would not arrive, that the dresses would not be ready, or that something would not be arranged as it should be.
Marya Ignatevna Peronskaya, a thin and shallow maid of honor at the court of the Dowager Empress, who was a friend and relation of the countess and piloted the provincial Rostovs in Petersburg high society, was to accompany them to the ball.
They were to call for her at her house in the Taurida Gardens at ten o’clock, but it was already five minutes to ten, and the girls were not yet dressed.
Natasha was going to her first grand ball. She had got up at eight that morning and had been in a fever of excitement and activity all day. All her powers since morning had been concentrated on ensuring that they all- she herself, Mamma, and Sonya- should be as well dressed as possible. Sonya and her mother put themselves entirely in her hands. The countess was to wear a claret-colored velvet dress, and the two girls white gauze over pink silk slips, with roses on their bodices and their hair dressed a la grecque.
Everything essential had already been done; feet, hands, necks, and ears washed, perfumed, and powdered, as befits a ball; the openwork silk stockings and white satin shoes with ribbons were already on; the hairdressing was almost done. Sonya was finishing dressing and so was the countess, but Natasha, who had bustled about helping them all, was behindhand. She was still sitting before a looking-glass with a dressing jacket thrown over her slender shoulders. Sonya stood ready dressed in the middle of the room and, pressing the head of a pin till it hurt her dainty finger, was fixing on a last ribbon that squeaked as the pin went through it.
“That’s not the way, that’s not the way, Sonya!” cried Natasha turning her head and clutching with both hands at her hair which the maid who was dressing it had not time to release. “That bow is not right. Come here!”
Sonya sat down and Natasha pinned the ribbon on differently.
“Allow me, Miss! I can’t do it like that,” said the maid who was holding Natasha’s hair.
“Oh, dear! Well then, wait. That’s right, Sonya.”
“Aren’t you ready? It is nearly ten,” came the countess’ voice.
“Directly! Directly! And you, Mamma?”
“I have only my cap to pin on.”
“Don’t do it without me!” called Natasha. “You won’t do it right.”
“But it’s already ten.”
They had decided to be at the ball by half past ten, and Natasha had still to get dressed and they had to call at the Taurida Gardens.
When her hair was done, Natasha, in her short petticoat from under which her dancing shoes showed, and in her mother’s dressing jacket, ran up to Sonya, scrutinized her, and then ran to her mother. Turning her mother’s head this way and that, she fastened on the cap and, hurriedly kissing her gray hair, ran back to the maids who were turning up the hem of her skirt.
The cause of the delay was Natasha’s skirt, which was too long. Two maids were turning up the hem and hurriedly biting off the ends of thread. A third with pins in her mouth was running about between the countess and Sonya, and a fourth held the whole of the gossamer garment up high on one uplifted hand.
“Mavra, quicker, darling!”
“Give me my thimble, Miss, from there…”
“Whenever will you be ready?” asked the count coming to the door. “Here is here is some scent. Peronskaya must be tired of waiting.”
“It’s ready, Miss,” said the maid, holding up the shortened gauze dress with two fingers, and blowing and shaking something off it, as if by this to express a consciousness of the airiness and purity of what she held.
Natasha began putting on the dress.
“In a minute! In a minute! Don’t come in, Papa!” she cried to her father as he opened the door- speaking from under the filmy skirt which still covered her whole face.
Sonya slammed the door to. A minute later they let the count in. He was wearing a blue swallow-tail coat, shoes and stockings, and was perfumed and his hair pomaded.
“Oh, Papa! how nice you look! Charming!” cried Natasha, as she stood in the middle of the room smoothing out the folds of the gauze.
“If you please, Miss! allow me,” said the maid, who on her knees was pulling the skirt straight and shifting the pins from one side of her mouth to the other with her tongue.
“Say what you like,” exclaimed Sonya, in a despairing voice as she looked at Natasha, “say what you like, it’s still too long.”
Natasha stepped back to look at herself in the pier glass. The dress was too long.
“Really, madam, it is not at all too long,” said Mavra, crawling on her knees after her young lady.
“Well, if it’s too long we’ll take it up… we’ll tack it up in one minute,” said the resolute Dunyasha taking a needle that was stuck on the front of her little shawl and, still kneeling on the floor, set to work once more.
At that moment, with soft steps, the countess came in shyly, in her cap and velvet gown.
“Oo-oo, my beauty!” exclaimed the count, “she looks better than any of you!”
He would have embraced her but, blushing, she stepped aside fearing to be rumpled.
“Mamma, your cap, more to this side,” said Natasha. “I’ll arrange it,” and she rushed forward so that the maids who were tacking up her skirt could not move fast enough and a piece of gauze was torn off.
“Oh goodness! What has happened? Really it was not my fault!”
“Never mind, I’ll run it up, it won’t show,” said Dunyasha.
“What a beauty- a very queen!” said the nurse as she came to the door. “And Sonya! They are lovely!”
At a quarter past ten they at last got into their carriages and started. But they had still to call at the Taurida Gardens.
Peronskaya was quite ready. In spite of her age and plainness she had gone through the same process as the Rostovs, but with less flurry- for to her it was a matter of routine. Her ugly old body was washed, perfumed, and powdered in just the same way. She had washed behind her ears just as carefully, and when she entered her drawing room in her yellow dress, wearing her badge as maid of honor, her old lady’s maid was as full of rapturous admiration as the Rostovs’ servants had been.
She praised the Rostovs’ toilets. They praised her taste and toilet, and at eleven o’clock, careful of their coiffures and dresses, they settled themselves in their carriages and drove off.
Natasha had not had a moment free since early morning and had not once had time to think of what lay before her.
In the damp chill air and crowded closeness of the swaying carriage, she for the first time vividly imagined what was in store for her there at the ball, in those brightly lighted rooms- with music, flowers, dances, the Emperor, and all the brilliant young people of Petersburg. The prospect was so splendid that she hardly believed it would come true, so out of keeping was it with the chill darkness and closeness of the carriage. She understood all that awaited her only when, after stepping over the red baize at the entrance, she entered the hall, took off her fur cloak, and, beside Sonya and in front of her mother, mounted the brightly illuminated stairs between the flowers. Only then did she remember how she must behave at a ball, and tried to assume the majestic air she considered indispensable for a girl on such an occasion. But, fortunately for her, she felt her eyes growing misty, she saw nothing clearly, her pulse beat a hundred to the minute, and the blood throbbed at her heart. She could not assume that pose, which would have made her ridiculous, and she moved on almost fainting from excitement and trying with all her might to conceal it. And this was the very attitude that became her best. Before and behind them other visitors were entering, also talking in low tones and wearing ball dresses. The mirrors on the landing reflected ladies in white, pale-blue, and pink dresses, with diamonds and pearls on their bare necks and arms.
Natasha looked in the mirrors and could not distinguish her reflection from the others. All was blended into one brilliant procession. On entering the ballroom the regular hum of voices, footsteps, and greetings deafened Natasha, and the light and glitter dazzled her still more. The host and hostess, who had already been standing at the door for half an hour repeating the same words to the various arrivals, “Charme de vous voir,”* greeted the Rostovs and Peronskaya in the same manner.
*”Delighted to see you.”
The two girls in their white dresses, each with a rose in her black hair, both curtsied in the same way, but the hostess’ eye involuntarily rested longer on the slim Natasha. She looked at her and gave her alone a special smile in addition to her usual smile as hostess. Looking at her she may have recalled the golden, irrecoverable days of her own girlhood and her own first ball. The host also followed Natasha with his eyes and asked the count which was his daughter.
“Charming!” said he, kissing the tips of his fingers.
In the ballroom guests stood crowding at the entrance doors awaiting the Emperor. The countess took up a position in one of the front rows of that crowd. Natasha heard and felt that several people were asking about her and looking at her. She realized that those noticing her liked her, and this observation helped to calm her.
“There are some like ourselves and some worse,” she thought.
Peronskaya was pointing out to the countess the most important people at the ball.
“That is the Dutch ambassador, do you see? That gray-haired man,” she said, indicating an old man with a profusion of silver-gray curly hair, who was surrounded by ladies laughing at something he said.
“Ah, here she is, the Queen of Petersburg, Countess Bezukhova,” said Peronskaya, indicating Helene who had just entered. “How lovely! She is quite equal to Marya Antonovna. See how the men, young and old, pay court to her. Beautiful and clever… they say Prince- is quite mad about her. But see, those two, though not good-looking, are even more run after.”
She pointed to a lady who was crossing the room followed by a very plain daughter.
“She is a splendid match, a millionairess,” said Peronskaya. “And look, here come her suitors.”
“That is Bezukhova’s brother, Anatole Kuragin,” she said, indicating a handsome officer of the Horse Guards who passed by them with head erect, looking at something over the heads of the ladies. “He’s handsome, isn’t he? I hear they will marry him to that rich girl. But your cousin, Drubetskoy, is also very attentive to her. They say she has millions. Oh yes, that’s the French ambassador himself!” she replied to the countess’ inquiry about Caulaincourt. “Looks as if he were a king! All the same, the French are charming, very charming. No one more charming in society. Ah, here she is! Yes, she is still the most beautiful of them all, our Marya Antonovna! And how simply she is dressed! Lovely! And that stout one in spectacles is the universal Freemason,” she went on, indicating Pierre. “Put him beside his wife and he looks a regular buffoon!”
Pierre, swaying his stout body, advanced, making way through the crowd and nodding to right and left as casually and good-naturedly as if he were passing through a crowd at a fair. He pushed through, evidently looking for someone.
Natasha looked joyfully at the familiar face of Pierre, “the buffoon,” as Peronskaya had called him, and knew he was looking for them, and for her in particular. He had promised to be at the ball and introduce partners to her.
But before he reached them Pierre stopped beside a very handsome, dark man of middle height, and in a white uniform, who stood by a window talking to a tall man wearing stars and a ribbon. Natasha at once recognized the shorter and younger man in the white uniform: it was Bolkonski, who seemed to her to have grown much younger, happier, and better-looking.
“There’s someone else we know- Bolkonski, do you see, Mamma?” said Natasha, pointing out Prince Andrew. “You remember, he stayed a night with us at Otradnoe.”
“Oh, you know him?” said Peronskaya. “I can’t bear him. Il fait a present la pluie et le beau temps.”* He’s too proud for anything. Takes after his father. And he’s hand in glove with Speranski, writing some project or other. Just look how he treats the ladies! There’s one talking to him and he has turned away,” she said, pointing at him. “I’d give it to him if he treated me as he does those ladies.”
*”He is all the rage just now.
Suddenly everybody stirred, began talking, and pressed forward and then back, and between the two rows, which separated, the Emperor entered to the sounds of music that had immediately struck up. Behind him walked his host and hostess. He walked in rapidly, bowing to right and left as if anxious to get the first moments of the reception over. The band played the polonaise in vogue at that time on account of the words that had been set to it, beginning: “Alexander, Elisaveta, all our hearts you ravish quite…” The Emperor passed on to the drawing room, the crowd made a rush for the doors, and several persons with excited faces hurried there and back again. Then the crowd hastily retired from the drawing-room door, at which the Emperor reappeared talking to the hostess. A young man, looking distraught, pounced down on the ladies, asking them to move aside. Some ladies, with faces betraying complete forgetfulness of all the rules of decorum, pushed forward to the detriment of their toilets. The men began to choose partners and take their places for the polonaise.
Everyone moved back, and the Emperor came smiling out of the drawing room leading his hostess by the hand but not keeping time to the music. The host followed with Marya Antonovna Naryshkina; then came ambassadors, ministers, and various generals, whom Peronskaya diligently named. More than half the ladies already had partners and were taking up, or preparing to take up, their positions for the polonaise. Natasha felt that she would be left with her mother and Sonya among a minority of women who crowded near the wall, not having been invited to dance. She stood with her slender arms hanging down, her scarcely defined bosom rising and falling regularly, and with bated breath and glittering, frightened eyes gazed straight before her, evidently prepared for the height of joy or misery. She was not concerned about the Emperor or any of those great people whom Peronskaya was pointing out- she had but one thought: “Is it possible no one will ask me, that I shall not be among the first to dance? Is it possible that not one of all these men will notice me? They do not even seem to see me, or if they do they look as if they were saying, ‘Ah, she’s not the one I’m after, so it’s not worth looking at her!’ No, it’s impossible,” she thought. “They must know how I long to dance, how splendidly I dance, and how they would enjoy dancing with me.”
The strains of the polonaise, which had continued for a considerable time, had begun to sound like a sad reminiscence to Natasha’s ears. She wanted to cry. Peronskaya had left them. The count was at the other end of the room. She and the countess and Sonya were standing by themselves as in the depths of a forest amid that crowd of strangers, with no one interested in them and not wanted by anyone. Prince Andrew with a lady passed by, evidently not recognizing them. The handsome Anatole was smilingly talking to a partner on his arm and looked at Natasha as one looks at a wall. Boris passed them twice and each time turned away. Berg and his wife, who were not dancing, came up to them.
This family gathering seemed humiliating to Natasha- as if there were nowhere else for the family to talk but here at the ball. She did not listen to or look at Vera, who was telling her something about her own green dress.
At last the Emperor stopped beside his last partner (he had danced with three) and the music ceased. A worried aide-de-camp ran up to the Rostovs requesting them to stand farther back, though as it was they were already close to the wall, and from the gallery resounded the distinct, precise, enticingly rhythmical strains of a waltz. The Emperor looked smilingly down the room. A minute passed but no one had yet begun dancing. An aide-de-camp, the Master of Ceremonies, went up to Countess Bezukhova and asked her to dance. She smilingly raised her hand and laid it on his shoulder without looking at him. The aide-de-camp, an adept in his art, grasping his partner firmly round her waist, with confident deliberation started smoothly, gliding first round the edge of the circle, then at the corner of the room he caught Helene’s left hand and turned her, the only sound audible, apart from the ever-quickening music, being the rhythmic click of the spurs on his rapid, agile feet, while at every third beat his partner’s velvet dress spread out and seemed to flash as she whirled round. Natasha gazed at them and was ready to cry because it was not she who was dancing that first turn of the waltz.
Prince Andrew, in the white uniform of a cavalry colonel, wearing stockings and dancing shoes, stood looking animated and bright in the front row of the circle not far from the Rostovs. Baron Firhoff was talking to him about the first sitting of the Council of State to be held next day. Prince Andrew, as one closely connected with Speranski and participating in the work of the legislative commission, could give reliable information about that sitting, concerning which various rumors were current. But not listening to what Firhoff was saying, he was gazing now at the sovereign and now at the men intending to dance who had not yet gathered courage to enter the circle.
Prince Andrew was watching these men abashed by the Emperor’s presence, and the women who were breathlessly longing to be asked to dance.
Pierre came up to him and caught him by the arm.
“You always dance. I have a protegee, the young Rostova, here. Ask her,” he said.
“Where is she?” asked Bolkonski. “Excuse me!” he added, turning to the baron, “we will finish this conversation elsewhere- at a ball one must dance.” He stepped forward in the direction Pierre indicated. The despairing, dejected expression of Natasha’s face caught his eye. He recognized her, guessed her feelings, saw that it was her debut, remembered her conversation at the window, and with an expression of pleasure on his face approached Countess Rostova.
“Allow me to introduce you to my daughter,” said the countess, with heightened color.
“I have the pleasure of being already acquainted, if the countess remembers me,” said Prince Andrew with a low and courteous bow quite belying Peronskaya’s remarks about his rudeness, and approaching Natasha he held out his arm to grasp her waist before he had completed his invitation. He asked her to waltz. That tremulous expression on Natasha’s face, prepared either for despair or rapture, suddenly brightened into a happy, grateful, childlike smile.
“I have long been waiting for you,” that frightened happy little girl seemed to say by the smile that replaced the threatened tears, as she raised her hand to Prince Andrew’s shoulder. They were the second couple to enter the circle. Prince Andrew was one of the best dancers of his day and Natasha danced exquisitely. Her little feet in their white satin dancing shoes did their work swiftly, lightly, and independently of herself, while her face beamed with ecstatic happiness. Her slender bare arms and neck were not beautiful- compared to Helene’s her shoulders looked thin and her bosom undeveloped. But Helene seemed, as it were, hardened by a varnish left by the thousands of looks that had scanned her person, while Natasha was like a girl exposed for the first time, who would have felt very much ashamed had she not been assured that this was absolutely necessary.
Prince Andrew liked dancing, and wishing to escape as quickly as possible from the political and clever talk which everyone addressed to him, wishing also to break up the circle of restraint he disliked, caused by the Emperor’s presence, he danced, and had chosen Natasha because Pierre pointed her out to him and because she was the first pretty girl who caught his eye; but scarcely had he embraced that slender supple figure and felt her stirring so close to him and smiling so near him than the wine of her charm rose to his head, and he felt himself revived and rejuvenated when after leaving her he stood breathing deeply and watching the other dancers.
After Prince Andrew, Boris came up to ask Natasha for dance, and then the aide-de-camp who had opened the ball, and several other young men, so that, flushed and happy, and passing on her superfluous partners to Sonya, she did not cease dancing all the evening. She noticed and saw nothing of what occupied everyone else. Not only did she fail to notice that the Emperor talked a long time with the French ambassador, and how particularly gracious he was to a certain lady, or that Prince So-and-so and So-and-so did and said this and that, and that Helene had great success and was honored was by the special attention of So-and-so, but she did not even see the Emperor, and only noticed that he had gone because the ball became livelier after his departure. For one of the merry cotillions before supper Prince Andrew was again her partner. He reminded her of their first encounter in the Otradnoe avenue, and how she had been unable to sleep that moonlight night, and told her how he had involuntarily overheard her. Natasha blushed at that recollection and tried to excuse herself, as if there had been something to be ashamed of in what Prince Andrew had overheard.
Like all men who have grown up in society, Prince Andrew liked meeting someone there not of the conventional society stamp. And such was Natasha, with her surprise, her delight, her shyness, and even her mistakes in speaking French. With her he behaved with special care and tenderness, sitting beside her and talking of the simplest and most unimportant matters; he admired her shy grace. In the middle of the cotillion, having completed one of the figures, Natasha, still out of breath, was returning to her seat when another dancer chose her. She was tired and panting and evidently thought of declining, but immediately put her hand gaily on the man’s shoulder, smiling at Prince Andrew.
“I’d be glad to sit beside you and rest: I’m tired; but you see how they keep asking me, and I’m glad of it, I’m happy and I love everybody, and you and I understand it all,” and much, much more was said in her smile. When her partner left her Natasha ran across the room to choose two ladies for the figure.
“If she goes to her cousin first and then to another lady, she will be my wife,” said Prince Andrew to himself quite to his own surprise, as he watched her. She did go first to her cousin.
“What rubbish sometimes enters one’s head!” thought Prince Andrew, “but what is certain is that that girl is so charming, so original, that she won’t be dancing here a month before she will be married…. Such as she are rare here,” he thought, as Natasha, readjusting a rose that was slipping on her bodice, settled herself beside him.
When the cotillion was over the old count in his blue coat came up to the dancers. He invited Prince Andrew to come and see them, and asked his daughter whether she was enjoying herself. Natasha did not answer at once but only looked up with a smile that said reproachfully: “How can you ask such a question?”
“I have never enjoyed myself so much before!” she said, and Prince Andrew noticed how her thin arms rose quickly as if to embrace her father and instantly dropped again. Natasha was happier than she had ever been in her life. She was at that height of bliss when one becomes completely kind and good and does not believe in the possibility of evil, unhappiness, or sorrow.
At that ball Pierre for the first time felt humiliated by the position his wife occupied in court circles. He was gloomy and absent-minded. A deep furrow ran across his forehead, and standing by a window he stared over his spectacles seeing no one.
On her way to supper Natasha passed him.
Pierre’s gloomy, unhappy look struck her. She stopped in front of him. She wished to help him, to bestow on him the superabundance of her own happiness.
“How delightful it is, Count!” said she. “Isn’t it?”
Pierre smiled absent-mindedly, evidently not grasping what she said.
“Yes, I am very glad,” he said.
“How can people be dissatisfied with anything?” thought Natasha. “Especially such a capital fellow as Bezukhov!” In Natasha’s eyes all the people at the ball alike were good, kind, and splendid people, loving one another; none of them capable of injuring another- and so they ought all to be happy.
Next day Prince Andrew thought of the ball, but his mind did not dwell on it long. “Yes, it was a very brilliant ball,” and then… “Yes, that little Rostova is very charming. There’s something fresh, original, un-Petersburg-like about her that distinguishes her.” That was all he thought about yesterday’s ball, and after his morning tea he set to work.
But either from fatigue or want of sleep he was ill-disposed for work and could get nothing done. He kept criticizing his own work, as he often did, and was glad when he heard someone coming.
The visitor was Bitski, who served on various committees, frequented all the societies in Petersburg, and a passionate devotee of the new ideas and of Speranski, and a diligent Petersburg newsmonger- one of those men who choose their opinions like their clothes according to the fashion, but who for that very reason appear to be the warmest partisans. Hardly had he got rid of his hat before he ran into Prince Andrew’s room with a preoccupied air and at once began talking. He had just heard particulars of that morning’s sitting of the Council of State opened by the Emperor, and he spoke of it enthusiastically. The Emperor’s speech had been extraordinary. It had been a speech such as only constitutional monarchs deliver. “The Sovereign plainly said that the Council and Senate are estates of the realm, he said that the government must rest not on authority but on secure bases. The Emperor said that the fiscal system must be reorganized and the accounts published,” recounted Bitski, emphasizing certain words and opening his eyes significantly.
“Ah, yes! Today’s events mark an epoch, the greatest epoch in our history,” he concluded.
Prince Andrew listened to the account of the opening of the Council of State, which he had so impatiently awaited and to which he had attached such importance, and was surprised that this event, now that it had taken place, did not affect him, and even seemed quite insignificant. He listened with quiet irony to Bitski’s enthusiastic account of it. A very simple thought occurred to him: “What does it matter to me or to Bitski what the Emperor was pleased to say at the Council? Can all that make me any happier or better?”
And this simple reflection suddenly destroyed all the interest Prince Andrew had felt in the impending reforms. He was going to dine that evening at Speranski’s, “with only a few friends,” as the host had said when inviting him. The prospect of that dinner in the intimate home circle of the man he so admired had greatly interested Prince Andrew, especially as he had not yet seen Speranski in his domestic surroundings, but now he felt disinclined to go to it.
At the appointed hour, however, he entered the modest house Speranski owned in the Taurida Gardens. In the parqueted dining room this small house, remarkable for its extreme cleanliness (suggesting that of a monastery), Prince Andrew, who was rather late, found the friendly gathering of Speranski’s intimate acquaintances already assembled at five o’clock. There were no ladies present except Speranski’s little daughter (long-faced like her father) and her governess. The other guests were Gervais, Magnitski, and Stolypin. While still in the anteroom Prince Andrew heard loud voices and a ringing staccato laugh- a laugh such as one hears on the stage. Someone- it sounded like Speranski- was distinctly ejaculating ha-ha-ha. Prince Andrew had never before heard Speranski’s famous laugh, and this ringing, high pitched laughter from a statesman made a strange impression on him.
He entered the dining room. The whole company were standing between two windows at a small table laid with hors-d’oeuvres. Speranski, wearing a gray swallow-tail coat with a star on the breast, and evidently still the same waistcoat and high white stock he had worn at the meeting of the Council of State, stood at the table with a beaming countenance. His guests surrounded him. Magnitski, addressing himself to Speranski, was relating an anecdote, and Speranski was laughing in advance at what Magnitski was going to say. When Prince Andrew entered the room Magnitski’s words were again crowned by laughter. Stolypin gave a deep bass guffaw as he munched a piece of bread and cheese. Gervais laughed softly with a hissing chuckle, and Speranski in a high-pitched staccato manner.
Still laughing, Speranski held out his soft white hand to Prince Andrew.
“Very pleased to see you, Prince,” he said. “One moment…” he went on, turning to Magnitski and interrupting his story. “We have agreed that this is a dinner for recreation, with not a word about business!” and turning again to the narrator he began to laugh afresh.
Prince Andrew looked at the laughing Speranski with astonishment, regret, and disillusionment. It seemed to him that this was not Speranski but someone else. Everything that had formerly appeared mysterious and fascinating in Speranski suddenly became plain and unattractive.
At dinner the conversation did not cease for a moment and seemed to consist of the contents of a book of funny anecdotes. Before Magnitski had finished his story someone else was anxious to relate something still funnier. Most of the anecdotes, if not relating to the state service, related to people in the service. It seemed that in this company the insignificance of those people was so definitely accepted that the only possible attitude toward them was one of good humored ridicule. Speranski related how at the Council that morning a deaf dignitary, when asked his opinion, replied that he thought so too. Gervais gave a long account of an official revision, remarkable for the stupidity of everybody concerned. Stolypin, stuttering, broke into the conversation and began excitedly talking of the abuses that existed under the former order of things- threatening to give a serious turn to the conversation. Magnitski starting quizzing Stolypin about his vehemence. Gervais intervened with a joke, and the talk reverted to its former lively tone.
Evidently Speranski liked to rest after his labors and find amusement in a circle of friends, and his guests, understanding his wish, tried to enliven him and amuse themselves. But their gaiety seemed to Prince Andrew mirthless and tiresome. Speranski’s high-pitched voice struck him unpleasantly, and the incessant laughter grated on him like a false note. Prince Andrew did not laugh and feared that he would be a damper on the spirits of the company, but no one took any notice of his being out of harmony with the general mood. They all seemed very gay.
He tried several times to join in the conversation, but his remarks were tossed aside each time like a cork thrown out of the water, and he could not jest with them.
There was nothing wrong or unseemly in what they said, it was witty and might have been funny, but it lacked just that something which is the salt of mirth, and they were not even aware that such a thing existed.
After dinner Speranski’s daughter and her governess rose. He patted the little girl with his white hand and kissed her. And that gesture, too, seemed unnatural to Prince Andrew.
The men remained at table over their port- English fashion. In the midst of a conversation that was started about Napoleon’s Spanish affairs, which they all agreed in approving, Prince Andrew began to express a contrary opinion. Speranski smiled and, with an evident wish to prevent the conversation from taking an unpleasant course, told a story that had no connection with the previous conversation. For a few moments all were silent.
Having sat some time at table, Speranski corked a bottle of wine and, remarking, “Nowadays good wine rides in a carriage and pair,” passed it to the servant and got up. All rose and continuing to talk loudly went into the drawing room. Two letters brought by a courier were handed to Speranski and he took them to his study. As soon as he had left the room the general merriment stopped and the guests began to converse sensibly and quietly with one another.
“Now for the recitation!” said Speranski on returning from his study. “A wonderful talent!” he said to Prince Andrew, and Magnitski immediately assumed a pose and began reciting some humorous verses in French which he had composed about various well-known Petersburg people. He was interrupted several times by applause. When the verses were finished Prince Andrew went up to Speranski and took his leave.
“Where are you off to so early?” asked Speranski.
“I promised to go to a reception.”
They said no more. Prince Andrew looked closely into those mirrorlike, impenetrable eyes, and felt that it had been ridiculous of him to have expected anything from Speranski and from any of his own activities connected with him, or ever to have attributed importance to what Speranski was doing. That precise, mirthless laughter rang in Prince Andrew’s ears long after he had left the house.
When he reached home Prince Andrew began thinking of his life in Petersburg during those last four months as if it were something new. He recalled his exertions and solicitations, and the history of his project of army reform, which had been accepted for consideration and which they were trying to pass over in silence simply because another, a very poor one, had already been prepared and submitted to the Emperor. He thought of the meetings of a committee of which Berg was a member. He remembered how carefully and at what length everything relating to form and procedure was discussed at those meetings, and how sedulously and promptly all that related to the gist of the business was evaded. He recalled his labors on the Legal Code, and how painstakingly he had translated the articles of the Roman and French codes into Russian, and he felt ashamed of himself. Then he vividly pictured to himself Bogucharovo, his occupations in the country, his journey to Ryazan; he remembered the peasants and Dron the village elder, and mentally applying to them the Personal Rights he had divided into paragraphs, he felt astonished that he could have spent so much time on such useless work.
Next day Prince Andrew called at a few houses he had not visited before, and among them at the Rostovs’ with whom he had renewed acquaintance at the ball. Apart from considerations of politeness which demanded the call, he wanted to see that original, eager girl who had left such a pleasant impression on his mind, in her own home.
Natasha was one of the first to meet him. She was wearing a dark-blue house dress in which Prince Andrew thought her even prettier than in her ball dress. She and all the Rostov family welcomed him as an old friend, simply and cordially. The whole family, whom he had formerly judged severely, now seemed to him to consist of excellent, simple, and kindly people. The old count’s hospitality and good nature, which struck one especially in Petersburg as a pleasant surprise, were such that Prince Andrew could not refuse to stay to dinner. “Yes,” he thought, “they are capital people, who of course have not the slightest idea what a treasure they possess in Natasha; but they are kindly folk and form the best possible setting for this strikingly poetic, charming girl, overflowing with life!”
In Natasha Prince Andrew was conscious of a strange world completely alien to him and brimful of joys unknown to him, a different world, that in the Otradnoe avenue and at the window that moonlight night had already begun to disconcert him. Now this world disconcerted him no longer and was no longer alien to him, but he himself having entered it found in it a new enjoyment.
After dinner Natasha, at Prince Andrew’s request, went to the clavichord and began singing. Prince Andrew stood by a window talking to the ladies and listened to her. In the midst of a phrase he ceased speaking and suddenly felt tears choking him, a thing he had thought impossible for him. He looked at Natasha as she sang, and something new and joyful stirred in his soul. He felt happy and at the same time sad. He had absolutely nothing to weep about yet he was ready to weep. What about? His former love? The little princess? His disillusionments?… His hopes for the future?… Yes and no. The chief reason was a sudden, vivid sense of the terrible contrast between something infinitely great and illimitable within him and that limited and material something that he, and even she, was. This contrast weighed on and yet cheered him while she sang.
As soon as Natasha had finished she went up to him and asked how he liked her voice. She asked this and then became confused, feeling that she ought not to have asked it. He smiled, looking at her, and said he liked her singing as he liked everything she did.
Prince Andrew left the Rostovs’ late in the evening. He went to bed from habit, but soon realized that he could not sleep. Having lit his candle he sat up in bed, then got up, then lay down again not at all troubled by his sleeplessness: his soul was as fresh and joyful as if he had stepped out of a stuffy room into God’s own fresh air. It did not enter his head that he was in love with Natasha; he was not thinking about her, but only picturing her to himself, and in consequence all life appeared in a new light. “Why do I strive, why do I toil in this narrow, confined frame, when life, all life with all its joys, is open to me?” said he to himself. And for the first time for a very long while he began making happy plans for the future. He decided that he must attend to his son’s education by finding a tutor and putting the boy in his charge, then he ought to retire from the service and go abroad, and see England, Switzerland and Italy. “I must use my freedom while I feel so much strength and youth in me,” he said to himself. “Pierre was right when he said one must believe in the possibility of happiness in order to be happy, and now I do believe in it. Let the dead bury their dead, but while one has life one must live and be happy!” thought he.
One morning Colonel Berg, whom Pierre knew as he knew everybody in Moscow and Petersburg, came to see him. Berg arrived in an immaculate brand-new uniform, with his hair pomaded and brushed forward over his temples as the Emperor Alexander wore his hair.
“I have just been to see the countess, your wife. Unfortunately she could not grant my request, but I hope, Count, I shall be more fortunate with you,” he said with a smile.
“What is it you wish, Colonel? I am at your service.”
“I have now quite settled in my new rooms, Count” (Berg said this with perfect conviction that this information could not but be agreeable), “and so I wish to arrange just a small party for my own and my wife’s friends.” (He smiled still more pleasantly.) “I wished to ask the countess and you to do me the honor of coming to tea and to supper.”
Only Countess Helene, considering the society of such people as the Bergs beneath her, could be cruel enough to refuse such an invitation. Berg explained so clearly why he wanted to collect at his house a small but select company, and why this would give him pleasure, and why though he grudged spending money on cards or anything harmful, he was prepared to run into some expense for the sake of good society- that Pierre could not refuse, and promised to come.
“But don’t be late, Count, if I may venture to ask; about ten minutes to eight, please. We shall make up a rubber. Our general is coming. He is very good to me. We shall have supper, Count. So you will do me the favor.”
Contrary to his habit of being late, Pierre on that day arrived at the Bergs’ house, not at ten but at fifteen minutes to eight.
Having prepared everything necessary for the party, the Bergs were really for their guests’ arrival.
In their new, clean, and light study with its small busts and pictures and new furniture sat Berg and his wife. Berg, closely buttoned up in his new uniform, sat beside his wife explaining to her that one always could and should be acquainted with people above one, because only then does one get satisfaction from acquaintances.
“You can get to know something, you can ask for something. See how I managed from my first promotion.” (Berg measured his life not by years but by promotions.) “My comrades are still nobodies, while I am only waiting for a vacancy to command a regiment, and have the happiness to be your husband.” (He rose and kissed Vera’s hand, and on the way to her straightened out a turned-up corner of the carpet.) “And how have I obtained all this? Chiefly by knowing how to choose my aquaintances. It goes without saying that one must be conscientious and methodical.”
Berg smiled with a sense of his superiority over a weak woman, and paused, reflecting that this dear wife of his was after all but a weak woman who could not understand all that constitutes a man’s dignity, what it was ein Mann zu sein.* Vera at the same time smiling with a sense of superiority over her good, conscientious husband, who all the same understood life wrongly, as according to Vera all men did. Berg, judging by his wife, thought all women weak and foolish. Vera, judging only by her husband and generalizing from that observation, supposed that all men, though they understand nothing and are conceited and selfish, ascribe common sense to themselves alone.
*To be a man.
Berg rose and embraced his wife carefully, so as not to crush her lace fichu for which he had paid a good price, kissing her straight on the lips.
“The only thing is, we mustn’t have children too soon,” he continued, following an unconscious sequence of ideas.
“Yes,” answered Vera, “I don’t at all want that. We must live for society.”
“Princess Yusupova wore one exactly like this,” said Berg, pointing to the fichu with a happy and kindly smile.
Just then Count Bezukhov was announced. Husband and wife glanced at one another, both smiling with self-satisfaction, and each mentally claiming the honor of this visit.
“This is what what comes of knowing how to make acquaintances,” thought Berg. “This is what comes of knowing how to conduct oneself.”
“But please don’t interrupt me when I am entertaining the guests,” said Vera, “because I know what interests each of them and what to say to different people.”
Berg smiled again.
“It can’t be helped: men must sometimes have masculine conversation,” said he.
They received Pierre in their small, new drawing-room, where it was impossible to sit down anywhere without disturbing its symmetry, neatness, and order; so it was quite comprehensible and not strange that Berg, having generously offered to disturb the symmetry of an armchair or of the sofa for his dear guest, but being apparently painfully undecided on the matter himself, eventually left the visitor to settle the question of selection. Pierre disturbed the symmetry by moving a chair for himself, and Berg and Vera immediately began their evening party, interrupting each other in their efforts to entertain their guest.
Vera, having decided in her own mind that Pierre ought to be entertained with conversation about the French embassy, at once began accordingly. Berg, having decided that masculine conversation was required, interrupted his wife’s remarks and touched on the question of the war with Austria, and unconsciously jumped from the general subject to personal considerations as to the proposals made him to take part in the Austrian campaign and the reasons why he had declined them. Though the conversation was very incoherent and Vera was angry at the intrusion of the masculine element, both husband and wife felt with satisfaction that, even if only one guest was present, their evening had begun very well and was as like as two peas to every other evening party with its talk, tea, and lighted candles.
Before long Boris, Berg’s old comrade, arrived. There was a shade of condescension and patronage in his treatment of Berg and Vera. After Boris came a lady with the colonel, then the general himself, then the Rostovs, and the party became unquestionably exactly like all other evening parties. Berg and Vera could not repress their smiles of satisfaction at the sight of all this movement in their drawing room, at the sound of the disconnected talk, the rustling of dresses, and the bowing and scraping. Everything was just as everybody always has it, especially so the general, who admired the apartment, patted Berg on the shoulder, and with parental authority superintended the setting out of the table for boston. The general sat down by Count Ilya Rostov, who was next to himself the most important guest. The old people sat with the old, the young with the young, and the hostess at the tea table, on which stood exactly the same kind of cakes in a silver cake basket as the Panins had at their party. Everything was just as it was everywhere else.
Pierre, as one of the principal guests, had to sit down to boston with Count Rostov, the general, and the colonel. At the card table he happened to be directly facing Natasha, and was struck by a curious change that had come over her since the ball, She was silent, and not only less pretty than at the ball, but only redeemed from plainness by her look of gentle indifference to everything around.
“What’s the matter with her?” thought Pierre, glancing at her. She was sitting by her sister at the tea table, and reluctantly, without looking at him, made some reply to Boris who sat down beside her. After playing out a whole suit and to his partner’s delight taking five tricks, Pierre, hearing greetings and the steps of someone who had entered the room while he was picking up his tricks, glanced again at Natasha.
“What has happened to her?” he asked himself with still greater surprise.
Prince Andrew was standing before her, saying something to her with a look of tender solicitude. She, having raised her head, was looking up at him, flushed and evidently trying to master her rapid breathing. And the bright glow of some inner fire that had been suppressed was again alight in her. She was completely transformed and from a plain girl had again become what she had been at the ball.
Prince Andrew went up to Pierre, and the latter noticed a new and youthful expression in his friend’s face.
Pierre changed places several times during the game, sitting now with his back to Natasha and now facing her, but during the whole of the six rubbers he watched her and his friend.
“Something very important is happening between them,” thought Pierre, and a feeling that was both joyful and painful agitated him and made him neglect the game.
After six rubbers the general got up, saying that it was no use playing like that, and Pierre was released. Natasha on one side was talking with Sonya and Boris, and Vera with a subtle smile was saying something to Prince Andrew. Pierre went up to his friend and, asking whether they were talking secrets, sat down beside them. Vera, having noticed Prince Andrew’s attentions to Natasha, decided that at a party, a real evening party, subtle allusions to the tender passion were absolutely necessary and, seizing a moment when Prince Andrew was alone, began a conversation with him about feelings in general and about her sister. With so intellectual a guest as she considered Prince Andrew to be, she felt that she had to employ her diplomatic tact.
When Pierre went up to them he noticed that Vera was being carried away by her self-satisfied talk, but that Prince Andrew seemed embarrassed, a thing that rarely happened with him.
“What do you think?” Vera was saying with an arch smile. “You are so discerning, Prince, and understand people’s characters so well at a glance. What do you think of Natalie? Could she be constant in her attachments? Could she, like other women” (Vera meant herself), “love a man once for all and remain true to him forever? That is what I consider true love. What do you think, Prince?”
“I know your sister too little,” replied Prince Andrew, with a sarcastic smile under which he wished to hide his embarrassment, “to be able to solve so delicate a question, and then I have noticed that the less attractive a woman is the more constant she is likely to be,” he added, and looked up Pierre who was just approaching them.
“Yes, that is true, Prince. In our days,” continued Vera- mentioning “our days” as people of limited intelligence are fond of doing, imagining that they have discovered and appraised the peculiarities of “our days” and that human characteristics change with the times- “in our days a girl has so much freedom that the pleasure of being courted often stifles real feeling in her. And it must be confessed that Natalie is very susceptible.” This return to the subject of Natalie caused Prince Andrew to knit his brows with discomfort: he was about to rise, but Vera continued with a still more subtle smile:
“I think no one has been more courted than she,” she went on, “but till quite lately she never cared seriously for anyone. Now you know, Count,” she said to Pierre, “even our dear cousin Boris, who, between ourselves, was very far gone in the land of tenderness…” (alluding to a map of love much in vogue at that time).
Prince Andrew frowned and remained silent.
“You are friendly with Boris, aren’t you?” asked Vera.
“Yes, I know him…”
“I expect he has told you of his childish love for Natasha?”
“Oh, there was childish love?” suddenly asked Prince Andrew, blushing unexpectedly.
“Yes, you know between cousins intimacy often leads to love. Le cousinage est un dangereux voisinage.* Don’t you think so?”
*”Cousinhood is a dangerous neighborhood.”
“Oh, undoubtedly!” said Prince Andrew, and with sudden and unnatural liveliness he began chaffing Pierre about the need to be very careful with his fifty-year-old Moscow cousins, and in the midst of these jesting remarks he rose, taking Pierre by the arm, and drew him aside.
“Well?” asked Pierre, seeing his friend’s strange animation with surprise, and noticing the glance he turned on Natasha as he rose.
“I must… I must have a talk with you,” said Prince Andrew. “You know that pair of women’s gloves?” (He referred to the Masonic gloves given to a newly initiated Brother to present to the woman he loved.) “I… but no, I will talk to you later on,” and with a strange light in his eyes and restlessness in his movements, Prince Andrew approached Natasha and sat down beside her. Pierre saw how Prince Andrew asked her something and how she flushed as she replied.
But at that moment Berg came to Pierre and began insisting that he should take part in an argument between the general and the colonel on the affairs in Spain.
Berg was satisfied and happy. The smile of pleasure never left his face. The party was very successful and quite like other parties he had seen. Everything was similar: the ladies’ subtle talk, the cards, the general raising his voice at the card table, and the samovar and the tea cakes; only one thing was lacking that he had always seen at the evening parties he wished to imitate. They had not yet had a loud conversation among the men and a dispute about something important and clever. Now the general had begun such a discussion and so Berg drew Pierre to it.