Book 6 Chapter 23

TO GET MARRIED his father's consent was wanted, and to obtain this Prince Andrey set off to see his father.

The father received his son's communication with external composure but with inward wrath. He could not comprehend how any one could want to alter his life, to introduce any new element into it, when life was for him so near its end. “If they would only let me live my life out as I want to, and then do as they like!” the old man said to himself. With his son, however, he made use of that diplomacy to which he always had resort in case of gravity. Assuming a calm tone, he went into the whole question judicially.

In the first place, the marriage was not a brilliant one from the point of view of birth, fortune, or distinction. Secondly, Prince Andrey was not in his first youth, and was delicate in health (the old man laid special stress on this), and the girl was very young. Thirdly, there was his son, whom it would be a pity to entrust to a mere girl. “Fourthly, and finally,” said the father, looking ironically at his son, “I beg you to defer the matter for a year; go abroad, and get well; find a German, as you want to do so, for Prince Nikolay, and then, if your love, your passion, your obstinacy—what you choose—are so great, then get married. And that's my last word on the subject; you know, the last …” the old prince concluded, in a tone that showed that nothing would compel him to alter his decision.

Prince Andrey saw clearly that the old man hoped that either his feeling or that of his betrothed would not stand the test of a year or that he, the old prince, would die himself in the course of it, and he decided to act in accordance with his father's wish; to make an offer and to defer the marriage for a year.

Three weeks after his last visit to the Rostovs, Prince Andrey returned to Petersburg.

The day after her conversation with her mother, Natasha spent the whole day expecting Bolkonsky but he did not come. The next day, and the third, it was just the same. Pierre too stayed away, and Natasha, not knowing Prince Andrey had gone away to see his father, did not know how to interpret his absence.

So passed the three weeks. Natasha would not go out anywhere, and wandered like a shadow about the house, idle and listless, wept at night in secret, and did not go in to her mother in the evenings. She was continually flushing and very irritable. It seemed to her that every one knew of her disappointment, was laughing at her, and pitying her. In spite of all the intensity of her inward grief, the wound to her vanity aggravated her misery.

She came in to the countess one day, tried to say something, and all at once burst into tears. Her tears were the tears of an offended child, who does not know why it is being punished. The countess tried to comfort Natasha. At first she listened to her mother's words, but suddenly she interrupted her:

“Stop, mamma, I don't think of him or want to think of him! Why, he kept coming, and he has left off, and he has left off …” Her voice quivered, she almost began to cry, but recovered herself, and went on calmly:

“And I don't want to be married at all. And I'm afraid of him; I have quite, quite got over it now…”

The day after this conversation, Natasha put on the old dress she specially associated with the fun she had often had when wearing it in the mornings, and began from early morning to take up her old manner of life, which she had given up ever since the ball. After morning tea, she went into the big hall, which she particularly liked on account of the loud resonance in it, and began singing her sol-fa exercises. When she had finished the first exercise she stood still in the middle of the room and repeated a single musical phrase which particularly pleased her. She listened with delight, as though it were new to her, to the charm of these notes ringing out, filling the empty space of the great room and dying slowly away, and she felt all at once cheerful. “Why think so much about it; things are nice even as it is,” she said to herself; and she began walking up and down the room, not putting her feet simply down on the resounding parquet, but at each step bending her foot from the heel to the toe (she had on some new shoes she particularly liked), and listening to the regular tap of the heel and creak of the toe with the same pleasure with which she had listened to the sound of her own voice. Passing by the looking-glass, she glanced into it. “Yes, that's me!” the expression of her face seemed to say at the sight of herself. “Well, and very nice too. And I need nobody.”

A footman would have come in to clear away something in the room, but she would not let him come in. She shut the door after him, and continued her promenade about the room. She had come back that morning to her favourite mood of loving herself and being ecstatic over herself. “What a charming creature that Natasha is!” she said again of herself, speaking as some third person, a generic, masculine person.

“Pretty, a voice, young, and she's in nobody's way, only leave her in peace.” But, however much she might be left in peace, she could not now be at peace, and she felt that immediately.

In the vestibule the hall-door opened; someone was asking, “At home?” and steps were audible. Natasha was looking at herself in the glass, but she did not see herself. She heard sounds in the vestibule. When she saw herself, her face was pale. It was he. She knew it for certain, though she herself caught the sound of his voice at the opened door.

Natasha, pale and panic-stricken, flew into the drawing-room.

“Mamma, Bolkonsky has come,” she said. “Mamma, this is awful, unbearable! … I don't want … to be tortured! What am I to do?”

The countess had not time to answer her before Prince Andrey with a troubled and serious face walked into the drawing-room. As soon as he saw Natasha his face beamed with delight. He kissed the countess's hand and Natasha's, and sat down beside the sofa.

“It's a long while since we have had the pleasure …” the countess was beginning, but Prince Andrey cut her short, answering her implied question, and obviously in haste to say what he had to say.

“I have not been to see you all this time because I have been to see my father; I had to talk over a very important matter with him. I only returned last night,” he said, glancing at Natasha. “I want to have a talk with you, countess,” he added after a moment's silence.

The countess dropped her eyes, sighing heavily.

“I am at your disposal,” she brought out.

Natasha knew she ought to go, but she was unable to do so: something seemed gripping her throat, and, regardless of civility, she stared straight at Prince Andrey with wide-open eyes.

“At once? … This minute? … No, it cannot be!” she was thinking.

He glanced at her again, and that glance convinced her that she was not mistaken. Yes, at once, this very minute her fate was to be decided.

“Run away, Natasha; I will call you,” the countess whispered.

With frightened and imploring eyes Natasha glanced at Prince Andrey and at her mother, and went out.

“I have come, countess, to ask for your daughter's hand,” said Prince Andrey.

The countess's face flushed hotly, but she said nothing.

“Your offer …” the countess began at last, sedately. He sat silent, looking into her face. “Your offer” … (she hesitated in confusion) “is agreeable to us, and … I accept your offer. I am glad of it. And my husband … I hope … but it must rest with herself …”

“I will speak to her, when I have received your consent.…Do you give it me?” said Prince Andrey.

“Yes,” said the countess, and she held out her hand to him, and with mingled feelings of aversion and tenderness she pressed her lips to his forehead as he bent to kiss her hand. Her wish was to love him as a son; but she felt that he was a man alien to her, and that she was afraid of him.

“I am sure my husband will consent,” said the countess; “but your father …”

“My father, whom I have informed of my plans, has made it an express condition that the marriage should not take place for a year. That too, I meant to speak of to you,” said Prince Andrey.

“It is true that Natasha is very young, but—so long as that?”

“It could not be helped,” said Prince Andrey with a sigh.

“I will send her to you,” said the countess, and she went out of the room.

“Lord, have mercy upon us!” she kept repeating as she looked for her daughter.

Sonya told her that Natasha was in her bedroom. She was sitting on her bed, with a pale face and dry eyes; she was gazing at the holy picture, and murmuring something to herself as she rapidly crossed herself. Seeing her mother she leaped up and flew towards her.

“Well, mamma, … well?”

“Go, go to him. He asks your hand,” said the countess, coldly it seemed to Natasha.…“Yes … go …” the mother murmured mournfully and reproachfully with a deep sigh as her daughter ran off.

Natasha could not have said how she reached the drawing-room. As she entered the door and caught sight of him, she stopped short: “Is it possible that this stranger has now become everything to me?” she asked herself, and instantly answered: “Yes, everything: he alone is dearer to me now than everything in the world.” Prince Andrey approached her with downcast eyes.

“I have loved you from the first minute I saw you. Can I hope?”

He glanced at her and was struck by the serious, impassioned look in her face. Her face seemed to say: “Why ask? Why doubt of what you cannot but know? Why talk when no words can express what one feels?”

She came nearer to him and stopped. He took her hand and kissed it.

“Do you love me?”

“Yes, yes,” said Natasha, almost angrily it seemed. She drew a deep sigh, and another, her breathing came more and more quickly, and she burst into sobs.

“What is it? What's the matter?”

“Oh, I am so happy,” she answered, smiling through her tears. She bent over closer to him, thought a second, as though wondering whether it were possible, and then kissed him.

Prince Andrey held her hands, looked into her eyes and could find no trace of his former love for her in his heart. Some sudden reaction seemed to have taken place in his soul; there was none of the poetic and mysterious charm of desire left in it; instead of that there was pity for her feminine and childish weakness, terror at her devotion and trustfulness, an irksome, yet sweet, sense of duty, binding him to her for ever. The actual feeling, though not so joyous and poetical as the former feeling, was more serious and deeper.

“Did your mamma tell you that it cannot be for a year?” said Prince Andrey, still gazing into her eyes.

“Can this be I, the baby-girl (as every one used to call me)?” Natasha was thinking. “Can I really be from this minute a wife, on a level with this unknown, charming, intellectual man, who is looked up to even by my father? Can it be true? Can it be true that now there can be no more playing with life, that now I am grown up, that now a responsibility is laid upon me for every word and action? Oh, what did he ask me?”

“No,” she answered, but she had not understood his question.

“Forgive me,” said Prince Andrey, “but you are so young, and I have had so much experience of life. I am afraid for you. You don't know yourself.”

Natasha listened with concentrated attention, trying to take in the meaning of his words; but she did not understand them

“Hard as that year will be to me, delaying my happiness,” continued Prince Andrey, “in that time you will be sure of yourself. I beg you to make me happy in a year, but you are free; our engagement shall be kept a secret, and if you should find out that you do not love me, or if you should come to love …” said Prince Andrey with a forced smile.

“Why do you say that?” Natasha interrupted. “You know that from the very day when you first came to Otradnoe, I have loved you,” she said, firmly persuaded that she was speaking the truth.

“In a year you will learn to know yourself.…”

“A who-ole year!” cried Natasha suddenly, only now grasping that their marriage was to be deferred for a year. “But why a year? … Why a year?…”

Prince Andrey began to explain to her the reasons for this delay. Natasha did not hear him.

“And can't it be helped?” she asked. Prince Andrey made no reply, but his face expressed the impossibility of altering this decision.

“That's awful! Oh, it's awful, awful!” Natasha cried suddenly, and she broke into sobs again. “I shall die if I have to wait a year; it's impossible, it's awful.” She glanced at her lover's face and saw the look of sympathetic pain and perplexity on it.

“No, no, I'll do anything,” she said, suddenly checking her tears; “I'm so happy!”

Her father and mother came into the room and gave the betrothed couple their blessing. From that day Prince Andrey began to visit the Rostovs as Natasha's affianced lover.