Book 6 Chapter 24

THERE WAS NO formal betrothal and no announcement was made of the engagement of Bolkonsky and Natasha; Prince Andrey insisted upon that. He said that since he was responsible for the delay of their marriage, he ought to bear the whole burden of it. He said that he was bound for ever by his word, but he did not want to bind Natasha and would leave her perfect freedom. If in another six months she were to feel that she did not love him, she would have a perfect right to refuse him. It need hardly be said that neither Natasha nor her parents would hear of this possibility; but Prince Andrey insisted on having his own way. Prince Andrey came every day to the Rostovs', but he did not behave with Natasha as though he were engaged to her; he addressed her formally and kissed only her hand. From the day of his proposal Prince Andrey's relations with Natasha had become quite different from what had existed between them before: their relations were simple and intimate. It seemed as though till then they had not known each other. Both loved to recall how they had regarded one another when they were nothing to each other. Now they both felt utterly different creatures—then affected, now simple and sincere. At first there had been a feeling of awkwardness in the family in regard to Prince Andrey. He seemed a man from another world, and Natasha used for a long while to try and make her people understand Prince Andrey, and declared to every one with pride that he only seemed to be so different, that he was really like every one else, and that she was not afraid of him and no one need be. After a few days, the rest of the family got accustomed to seeing him, and went on without constraint with their usual manner of life, in which he took part. He knew how to talk to the count about the management of his estates, to the countess and Natasha about dress, and to Sonya about her album and embroidery. Sometimes the Rostovs among themselves, and in Prince Andrey's presence, expressed their wonder at the way it had all happened, and at the events that obviously betokened that it was to be: Prince Andrey's coming to Otradnoe, and their coming to Petersburg, and the resemblance between Natasha and Prince Andrey, which the old nurse had remarked on Prince Andrey's first visit, and the meeting in 1805 between Andrey and Nikolay, and many other incidents betokening that it was to be, were observed by the family.

The house was full of that poetic atmosphere of dullness and silence, which always accompanies the presence of an engaged couple. Often as they all sat together every one was silent. Sometimes the others got up and went away, and the engaged pair were still as mute when they were left alone. Rarely they spoke of their future life together. Prince Andrey felt frightened and ashamed to speak of it. Natasha shared the feeling, as she did all his feelings, which she never failed to divine. Once Natasha began questioning him about his son.

Prince Andrey blushed—a thing frequent with him at that time, which Natasha particularly liked to see—and said that his son would not live with them.

“Why not?” said Natasha, taking fright.

“I cannot take him from his grandfather and then…”

“How I should have loved him!” said Natasha, at once divining his thought; “but I know you want to avoid any pretext for our being blamed.”

The old count sometimes came up to Prince Andrey, kissed him and asked his advice about some question relating to Petya's education or Nikolay's position. The old countess sighed as she looked at them. Sonya was afraid every instant of being in their way, and was always trying to find excuses for leaving them alone, even when they had no wish to be alone. When Prince Andrey talked—he described things very well—Natasha listened to him with pride. When she talked, she noticed with joy and dread that he watched her with an intent and scrutinising look. She asked herself in perplexity: “What is it he seeks in me? What is it he is probing for with that look? What if I haven't in me what he is searching for in that look?” Sometimes she fell into the mood of wild gaiety characteristic of her, and then she particularly loved to see and hear how Prince Andrey laughed. He rarely laughed, but when he did laugh he abandoned himself utterly to his mirth, and she always felt herself drawn closer to him by this laughter. Natasha would have been perfectly happy if the thought of the separation before her, coming closer and closer, had not terrified her. He too turned pale and cold at the mere thought of it.

On the day before he was to leave Petersburg, Prince Andrey brought with him Pierre, who had not been at the Rostovs' since the day of the ball. Pierre seemed absent-minded and embarrassed. He talked chiefly to the countess. Natasha was sitting at the chess-board with Sonya, and invited Prince Andrey to join them. He went to them.

“You have known Bezuhov a long while, haven't you?” he asked. “Do you like him?”

“Yes; he's very nice, but very absurd.”

And she began, as people always did when speaking of Pierre, to tell anecdotes of his absent-mindedness, anecdotes which were made up, indeed, about him.

“You know, I have confided our secret to him,” said Prince Andrey. “I have known him from childhood. He has a heart of gold. I beg you, Natalie,” he said, with sudden seriousness, “I am going away; God knows what may happen. You may change … Oh, I know I ought not to speak of that. Only one thing—if anything were to happen to you, while I am away …”

“What could happen?”

“If any trouble were to come,” pursued Prince Andrey. “I beg you, Mademoiselle Sophie, if anything were to happen, to go to him and no one else for advice and help. He is a most absent-minded and eccentric person, but he has the truest heart.”

Neither her father nor her mother, neither Sonya nor Prince Andrey could have foreseen the effect of the parting on Natasha. She wandered about the house all that day, flushed, excited, and tearless, busying herself about the most trivial matters as though she had no notion of what was before her. She did not weep even at the moment when he kissed her hand for the last time.

“Don't go away!” was all she said, in a voice that made him wonder whether he ought not really to remain, and that he remembered long after. When he had gone, she still did not weep; but for several days she sat in her room, not crying, but taking no interest in anything, and only saying from time to time: “Oh, why did he go?” But a fortnight after his departure, she surprised those around her equally by recovering from her state of spiritual sickness, and became herself again, only with a change in her moral physiognomy, such as one sees in the faces of children after a long illness.