Book 6 Chapter 25

THE HEALTH AND CHARACTER of Prince Nikolay Andreitch Bolkonsky had, during that year, after his son had left him, grown considerably feebler. He became more irritable than ever, and it was Princess Marya who as a rule bore the brunt of his outbursts of causeless fury. He seemed studiously to seek out all the tender spots in her consciousness so as to inflict on her the cruellest wounds possible. Princess Marya had two passions and consequently two joys: her nephew, Nikolushka, and religion; and both were favourite subjects for the old prince's attacks and jeers. Whatever was being spoken of, he would bring the conversation round to the superstitiousness of old maids, or the petting and spoiling of children. “You want to make him” (Nikolushka) “just such another old maid as you are yourself. Prince Andrey wants a son and not an old maid,” he would say. Or addressing Mademoiselle Bourienne he would ask her, before Princess Marya, how she liked our village priests and holy pictures, and make jests about them.…

He was constantly wounding Princess Marya's feelings, but his daughter needed no effort to forgive him. Could he be to blame in anything he did to her, could her father, who as she knew in spite of it all, loved her, be unjust? And indeed what is justice? Princess Marya never gave a thought to that proud word, “justice.” All the complex laws of humanity were summed up for her in one clear and simple law—the law of love and self-sacrifice, laid down by Him who had in His love suffered for humanity, though He was God Himself. What had she to do with the justice or injustice of other people? All she had to do was to suffer and to love; and that she did.

In the winter Prince Andrey had come to Bleak Hills, had been gay, gentle, and affectionate, as Princess Marya had not seen him for years. She felt that something had happened to him, but he said nothing to his sister of his love. Before his departure, Prince Andrey had a long conversation with his father, and Princess Marya noticed that they were ill pleased with each other at parting.

Soon after Prince Andrey had gone, Princess Marya wrote from Bleak Hills to her friend in Petersburg, Julie Karagin, whom Princess Marya had dreamed—as girls always do dream—of marrying to her brother. She was at this time in mourning for the death of a brother, who had been killed in Turkey.

“Sorrow, it seems, is our common lot, my sweet and tender friend Julie.

“Your loss is so terrible that I can only explain it to myself, as a special sign of the grace of God, who in His love for you would chasten you and your incomparable mother.

“Ah, my dear, religion, and religion alone can—I don't say comfort us—but save us from despair. Religion alone can interpret to us what, without its aid, man cannot comprehend: to what end, for what cause, good, elevated beings who are able to find happiness in life, not injuring others, but indispensable to their happiness, are called away to God, while the wicked, the useless, injuring others and a burden to themselves and others, are left living. The first death which I have seen, and which I shall never forget—the death of my dear little sister-in-law—made on me just the same impression. Just as you question destiny, and ask why your noble brother had to die, so did I wonder what reason there was for that angel Liza to die—who had never done the slightest harm to any one, never even had a thought in her heart that was not kind. And yet—do you know, dear friend—five years have passed since then, and even I, with my poor intelligence, begin now to understand clearly why it was needful she should die, and in what way that death was but an expression of the boundless grace of the Creator, all of whose acts, though for the most part we comprehend them not, are but manifestations of His infinite love for His creatures. Perhaps, I often think, she was of too angelic an innocence to have the force to perform all a mother's duties. As a young wife, she was irreproachable; possibly she could not have been equally so as a mother. As it is, not only has she left us, and particularly Prince Andrey, the purest memories and regrets, but there she is in all likelihood receiving a place for which I dare not hope for myself. But not to speak of her alone, that early and terrible death has had the most blessed influence on me and on my brother, in spite of all our grief. At the time, at the moment of our loss, I could not have entertained such thoughts; at that time I should have dismissed them in horror, but now it seems clear and incontestable. I write all this to you, dear friend, simply to convince you of the Gospel truth, which has become a principle of life for me: not one hair of our head falls without His will. And the guiding principle of His will is only His infinite love for us, and so whatever may befall us, all is for our good.

“You ask whether we shall spend next winter in Moscow. In spite of all my desire to see you, I do not expect and do not wish to do so. And you will be surprised to hear that Bonaparte is responsible for this! I will tell you why: my father's health is noticeably weaker, he cannot endure contradiction and is easily irritated. This irritability is, as you are aware, most readily aroused on political subjects. He cannot endure the idea that Bonaparte is treating on equal terms with all the sovereigns of Europe, especially our own, the grandson of the great Catherine! As you know, I take absolutely no interest in politics, but from my father and his conversations with Mihail Ivanovitch, I know all that goes on in the world, and have heard of all the honours conferred on Bonaparte. It seems that Bleak Hills is now the only spot on the terrestrial globe where he is not recognised as a great man—still less as Emperor of France. And my father cannot tolerate this state of things. It seems to me that my father shows a disinclination for the visit to Moscow, chiefly owing to his political views and his foreseeing the difficulties likely to arise from his habit of expressing his opinions freely with no regard for any one. All that he would gain from medical treatment in Moscow, he would lose from the inevitable discussions upon Bonaparte. In any case the matter will very soon be settled.

“Our home life goes on in its old way, except for the absence of my brother Andrey. As I wrote to you before, he has greatly changed of late. It is only of late, during this year that he seems to have quite recovered from the shock of his loss. He has become again just as I knew him as a child, good-natured, affectionate, with a heart such as I know in no one else. He feels now, it seems to me, that life is not over for him. But, together with this moral change, he has become very weak physically. He is thinner than ever and more nervous. I feel anxious about him and glad that he is taking this tour abroad, which the doctors prescribed long ago. I hope that it will cure him. You write to me that he is spoken of in Petersburg as one of the most capable, cultivated, and intellectual young men. Forgive me for the pride of family—I never doubted it. The good he did here to every one—from his peasants to the local nobility—is incalculable. When he went to Petersburg he was received as he deserved. I wonder at the way reports fly from Petersburg to Moscow, and especially such groundless ones as the rumour you wrote to me about, of my brother's supposed engagement to the little Rostov girl. I don't imagine that Andrey will ever marry any one at all, and certainly not her. And I will tell you why. In the first place, I know that though he rarely speaks of his late wife, the grief of his loss has penetrated too deeply into his heart for him ever to be ready to give her a successor, and our little angel a step-mother. Secondly, because, as far as I can ascertain, that girl is not one of the kind of women who could attract my brother Andrey. I do not believe that Andrey has chosen her for his wife; and I will frankly confess, I should not wish for such a thing. But how I have been running on; I am finishing my second sheet. Farewell, my sweet friend; and may God keep you in His holy and mighty care. My dear companion, Mademoiselle Bourienne, sends you kisses.