Book 8 Chapter 7

NEXT DAY, by the advice of Marya Dmitryevna, Count Ilya Andreitch went with Natasha to call on Prince Nikolay Andreitch. The count prepared for the visit by no means in a cheerful spirit: in his heart he was afraid. Count Ilya Andreitch had a vivid recollection of his last interview with the old prince at the time of the levying of the militia, when, in reply to his invitation to dinner, he had had to listen to a heated reprimand for furnishing less than the required number of men. Natasha in her best dress was, on the contrary, in the most cheerful frame of mind. “They can't help liking me,” she thought; “every one always does like me. And I'm so ready to do anything they please for them, so readily to love them—him for being his father, and her for being his sister—they can have no reason for not loving me!”

They drove to the gloomy old house in Vosdvizhenka, and went into the vestibule.

“Well now, with God's blessing,” said the count, half in jest, half in earnest. But Natasha noticed that her father was in a nervous fidget as he went into the entry, and asked timidly and softly whether the prince and the princess were at home. After their arrival had been announced, there was some perturbation visible among the prince's servants. The footman, who was running to announce them, was stopped by another footman in the big hall, and they whispered together. A maid-servant ran into the hall, and hurriedly said something, mentioning the princess. At last one old footman came out with a wrathful air, and announced to the Rostovs that the prince was not receiving, but the princess begged them to walk up. The first person to meet the visitors was Mademoiselle Bourienne. She greeted the father and daughter with marked courtesy, and conducted them to the princess's apartment. The princess, with a frightened and agitated face, flushed in patches, ran in, treading heavily, to meet her visitors, doing her best to seem cordial and at ease. From the first glance Princess Marya disliked Natasha. She thought her too fashionably dressed, too frivolously gay and vain. Princess Marya had no idea that before she had seen her future sister-in-law she had been unfavourably disposed to her, through unconscious envy of her beauty, her youth, and her happiness, and through jealousy of her brother's love for her. Apart from this insuperable feeling of antipathy to her, Princess Marya was at that moment agitated by the fact that on the Rostovs' having been announced the old prince had shouted that he didn't want to see them, that Princess Marya could see them if she chose, but they were not to be allowed in to see him. Princess Marya resolved to see the Rostovs, but she was every instant in dread of some freak on the part of the old prince, as he had appeared greatly excited by the arrival of the Rostovs.

“Well, here I have brought you my songstress, princess,” said the count, bowing and scraping, while he looked round uneasily as though he were afraid the old prince might come in. “How glad I am that you should make friends.…Sorry, very sorry, the prince is still unwell”; and uttering a few more stock phrases, he got up. “If you'll allow me, princess, to leave you my Natasha for a quarter of an hour, I will drive round—only a few steps from here—to Dogs' Square to see Anna Semyonovna, and then come back for her.”

Count Ilya Andreitch bethought himself of this diplomatic stratagem to give the future sisters-in-law greater freedom to express their feelings to one another (so he told his daughter afterwards), but also to avoid the possibility of meeting the prince, of whom he was afraid. He did not tell his daughter this; but Natasha perceived this dread and uneasiness of her father's, and felt mortified by it. She blushed for her father, felt still angrier at having blushed, and glanced at the princess with a bold, challenging air, meant to express that she was not afraid of any one. The princess told the count that she would be delighted, and only begged him to stay a little longer at Anna Semyonovna's, and Ilya Andreitch departed.

In spite of the uneasy glances flung at her by Princess Marya, who wanted to talk to Natasha by herself, Mademoiselle Bourienne would not leave the room, and persisted in keeping up a conversation about Moscow entertainments and theatres. Natasha felt offended by the delay in the entry, by her father's nervousness, and by the constrained manner of the princess, who seemed to her to be making a favour of receiving her. And then everything displeased her. She did not like Princess Marya. She seemed to her very ugly, affected, and frigid. Natasha suddenly, as it were, shrank into herself, and unconsciously assumed a non-chalant air, which repelled Princess Marya more and more. After five minutes of irksome and constrained conversation, they heard the sound of slippered feet approaching rapidly. Princess Marya's face expressed terror: the door of the room opened, and the prince came in, in a white night-cap and dressing-gown.

“Ah, madam,” he began, “madam, countess.…Countess Rostov… if I'm not mistaken…I beg you to excuse me, to excuse me…I didn't know, madam. As God's above, I didn't know that you were deigning to visit us, and came in to my daughter in this costume. I beg you to excuse me…as God's above, I didn't know,” he repeated so unnaturally, with emphasis on the word “God,” and so unpleasantly, that Princess Marya rose to her feet with her eyes on the ground, not daring to look either at her father or at Natasha. Natasha, getting up and curtseying, did not know either what she was to do. Only Mademoiselle Bourienne smiled agreeably.

“I beg you to excuse me, I beg you to excuse me! As God's above, I didn't know,” muttered the old man, and looking Natasha over from head to foot, he went out.

Mademoiselle Bourienne was the first to recover herself after this apparition, and began talking about the prince's ill-health. Natasha and Princess Marya gazed dumbly at one another, and the longer they gazed dumbly at one another without saying what they wanted to say, the more unfavourably each felt disposed to the other.

When the count returned, Natasha showed a discourteous relief at seeing him, and made haste to get away. At that moment she almost hated that stiff, oldish princess, who could put her in such an awkward position, and spend half an hour with her without saying a word about Prince Andrey. “I couldn't be the first to speak of him before that Frenchwoman,” thought Natasha. Princess Marya meanwhile was tortured by the very same feeling. She knew what she had to say to Natasha, but she could not do it, both because Mademoiselle Bourienne prevented her, and because she did not know herself why—it was difficult for her to begin to speak of the marriage. The count was already going out of the room when Princess Marya moved rapidly up to Natasha, took her hand, and, with a heavy sigh, said: “Wait a moment, I want…” Natasha's expression as she looked at Princess Marya was ironical, though she did not know why.

“Dear Natalie,” said Princess Marya, “do believe how glad I am that my brother has found such happiness…” She paused, feeling she was telling a lie. Natasha noticed the pause, and guessed the reason of it.

“I imagine, princess, that it is not now suitable to speak of that,” said Natasha, with external dignity and coldness, though she felt the tears rising in her throat.

“What have I said, what have I done?” she thought as soon as she had gone out of the room.

They had to wait a long while for Natasha to come to dinner that day. She was sitting in her room, crying like a child, choking, and sobbing. Sonya stood over her, and kept kissing her on the head.

“Natasha, what is it?” she kept saying. “Why need you mind about them? It will pass, Natasha.”

“No, if only you knew how insulting it was…as though I…”

“Don't talk of it, Natasha; it's not your fault, you see, so what does it matter to you! Kiss me,” said Sonya.

Natasha raised her head, and kissing her friend on the lips, pressed her wet face against her.

“I can't say; I don't know. It's no one's fault,” said Natasha; “it's my fault. But it's all awfully painful. Oh, why doesn't he come?…”

She went down to dinner with red eyes. Marya Dmitryevna, who had heard how the old prince had received the Rostovs, pretended not to notice Natasha's troubled face, and kept up a loud, jesting conversation at table with the count and the other guests.